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111 years ago today, baseball experienced one of its weirdest deaths

Jul 2, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

Ed Delahanty

I’ve written about old Ed Delahanty before. The other time was when I named him “The Most 19th Century Player of All Time.” Part of the reason he won that title is because he starred in the 19th century, mostly, and because of the way he got his big league callup: he took the place of a Philadelphia Quakers second baseman who died of friggin’ typhoid fever. The only thing that would make that transaction more 19th century is if Delahanty himself was activated from the disabled list following a bout with dropsy.

But the other reason he was the most 19th century baseball player? The way he died. It happened 111 years ago today when, after he abandoned his Washington Senators teammates in Detroit as a result of a dispute in which he wanted to jump the team and go play for the Giants. Booking personal passage on a train to New York, Delahanty got drunk and was kicked off the train near Niagra Falls. He attempted to cross the International Railway bridge. Then, according to the wonderful SABR biography of the man, this happened:

In the darkness Big Ed walked out onto the 3,600 foot long bridge and was standing still at its edge, staring down into the water, when he was accosted by night watchman Sam Kingston, on the lookout for smugglers. A scuffle ensued, with Kingston dragging Delahanty back to the middle of the wide bridge, but Kingston then fell down and Delahanty got away. Moments later, according to Kingston — who claimed it was too dark to see what happened — Del either jumped or drunkenly stumbled off the edge of the bridge, falling 25 feet into the 40-foot-deep Niagara River.

His naked body (except for tie, shoes and socks) was found 20 miles downstream at the base of Horseshoe Falls— — the Canadian portion of Niagara Falls—s — even days later. Dead at the age of 35, he was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland.

A career which started with typhoid fever and ended in a drunken — or by then, probably dead — plunge over Niagara Falls. That’s some O.G. 19th century stuff, even if it happened in 1903. Also worth noting: Delhanty had a 16-game hitting streak in progress at the time of his death. So he literally hit the bottom while he was still on top in some ways.

Go read up on Big Ed here. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll be glad you live in the age of airline travel too.

  1. RickyB - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:04 PM

    But did he ever come down with the consumption?

  2. hyshai - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    I wonder if Thurman Munson, Roberto Clemente and Cory Lidle (amongst others) were glad they lived in the age of airline travel.

    • dlf9 - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:16 PM

      Ken Hubbs

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:31 PM

      If they had taken airlines instead of privately-piloted aircraft they’d still be alive today.

      • Jason @ IIATMS - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:37 PM

        Um, not quite, Craig. Lidle was in a privately piloted aircraft, but day-um, this got off track in a hurry.

        My ricketts must be acting up. Scruvy sucks.

      • hyshai - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:44 PM

        ahh missed that nuance

      • mckludge - Jul 2, 2014 at 2:18 PM

        @ Jason

        Do any of the Barves players have scruvy?

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Jul 2, 2014 at 6:05 PM

        Craig, first, as you know, Clemente was shepherding a shipment of relief supplies to quake-struck Nicaragua, so a regular airline flight was not an option.
        Also, as you also know, airliners crash too.

  3. karlkolchak - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    The only thing that could have improved this story is if instead of being drunk he’d just left an opium den.

  4. sdelmonte - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    How did his tie stay on and the rest of his clothes come off?

    • Jason @ IIATMS - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:38 PM

      Alcohol, prolly. Been there.

    • historiophiliac - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:49 PM

      What happens in Canada, stays in Canada.

      Mommas, don’t let your ball players go up to Niag’ra…

      • unclemosesgreen - Jul 2, 2014 at 2:46 PM

        I just jumped the watchman, right outside the fence
        Took his rings, 4 bucks in change – ain’t that heaven sent?

      • historiophiliac - Jul 2, 2014 at 2:48 PM

        I have no doubt you’ll make the Police Gazette.

      • nolanwiffle - Jul 2, 2014 at 3:22 PM

        Gotta go to Tulsa, first train we can ride
        Gotta settle one old score, one small point of pride.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 2, 2014 at 3:29 PM

        Y’all stop with your old hippie music.

      • Old Gator - Jul 2, 2014 at 5:12 PM

        Drink down a bottle and you’re ready to kill….

      • unclemosesgreen - Jul 2, 2014 at 6:15 PM

        Old hippies are best at tending to the goal.

        Yeah sure, I’m still talking about soccer.

    • uwsptke - Jul 2, 2014 at 2:05 PM

      That was bizarre – tie, socks & shoes only. Did the night watchman catch him in the middle of some sort of 19th century auto-erotic asphyxiation?

      • historiophiliac - Jul 2, 2014 at 2:20 PM

        Why does everyone assume the nightwatchman is innocent????? Or, that said items of clothing did not disappear AFTER his death??? Y’all are lousy historians.

  5. unclemosesgreen - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    “This would have been a tragedy had it not happened to an Irishman.” – Old Hoss Radbourn

    • sportsdrenched - Jul 2, 2014 at 2:27 PM

      I had an OHR quote about “shagging the widow” loaded but since you beat to something else just as awesome I’ll just give you props and move on. .

  6. historiophiliac - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:44 PM

    “Delahanty rededicated himself to his profession in the offseason, working out every day and reporting to camp in 1892 in the best shape of his life.”

    The original BSOHL story!

    • Old Gator - Jul 2, 2014 at 5:14 PM

      Too bad Cormac McCarthy doesn’t write baseball novels, innit?

  7. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jul 2, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    Good work, CC. I have long thought that this was an incredible story in so many ways, and yet no one ever hears of it. there were witnesses that later claimed to have seen Kingston push Delahanty off the bridge, and other rumors persisted that Kingston never reported the scuffle that night, i.e. he didn’t want to be placed with the person who inevitably was going to be found dead.

    All in all, it most likely was an accident. But could you imagine….say Wade Boggs being found dead under mysterious circumstances, while traveling with his team? That is essentially what happened to Delahanty. One of the most incredible stories no one knows about

    • SocraticGadfly - Jul 2, 2014 at 5:43 PM

      Yeah, especially if Boggs had just tried to jump from Rays to Yankees, and per Old Hoss Radbourn, Jeter wound up shagging Margo Adams.

    • rje49 - Jul 2, 2014 at 6:11 PM

      Just wondering, did you use Wade Boggs as an example because of his legendary beer drinking?

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Jul 2, 2014 at 6:14 PM

        Hits. Delahanty hit over .400 three times, and .397 another, so tried to think of a comparable recent guy with high averages. I thought of Gwynn first….but just seemed disrespectful.

  8. nolanwiffle - Jul 2, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    Ironic that he died from a fall off a railroad bridge, yet never got to face The Big Train, who wouldn’t debut until 1907.

  9. tmc602014 - Jul 2, 2014 at 6:08 PM

    Just looked him up. Twice broke .400 and didn’t win the batting title.

  10. phluffyclouds - Jul 2, 2014 at 6:52 PM

    This article is so poorly written, seriously.

    • motherscratcher23 - Jul 2, 2014 at 8:07 PM

      Thank you for your input. That was helpful and enlightening.

  11. disgracedfury - Jul 2, 2014 at 9:52 PM

    Nice.

  12. dejesus54 - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    “& the real wonder of the world is that we don’t jump too”

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