Grave Story: Jim Delahanty (1879-1953)


Here lies Jim Delahanty, a well-traveled infielder whose penchant for troublemaking may have gotten him banned from baseball – unofficially, of course. He played for the Chicago Orphans (1901), New York Giants (1902), Boston Beaneaters (1904-05), Cincinnati Reds (1906), St. Louis Browns (1907), Washington Senators (1907-1909), and Detroit Tigers (1909-1912), as well as the Brooklyn Tip-Tops of the Federal League (1914-15).

Jim Delahanty’s grave at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland.

Like the rest of his family, James Christopher Delahanty was born in Cleveland. He was born on June 20, 1879, so he was the second-youngest of the five MLB-playing brothers, behind Frank. He showed up as a second baseman on an amateur team in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1897. His lack of experience showed – he was 19 at the time – and he was sent back to Ohio, where he joined a team in Lima. He soon became a fan favorite, not only for his improved playing abilities but also for his personality. He was nicknamed “The Yellow Kid,” after the popular cartoon character of the time, because of his mischievous, boyish ways, reported a Sporting News correspondent. He could play, too. He helped defeat the Page Fence Giants, a tough black baseball team, by starting a double play in the top of the eighth inning and hitting a 2-run single in the bottom of the frame.

The Delahantys are difficult to track for a few reasons. Newspapers tended to refer to players by their last name only in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, and when you have six baseball-playing Delahantys – Willie played in the minors – it can get confusing. The 1898 Allentown Peanuts, for example, had Jim, Tom, and Joe on the team, frequently in the infield at the same time! Additionally, their last name is spelled either “Delehanty” or “Delahanty” – sometimes the same paper would use either spelling.

Given Ed Delahanty’s success in the major leagues, it seemed like every minor-league and major-league club in the country scrambled to sign one of his brothers. Jim, though, didn’t look to have inherited the baseball gene, at least at first. He was a mediocre hitter in his first couple of professional seasons, spent mostly with Allentown as a shortstop, third baseman and occasional left fielder. Allentown, and the rest of the Atlantic League, shut down on June 11, 1900. Allentown’s last game apparently was a forfeit loss, thanks to Delahanty. “Today’s game with Allentown was forfeited to Scranton in the second inning by Umpire Russell on account of Jim Delahanty’s refusal to leave the game when ordered to do so for using foul language and constant kicking,” reported The Wilkes-Barre News

Delahanty was sold to the Worcester Farmers of the Eastern League as the disbanded teams tried to get their last bit of cash. He finished the season with the Farmers and, according to Baseball Reference, hit .281 with 3 homers. Manager Malachi Kitteridge called him the fastest infielder in the league and promised that he would startle some Eastern League pitchers in the upcoming 1901 season.

Source: Boston Post, April 1, 1904.

Worcester’s president had other plans and sold him to the Chicago Orphans. He was supposed to be the team’s starting third baseman, but he never got on track. He was ill in the spring with malaria, slashed .190/.239/.222 in 17 games when he was able to play and was released in late June. A return to the majors in 1902 with the New York Giants was even briefer. He was a highly touted signing, after many of the Giants’ star players jumped to the American League, but he lasted just seven games and hit .231 before he was sent to the Little Rock Travelers of the Southern Association.

Getting sent to Little Rock was the best thing that could have happened to Delahanty, as he positively raked for a season and a half. He hit .328 with 14 triples in 1902, and then he batted .383 in 1903. He missed considerable time with a sprained shoulder, but he was still considered the league’s best third baseman, if not the best third baseman in all the minor leagues.

The Delahanty family suffered a great tragedy with the death of Ed in July 1903, and they almost lost Jim that December. He was spiked in a game against Memphis near the end of the season, resulting in an infection that kept him off his feet for three weeks. Once he recovered from that, he worked as a firefighter in Cleveland and fell into a 15-foot-deep hole while on a call. He survived that ordeal with nothing more than a sprained back and a baseball-sized lump on his head.

Delahanty’s outstanding work in Little Rock earned him another trip to the big leagues in 1904, when he was acquired by the Boston Beaneaters. He spent most of the next decade moving between five different NL and AL teams, but he was generally a pretty successful major leaguer.

