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Ed Delahanty was the most 19th Century baseball player ever

May 29, 2012, 3:30 PM EDT

Ed Delahanty

Magglio Ordonez‘s retirement inspired Trent McCotter of SABR to note that Ordonez ended his career with an 18-game hitting streak. That’s the longest streak at the end of a career ever, eclipsing the previous record holder, Ed Delahanty, who ended his career with a 16-game streak.

This in turn led to some Twitter talk about the great Ed Delahanty, who is probably one of the more overlooked Hall of Famers ever.

Delahanty was a slugger among sluggers in the late 19th century. He led the league with 19 homers in 1893, which was a pretty significant total for the day. He did so again in 1896. Five times he led the NL in slugging. He thrice led the NL in RBI, with 146, 126 and 137. And he was not a one-dimensional hitter. He got on base at an amazing clip, leading the league with a ridiculous .500 OBP in 1895, and finishing his career with a .411 OBP.  He led the NL in OPS five times.

But the reason why his being overlooked is damn nigh criminal is not because of his baseball prowess — he was inducted to the Hall, after all — but because the way he broke into the major leagues and the way he died is unknown by so many. There are books with long colorful descriptions of Delahanty’s life and hard times, but in the interest of saving time and hassle, I quote Wikipedia:

Delahanty also played minor league ball in Wheeling, West Virginia before the Phillies obtained him as a replacement for Charlie Ferguson. Ferguson had died early in 1888 from typhoid fever, and Ed was originally brought in to fill in for him at second base …


Delahanty died when he was swept over Niagara Falls in 1903. He was apparently kicked off a train by the train’s conductor for being drunk and disorderly. The conductor said Delahanty was brandishing a straight razor and threatening passengers. After being kicked off the train, Delahanty started his way across the International Bridge connecting Buffalo, NY with Fort Erie (near Niagara Falls) and fell or jumped off the bridge (some accounts say Ed was yelling about death that night). Whether “Big Ed” died from his plunge over the Falls, or drowned on the way to the Falls is uncertain.

If you got your job because of a typhoid fever death and had your career end because of a booze-fueled plunge over Niagara Falls, you have to be the most 19th Century baseball player of all time. At the very least it’s between him and Old Hoss Radboun.

  1. genericcommenter - May 29, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    What? 18>19? Huh?

    • jimbo1949 - May 29, 2012 at 3:41 PM

      Upside down and backwards 9, should have been a 6.

  2. The Common Man - May 29, 2012 at 3:36 PM

    Where have you gone King Kelly. Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo-woo-woo

  3. ronfwnc - May 29, 2012 at 3:37 PM

    Always happy to see Ed Delahanty get some attention, and agree that he was a great player. But any real student of the game is familiar with his accomplishments.

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - May 29, 2012 at 4:18 PM

      You have to be at least 40% as old school as Cole Hamels to have heard of him.

  4. 18thstreet - May 29, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    Oh, Typhoid. Is there anything it can’t do?

  5. 18thstreet - May 29, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    Retweeted by … Pedro Gomez.

    • mcsnide - May 29, 2012 at 3:57 PM

      Who, it should be noted, did not deny having fallen over Niagara Falls after being kicked off a train for public drunkenness.

      • 18thstreet - May 29, 2012 at 4:22 PM

        Okay, maybe he did deny starting a war with Cuba to get a better deal on cigars and baseball prospects. But I can tell with my own eyes that he wants to.

  6. davidpom50 - May 29, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    I would like to throw Jimmy Ryan in for consideration as the most 19th Century baseball player of all time. He was known for hitting for power, for average, playing a decent centerfield, pitching as a reliever, and punching reporters. Often. He’s the only player to ever hit for the cycle and pitch in the same game. He later wrote an article advising people against a career in professional baseball, because there’s no money in it.

    I don’t know that he surpasses Old Hoss or Ed Delehanty, but I think he’s in the conversation.

  7. badmamainphilliesjamas - May 29, 2012 at 4:02 PM

    And the most 19th-century-ish baseball name:
    Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr.

  8. WhenMattStairsIsKing - May 29, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    Ha! I just mentioned Delahanty in one of your posts just last week, when I was citing “old school” players in discussion about Hamels. Small world.

  9. dodger88 - May 29, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    I love the use of the word “thrice”. Such an underused word.

  10. chuckleberry1974 - May 29, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    Um, I used thrice twice already today…

    • dluxxx - May 29, 2012 at 5:27 PM

      Make that thrice now…

  11. sabatimus - May 29, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    I wonder how accurate the Wikipedia article is. Because, as you know, anyone can edit it…

    • nothanksimdriving123 - May 29, 2012 at 7:07 PM

      But because (almost) anyone can edit it, if/when a doofus tosses in something faulty, it can quickly be corrected, and usually is. Generally quite a reliable source, IMHO.

  12. natstowngreg - May 29, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    Let us not forget John McGraw. Played for the pre-1900 Baltimore Orioles, famed for their dirty play. Never met a rule he wouldn’t break.

  13. Lukehart80 - May 29, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    The 1880 Worcester Ruby Legs (which is already one of the greatest city/team name combos ever) had players named Tricky Nichols, Chub Sullivan, and Buttercup Dickerson on the roster.

    Don’t ever change, 19th century baseball.

  14. Detroit Michael - May 29, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    I always figured that Delahanty’s death made him more unforgettable (compared to other 19th century Hall of Fame players), not more likely to be overlooked.

  15. motherscratcher23 - May 29, 2012 at 4:53 PM

    And even more importantly, 1894 Delahanty is an absolute Strat-O-Matic stud. One of the best cards in the deck.

  16. denny65 - May 29, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    Craig, it’s Radbourn.

  17. cdelahanty - May 30, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    really cool seeing an article about my great granduncle also was batting average champ cpl times first person to hit four home runs in one game the train and niagra falls story is a mystery they dont really know what really happened also cool that hes in the hall of fame yeah he was a drunk but so was babe ruth and a bunch of other good players to this day people arent perfect and everybody has problems have to say the sraight razor thing is new to me didnt know that

  18. foreverchipper10 - May 30, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    I seem to be in the minority here but I did not know anything about him until this blurb and I am glad I took the time to read it.

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