Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Hall of Famer "Big Ed" Delahanty played for Philadelphia's National League club from 1888 to 1901.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame
Edward James Delahanty was born October 30, 1867, in Cleveland, Ohio. Growing up, he developed a love for baseball and eventually reached the major leagues as a young man. He soon established himself as a dangerous hitter, spending most of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies. He moved to the American League's Washington Senators after the 1901 season. However, in 1903 he disappeared in Niagara, Ontario and his body was found in the river days later amidst rumors of suicide and murder. Despite his shortened career, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.
Edward James Delahanty was born October 30, 1867, in Cleveland, Ohio to a working-class Irish family. His early years were lined with hardship for his family. He was born not long after his parents lost their first child in infancy and their third died before his second birthday. However, in the 1870s his mother bore six healthy children: four boys and two girls. Growing up in the heart of Cleveland with his brothers, he found a love for playing the "national pastime" game of baseball.
As he grew up his skills developed and by his 20th birthday he was playing for a baseball club in a local league for a small salary. His skills as a hitter were quickly noticed by National League scouts and news of his hitting prowess reached the ears of the Philadelphia Phillies' executives. In the first baseball game the Phillies' scouts watched Delahanty play, he hit three home runs. By May 1888, he was playing for the Phillies under a record contract of $2,000.
In his first year with Philadelphia, Delahanty had a disappointing .228 batting average with only one home run. The following year he improved his batting average but had no home runs for the Phillies. In 1890, amid player criticism of the National League and promises of better player's rights, Delahanty moved to the upstart Player's League's Cleveland franchise, the Infants. After only one year, the Player's League folded and he moved back to play for the Phillies who were eager to forgive the young 22 year old prospect for his disloyalty. In the next eleven seasons in Philadelphia, 'Big Ed' would establish himself as one of the most dangerous hitters of his day. He achieved a .400 plus batting average three times, a feat unheard of today. He also collected various honors including a National League batting title, two home run titles, and three runs batted in titles. He became a fear among opposing teams. One pitcher was quoted as saying of him, "When you pitch to Delahanty, you just want to shut your eyes, say a prayer and chuck the ball. The Lord only knows what'll happen after that."
After a disappointing 1901 season where the Phillies failed to win the pennant for the third year in a row and criticism about cheating, Delahanty, now a seasoned veteran, moved the American League's franchise in Washington. That year he won the American League batting title with a .376 batting average.
Delahanty had begun another promising season in 1903 when tragedy struck. On July 2, 1903, he disappeared after the conductor of a New York City bound train kicked him off for disorderly conduct and drunkenness in Niagara, Ontario; not far upstream from Niagara Falls. Questions of where he was were soon silenced when his mangled body washed to the shore of the river seven days later. Speculation immediately arose with people wondering if the cause of death was suicide, murder, or an accident. This mystery was never solved.
Though his life and career ended prematurely, "Big Ed's" legend never will. He was a slugger in an era of place-hitters. He was the first man to ever hit four home runs in one game. His career batting average, .346, remains fifth all time. He paved the way for new generations of big hitters including Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. His legacy was not forgotten; in 1945, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Casway, Jerrold. Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.