Boston gave Delahanty a chance to start, and without any nagging injuries or illnesses to hinder him, he hit .285 with 60 RBIs. He hit 27 doubles and stole 16 bases, and while his fielding percentage at third base was a low .888, his quickness helped improve Boston’s infield defense. He also bore an uncanny resemblance to his late, lamented brother, down to the way he talked.

“He is not so old, but he has the Delahanty swing to his bat,” reported the Boston Post. “He has that same careless, shifty walk of his brother, and he faces the pitcher with the same coolness and apparent indifference to what is going on that his brother Ed did, and which caused more than one big league pitcher to lose heart as he saw Del sauntering to the home plate.”

The Post also pointed out that the youngster almost got himself suspended once or twice and put the blame on some outside influences who were causing him to make some poor choices. “It is up to Delahanty to cut out some of his alleged friends who got him ‘in wrong’ in 1904 and to get down to business,” the paper warned.

Delahanty’s hopes for an even better sophomore season were dashed when he broke his ankle crashing into a fence in spring training in 1905. And by “crash,” I mean he hit the left field wall so hard that he popped a wooden board off the fence and into the adjoining lot. He came back to hit a career-high 5 homers and drive in 55 runs, but his batting average dipped to .258. He also failed to get along with first-year player/manager Fred Tenney. The rumor was that third baseman Delahanty intentionally threw hard to first base on grounders in 1904, and the soft-handed first baseman Tenney couldn’t handle them. The first move that Tenney made as manager was to put Delahanty in left field, to Del’s dismay. Over the offseason, New York traded the moody Delahanty to Cincinnati for infielder Al Bridwell.

The 1906 Reds were managed by Hall of Famer Ned Hanlon, and while they were a sixth-place team, Delahanty was moved back to third base and hit .280. He was very erratic on defense, and Delahanty was supposedly left so upset by his time with the Reds that he helped engineer his sale to the St. Louis Browns for the 1907 season. That arrangement lasted all of 33 games, and then Delahanty was benched by Browns manager Jimmy McAleer for poor play. He was sold to the Washington Senators, where he was expected to replace 41-year-old Lave Cross at third base. Delahanty actually spent more time at second base and batted .292. He was also suspended by manager Joe Cantillon once for indifferent play.

Delahanty got off to a hot start in 1908 and was one of the AL’s leading hitters through the end of June. The hot hitting resulted in a .317 average, which was the first time he topped the .300 mark. However, he played in just 83 games overall. There were a couple of reasons for that, none of which endeared him to Washington management. For one thing, Delahanty spent the 1907-08 offseason playing ball in Florida, where he contracted malaria (again). That cut into his ability to play regularly for the whole of the ’08 season. He was also banned from playing any games in Cleveland, courtesy of AL President Ban Johnson. Delahanty used some foul language against Umpire Silk O’Loughlin while playing against the Naps, and Johnson barred him from participating in a game in Cleveland for a full year.

In spite of the time he missed, the Senators management dutifully paid Delahanty his full salary and, according to the papers, never asked him to play a game unless he said he was ready. Immediately after the season ended, Delahanty traveled to Chicago to play in some exhibition games and then joined a tour of Japan, organized by baseball magnate Al Reach. Senators management never agreed to the tour and felt Delahanty should have spent his offseason recuperating. Unsurprisingly, they offered their wayward infielder a much lower contract than he was expecting for 1909, and the contract negotiations dragged on into spring training. He ultimately signed, but his dissatisfaction with the team showed up in his poor play.

Source: The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, March 9, 1914.

After hitting in the low .220s for most of 1909, Delahanty was traded from Washington to the Detroit Tigers for Germany Schaefer and Red Killefer. It was a move from the worst team in the AL to the best, and while Delahanty hit just .253 with the Tigers, he knocked in 20 runs and scored 29 times in 46 games, helping Detroit into the World Series. He hit .346 in the Series as the Tigers lost in seven games to the Pirates, and five of his 9 hits were doubles.

Delahanty spent the next three seasons with Detroit, which was the longest amount of time he ever had with any MLB team. He hit .294 in 1910, though he missed almost all of September after injuring his leg sliding into home plate in a game. There were fears he would miss the next season, but he appeared in a career-best 144 games in 1911, slashing .339/.411/.463, with 30 doubles, 14 triples and 3 homers among his 184 hits. He drove in 94 runs as well, all done while playing pretty well as first base, a new position for him. He was overlooked on a team that featured both Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford, but Delahanty was a dangerous hitter in his own right, at least for that season.

