Grave Story: Frank Delahanty (1882-1966)

Here lies Frank Delahanty, the last surviving brother of the famed baseball-playing Delahantys. He had a brief career in the American League and Federal League and a rough post-baseball career that included a prison stint. Delahanty played for the New York Highlanders (1905-06, 1908), Cleveland Naps (1907), and the Buffalo Buffeds (1914) and Pittsburgh Rebels (1914-15) of the Federal League.

Frank Delahanty was born on December 29, 1882 in Cleveland, Ohio. There were a total of nine Delahanty children: Ed (born in 1867), Marty (1868-1869), Tom (1872), Katherine (1873), Joe (1975), Jim (1879), Florence (1880), Frank and Willie (1885). Frank was the youngest of the five brothers who played professionally, though Willie did make it into the minor leagues as well. By the time that 1900 rolled around, Ed was a bona fide superstar and Tom, Joe and Jim were all well-regarded players as well. Frank, at 17 years of age, was signed to a team in Allentown, Pa., by manager Billy Sharsig. He was a substitute outfielder on a team that included Tom, Jim and Joe as his teammates.

“Every member of the family is a born ball player, and we will probably give the youngster a trial,” said Secretary Zimmerman of the Allentown team. It was an amateur team, and there are no official statistics available. Delahanty then played with a semipro team in his hometown of Cleveland. The first time that he appeared on a professional team is in 1902, with the Birmingham Barons and Atlanta Firemen of the Southern Association. Delahanty hit .292 with the Barons and slugged .427, with 5 doubles and 4 triples in 23 games. He struggled with Atlanta though, failing to break the .200 mark.

Delahanty spent 1903 playing for the Syracuse Stars. Unfortunately for him, it meant that he was the closest brother to Niagara Falls when the great Ed Delahanty died there on July 2. He and his brother-in-law, E.J. McGuire, traveled to Buffalo and identified Big Ed’s belongings, and Frank and a family friend identified his body when it was found. Frank and McGuire escorted the body back to Cleveland for burial. He vowed to sue the Michigan Central Railroad and its conductor for how they treated his oldest brother on his last night. (Read up on Ed Delahanty’s life and death here.)

For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of 20-year old Frank Delahanty, who by virtue of proximity, became the family spokesman. He has to defend his brother’s honor, refute reports of suicide and question, quite rightly, why the conductor threw a drunken man off the train in the middle of nowhere, instead of turning him over to police or at least away from a potentially dangerous place like a bridge by a massive waterfall.

“If anyone tries to tell me that Ed jumped off that bridge I won’t believe it. [Conductor] Cole says he acted as though he was despondent. I won’t believe that either,” he told reporters. “Ed had no reason in the world to be despondent. He had everything to his liking, money, good home, good position in the league, was in good health and had no trouble with anyone. Now what would make him despondent?”

Big Ed certainly did have some problems in life, but reports that he committed suicide gradually faded away, and we’re left with the most plausible explanation that his death was just a tragic accident. The younger Delahanty eventually returned to Syracuse and hit .242 for the Stars. Given all the mental anguish he must have gone through, it was a remarkable year.

(It was Ed Delahanty’s widow, Marie, who filed a $20,000 lawsuit against the Michigan Central Railroad. Frank was unable to testify at the trial. Marie Delahanty eventually received $3,000 in damages, and their daughter Florence received $2,000.)

Frank Delahanty returned to the Southern Association after his season in New York, playing for the Montgomery Senators in 1904 and Birmingham in 1905. His second go-around with the Barons in ’05 was the season that make baseball take notice, as he hit .309 in 88 games. That ended up being second-best in the league among regular players, behind the .313 average of Carlton Molesworth of Montgomery. His season with the Barons ended abruptly when he was suspended, having refused to pay a fine. Shortly after that, he was acquired by Clark Griffith’s New York Highlanders, and Frank Delahanty became the latest brother to break into the major leagues.

