What really happened to “Big Ed” Delahanty the night he died?

“Big Ed” Delahanty was the most successful of five siblings who played in the majors during the 1890s and into the early 20th Century. None of Delahanty’s brothers, Frank, Joe, Jim and Tom could match Ed’s prowess. But during the Deadball Era, no one else could either. From 1894 to 1896 Delahanty compiled astonishing batting marks, averaging a cumulative .402 and winning two batting titles during the span. In 1899, Delahanty hit four doubles in the same game and also collected hits in 10 consecutive at bats.

Delahanty, who collected three votes for left field in the BPP All Time Dream Project, toiled for the Philadelphia Quakers, Cleveland Infants, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Senators. While the memory of Delahanty’s batting feats have understandably faded, to this day fans associate “Big Ed” with his mysterious death.

Rumors abound. In 1903 while the Senators were traveling between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Delahanty died after being kicked of a train by the conductor for drunken and disorderly behavior. Was Delahanty’s death a suicide, an accident or murder? Delahanty had, according to some of his teammates, rambled incoherently about death in his last days. There were also reports of a stranger possibly bent on robbery who followed Delahanty as he walked across the International Bridge.

The Delahanty enigma is the first case analyzed in the new book, Mysteries from Baseball’s Past: Investigations of Nine Unsettled Questions edited by Angelo Louisa and David Cicotello.

In the days leading up to his death, Delahanty was tortured by heavy drinking, significant gambling debts, marital woes, contractual conflicts and, even though he had won the National League batting championship the previous year, declining baseball skills.

Beginning from the moment the search team discovered Delahanty’s “bloated and decomposed” corpse, contributor Jerrold Casway recreates in painstaking detail the tragic circumstances surrounding the ”King of Swatsville’s” untimely death. The author considers various scenarios about which there have been decades of speculation before coming to his well-researched (police reports, sworn testimony and numerous newspaper accounts) and indisputable conclusion that Del’s demise was a tragic accident.

Other unraveled mysteries include Chick Stahl’s suicide, the strange death of Harry Pulliam, the non-game that featured Wilbur Cooper and Pete Alexander, Eddie Cicotte and his “shine” ball (or not?), the O’Connell-Dolan scandal (or hoax?), the Cobb –Speaker hoax, Josh Gibson versus Satch and the Dodgers move to Los Angeles: was Walter O’Malley the victim, a bum or something else?

In 2007, I reviewed another outstanding book by the editors, Forbes Field: Essays and Memories of the Pirates Historic Ball Park, 1909-1971. Read my review here.

4 Replies to “What really happened to “Big Ed” Delahanty the night he died?”

  1. Sounds like a very interesting book.

    I always felt Delahanty was one of those rare “underrated” Hall of Famers. Yeah, he’s in the Hall, but people don’t give him his due for how good he really was. Guys like Fred Clarke, George Davis, and Joe Gordon fit the bill for me.

  2. Thanks so much for writing this!! My last name is Delahanty and I didn’t know much about my family history and now I do!!

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