It could have been that Delahanty had nothing else to do on the diamond except play ball, because his other favorite pastime – umpire baiting – was taken away from him. He had been told by AL President Johnson that any further run-ins with umps would result in him being persona non grata in the American League.

The troublemaker couldn’t stay out of trouble, though. Delahanty and Cobb weren’t the best of friends, but when Cobb was suspended for infamously jumping into the stands to attack a heckler in 1912, the Tigers went on strike for one game in support of their teammate. Delahanty was one of the instigators in the first ever players’ strike, which ended after Cobb convinced his teammates to drop the protest and avoid trouble. For Delahanty, however, it was too late. He was released shortly after the incident, and no other major-league team tried to sign him. Did President Johnson “suggest” the Tigers drop him? Did he unofficially blackball Delahanty from the majors? Delahanty was hitting .286 at the time of his release, one of the best marks on the team. It’s a very suspicious ending to his major-league career.

Delahanty didn’t stay out of baseball for long. His old Washington manager Joe Cantillon, who by then was running the Minneapolis Millers, asked him to join the team. Delahanty spent a year and a half with the Millers and ripped the cover off the ball, batting .317. Furthermore, it seems like he was the model of good behavior during his stay in Minneapolis.

The Federal League launched in 1914, and Delahanty talked Cantillon into releasing him so that he could join the Brooklyn Tip-Tops – the same team as former Grave Story profile Steve Evans. The combination of an umpire-baiter like Delahanty and a prankster like Evans must have made for some very interesting games, but the team’s record was a mediocre 77-77. Delahanty batted .290 as a backup infielder. He also missed about two months of the season with an injured leg. Delahanty, who was 36, played just a handful of games with Brooklyn in 1915 before they released him in July. He finished off the season as a player/manager in the independent Colonial League and retired after the 1916 season, spent with the Beaumont Oilers of the Texas League. He was the last active Delahanty brother in baseball.

Jim Delahanty with the Brooklyn Tip-Tops of the Federal League.

If you count the Federal League as a major league, then Delahanty played in the majors for 13 seasons. He slashed .283/.357/.373, with 1,159 hits. He hit 19 home runs and drove in 489 runs, while stealing 151 bases and scoring 520 times. He had a career OPS+ of 122 and generated 18.8 Wins Above Replacement.

“I’ve quit the game for good. Can’t get the kind of job I want and propose to try my luck in another direction,” he said in late 1916, He went into the auto repair business, but he still played for the Standard Auto Parts team in Cleveland, along with his brother Frank. In 1918, he led them to the National Amateur Baseball Federation championship.

“I have played with four leagues, and I don’t know how many teams, before I was with a winner,” he said at the awards banquet, where he and his teammates were presented championship gold medals. “This handsome medal you have given me is the first sign of victory coming to me. And my baseball days are nearly over, as it is.”

Before he faded into relative anonymity in Cleveland, he took on one final job in baseball as, of all things, an umpire in the American Association. After all the grief he gave umps in his playing career, one has to wonder how he felt about being on the other side of the game.

It’s hard to know what to make of Delahanty. He was a troublemaker to be sure, and his well-traveled career seems to be more due to his attitude and mouth than anything (though his defense left a lot to be desired). He was a good storyteller and a quick wit, which made him a popular player among newspapermen. That wit could sometimes become vicious, particularly when directed at anyone in a position of authority, whether it was an umpire, manager or league executive. He publicly shamed his brother Willie, who he said got too fat to make it into the majors like all the other brothers. He also had some horribly racist jabs at the Asian ballplayers he saw while touring Japan. However, when former major leaguer Cupid Childs lay dying in a Baltimore hospital in 1912, it was Jim Delahanty to make the first financial contribution to Childs’ family, who were badly in need of money.

Jim Delahanty died on October 17, 1953, after several months of poor health. He was 74 years old. Up until he became ill, he had spent years working as the foreman of a street paving crew in Cleveland – a job he most likely got through his brother Frank, who was working for the city government. Delahanty is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland.

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