In his minor-league career, Delahanty was used as an infielder. New York put him at first base and in the outfield. Over the course of 9 games, he had 6 hits and 2 RBIs for a .222 batting average. A foot injury ended his season, but it was a successful introduction to the majors.

“I learned more in three days with the Highlanders than in three years in a minor league,” he said. “Why, these men are working out plays in the hotel lobby, in the dressing-room and at the table. They discuss every play in the game and try something new each day.”

Delahanty was healthy, but not necessarily effective, in 1906. In 92 games as a left fielder, he slashed .238/.282/.345. He hit the only 2 home runs of his American League career – both inside the park homers, and both off the Washington Senators pitching staff in the second game of a double header on August 31.

Delahanty elected to hold out for more money for the 1907 season. The famously cheap Griffith refused to pay, though the team did agree to give the ballplayer $300 in advance. It was thought at the time that the squabble had essentially ended the young man’s baseball career. He stated he was retired and enrolled in Baldwin University to study medicine. On May 17, the Highlanders traded Delahanty and Walter Clarkson to Cleveland for pitcher Earl Moore. The prospect of playing in his hometown evidently helped him to get back into baseball, for the Naps announced his signing 10 days later.

Delahanty played in 15 games for Cleveland, hitting .173 with one extra-base hit, a triple, in his 9 safeties. He had a total .917 fielding percentage while playing the corner outfield spots. He and teammate George Stovall left the team in August to sign with Reading of the Atlantic League. Both players were suspended by Cleveland, and Delahanty was released outright to New Orleans after the season. The outfielder, though, fought the move. He filed suit against Cleveland and attempted to force the team to release him rather than sell his contract back to the Pelicans, saying he would rather retire (again) than return to the Southern Association. His attorneys also tried to recover some of Delahanty’s salary that he lost when he was suspended. It was a case years ahead of its time, as Delahanty single-handedly fought against the reserve clause and the team’s right to suspend or fine a player, at will, under contract. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 1911.

Source: The Evening World, August 28, 1908.

Delahanty announced in early January 1908 his intention to play for New Orleans. He joined the team (after making one last threat to retire and practice medicine) but played in just 64 games, working up a .248 batting average. He was suspended in the summer for (allegedly) spitting in the face of an umpire, and instead of serving his time, Delahanty re-signed with the New York Highlanders. It was a controversial move, as AL President Ban Johnson was accused of favoritism by helping New York get their player. He also angered Southern Association President Kavanaugh, who argued that Delahanty’s suspension should have applied to the major leagues too. Regardless, Delahanty hit a career-high .256 in 37 games with the Highlanders.

In the 1908 offseason, Delahanty went back to medical school in Memphis, though it does not appear he ever got a medical degree. During baseball season, he roamed around the American Association for the next five seasons. His best season was in 1911 with the St. Paul Saints, when he batted .276 and hit 23 doubles and 3 home runs. Mostly, he was a light-hitting singles hitter who had rocky relationships with his teams. After a year of hitting .237 for Louisville in 1909, he expressed dissatisfaction and signed with Indianapolis. Indianapolis expressed its dissatisfaction of him by releasing him in August of 1910, after he hit .230 in 100 games. Even in his relative productive season with St. Paul, he made headlines by ripping the mask off an umpire during a disagreement and smacking him in the face. That altercation resulted in a 3-day suspension and $50 fine. He was claimed by the Millers for the 1912 season after he and the Saints couldn’t agree on a salary. The two seasons Delahanty played for Minneapolis in 1912 and 1913 represent one of the few times in his career where he stayed with one team for more than a year. Older brother Jim joined him as a teammate for those two seasons.

In 10 years in the minors, Delahanty hit .252. He was 31 years old in 1914 and hadn’t appeared in the majors since 1908. He was probably past the point that major-league teams would be calling for his services, but he got a second lease on life with the formation of the Federal League. The FL, designed to compete against the National League and American League, was a new opportunity for many former major-leaguers at the end of their careers, as well as career minor-leaguers who never broke into the big leagues. Delahanty signed with Buffalo and stayed with them through late July. He hit .201 with 21 stolen bases before being traded to Pittsburgh for outfielder Tex McDonald. He hit a game-winning homer in one of his first games with the Rebels and hit .239 in 41 games. He stayed with Pittsburgh for 1915 and batted .238 in 14 games. He was granted a release on June 22 to join the Colonial League, a minor-league in New England set up by the Federals. He joined a team in Springfield, Mass. The whole Federal League shut down at the end of the 1915 season.

Counting the Federal League as a major league, Frank Delahanty had a total of 6 seasons in the majors. He slashed .226/.280/.308 in that time, with 223 hits that included 22 doubles, 22 triples and 5 home runs. He stole 50 bases and drove in 94 runs. Though fielding statistics are a little sketchy, he was an above-average corner outfielder with slightly below-average range.

Delahanty kept playing independent baseball for a few more seasons, retiring after 1918. He immediately got into politics and was elected into the Ohio state legislature as a representative.

Things went downhill swiftly for Delahanty. Almost as soon as he was a part of the legislature, he was accused of bribery. He demanded $500 from a chiropractic lobbyist to “handle” a bill that licensed chiropractors in the state. He then went to State Senator Howell Wright and offered him $2,000 if he wouldn’t speak out against the bill. Unfortunately for him, Sen. Wright was an honest politician and testified against Rep. Delahanty.

“I asked Delahanty if he realized what he was saying. I told him he would get himself into trouble, and to run along but look out,” Wright said.

Delahanty was indicted on June 7, 1919 on one count of soliciting a bribe and one count of offering a bribe. He plead guilty in November and resigned from the Ohio House in November. Since no money had actually changed hands, he was giving a suspended sentence and avoided prison.

Delahanty was arrested again on November 15, 1922, on charges of transporting liquor (this was the Prohibition Era). He was caught driving a vehicle that contained 16 half-barrels of beer and confesses to making regular liquor runs between Erie, Pa., and Conneaut, Ohio. He plead guilty again and was handed fines totaling $407 dollars. That money was paid by a friend, freeing the troubled ex-player.

Failing to learn his lesson, Delahanty went back to bootlegging and was arrested again in March 1925. This time, he was one of seven people charged with conspiracy to violate the Prohibition Act after 40 half-barrels of beer were found in a freight car bound for Cleveland. Delahanty was charged with making “arrangements for the use of certain trucks to be used in the transporting of intoxicating liquor.” He served a year in prison in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for that charge. Upon his release in 1927, he testified against a large bootlegging operation that brought alcohol into Cleveland from towns throughout the Pennsylvania coal region.

Delahanty tried to walk the straight and narrow and took a job in 1928 as an umpire in the South Atlantic League. But his troubles continued, and he was divorced by his wife, Mary, in 1930, for nonsupport. It was an uncontested divorce, as she did now know where Delahanty was. At his lowest point, Delahanty was living in a Cleveland flophouse with his brother Jim, according to Frank’s SABR biography.

The happier resolution to Frank Delahanty’s life is also mentioned in the bio. He eventually got himself together and went to work in City Hall in Cleveland. By 1940, he had been named supervisor of city streets and was able to get jobs for his brothers Willie and Jim. Considering his past crimes, using a government post to employ his family members is pretty quaint and innocuous by comparison. He and Jim also played in old-timers games with other Cleveland heroes like Nap Lajoie and Tris Speaker.

In February of 1966, Delahanty suffered a broken hip and wrist in a fall. He never fully recovered from that accident and remained hospitalized for the rest of his life. He died in Woman’s Hospital in Cleveland on July 22, 1966, at the age of 83. He was the last surviving Delahanty sibling. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland.

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