The Delahanty Dynasty: Frank Delahanty
Frank Delahanty, nicknamed "Pudgie" with a frame that was all of 5'9", 160, played only 287 games at the ML level, spread out over six seasons in a 10-year period. However, he also enjoyed more than 1100 games in the minors.
The interesting thing about this particular Delahanty brother was his educational background: having attended St. Ignatius College, Frank would study medicine before shifting to law after his retirement. He had a reputation as being somewhat contrarian and argumentative, which made law a perfect choice for him, but he was also articulate and bright, and it seemed hard to believe that he would pursue baseball as a vocation when the world was, for all intents and purposes, his oyster. His temper, poor judgment and seemingly over-inflated sense of his own worth would threaten to derail both his career and his personal life.
Frank George Delahanty was the ninth of ten children born to to James and Bridget Delahanty, Irish immigrants who had come to Cleveland to settle down via Buffalo and Canada. James was a Teamster and longshoreman who worked the docks along Lake Erie, while Bridget converted the family home into a boarding house which she ruled over as both strong-willed businesswoman and matriarch of the family.
Mr and Mrs Delahanty were initially not fond of the idea that their sons were all baseball fanatics; they were very pragmatic about the childrens' future, believing that there was no real future in such a frivolous pursuit as professional baseball. However, over time, they relented and accepted that their six sons were hooked. It was perhaps easier to accept due to the fact that they were all quite good at the game.
Frank was the second of the six brothers to make his name in the local semi-pro leagues, and was soon playing in a league in Warren, Ohio. It is unclear as to precisely when and where he first entered the pro ranks, but it appears that he made his first minor-league appearance in 1902 with the Atlanta Firemen in the Southern Association. He would also play for the Birmingham Barons in the same league, splitting his time between the two. While he didn't show much in the way of offense, he built a reputation as a reliable outfielder.
Frank soon became known for his tendency to speak his mind, at times to his detriment. A comment to a reporter for Sporting Life in 1903 concerning his dislike of Atlanta contributed to his "relocation" to the New York State League, where he would man the outfield for the Syracuse Stars. His batting improved (.242 over 118 games), likely due to his playing in a Class B league; the Southern Association was a level higher, at Class A. He returned to the Association in 1904, playing for the Montgomery Senators and batting .244 as a starter. Up to that point, his offensive prowess was nothing special.
However, he seemed to hit full stride in 1905 with Birmingham, batting .309 on the season and garnering praise from sportswriters as an up-and-coming talent.
Frank would make his MLB debut for the New York Highlanders on August 23rd, 1905, going 2-4 vs the St Louis Browns and starting pitcher Fred Glade in the first game of a double-header. In the second game, he was shifted to first base, where he was nearly perfect in handling 15 of 16 chances. He also picked up another pair of base hits, along with the game-winning RBI in the ninth inning to win it for the Highlanders. While he appeared in only nine games for New York in 1905 due to a severe ankle injury, he would make 92 appearances for them the following season. Frank would bat only .238, but also had 11 doubles, 8 triples and 41 RBI.
Prior to the start of the 1906 season, Frank made a demand to the team owners for a $500 cut of the money paid to Birmingham for his contract in '05, a demand which was predictably denied. He then filed a grievance with the National Commission against manager Clark Griffith and the Highlanders ownership. This, too, was denied. He also reported late to the team, further damaging his reputation with the organization.
His seemingly ridiculous demands for money continued in early 1907, as Frank refused to report to spring training until Manager Griffith followed through on unspecified promises concerning Frank's salary. New York began to make preparations to move on without him, and Frank doubled down. At this point, the team put him on the market.
He would eventually go to Cleveland with pitcher Walter Clarkson for pitcher Earl Moore after Detroit turned down a proposed swap of disruptive players: Delahanty for a young, aggressive and temperamental outfielder named Ty Cobb.
Frank came to his new team out of shape, seemed to put little effort into his play, and clashed with manager Nap Lajoie on occasion in front of his teammates. After fifteen games, Frank was slapped with a suspension that became a season-long banishment. The confrontational outfielder sued the team for the $1050 he lost in salary due to his suspension. This dispute, like his previous protestations, failed.
Frank found himself back in the minors and the Southern Association for 1908, signing with the New Orleans Pelicans after making his employment with the team contingent on his receiving a guaranteed contract and a promise that he himself would have to approve any trade elsewhere. It didn't take long before he would refuse to play until the team covered a rather large bill he had accrued at a local upscale hotel. Team manager Charlie Frank responded in the resoundingly negative, suspending Delahanty.
Then came the incident with umpire Tom Brown while the Pelicans were in Memphis playing the Egyptians. After a close 10th-inning, bases-loaded walk won the game for Memphis, Frank ran in from the outfield to make his retort to umpire Brown.
From The Daily Telegram, June 25th, 1908:
"Police hurried on the field in order to protect Frank Delahanty, member of the famous family of ball players, when he spat in Umpire Tom Brown's face at the end of the tenth inning when Brown rendered a decision giving the Memphis batter his base on balls, forcing in the deciding run against the visiting New Orleans team. Delahanty was reported to the league officials."
The volatile and troublesome Delahanty soon found himself placed on waivers after being placed on suspension, a move that effectively ended his time in the Southern Association.
Fortunately for Frank, new Highlanders manager Kid Elberfeld scooped him up from the scrap heap. Frank showed his gratitude by batting .256 in 37 games for a last-place and poor-hitting team. Before 1909, Delahanty and Elberfeld both found themselves without a job. Frank's contract was sold to the Louisville Colonels of the American Association, but he responded by threatening to retire if he could not cut it in the big leagues. Louisville's ownership was unimpressed and Delahanty relented, signing a contract with the team.
Frank's personality, combined with his lackluster performance, led to his release from Louisville. Indianapolis signed him for the 1910 season, but his numbers (.230, 9 doubles) cost him his job with yet another team. Finding work with the St Paul Saints for 1911, he had perhaps his best offensive season, posting a .276 average with 23 doubles and seven triples.
Once again, an on-field incident cost him his job, as in late July he pulled the mask off of umpire Ollie Chill and punched him. Waived from St Paul at the end of the season, yet another team would take a chance on the unpredictable Delahanty, this time the Minneapolis Millers of the AA. His brother Jimmy would join the team a few months later and the Millers won their third straight pennant, losing to Denver in five games in the championship.
His encore performance with the Millers in 1913 would lead to yet more outbursts. On May 18th, he assaulted Louisville's Grover Lowdermilk with a bat after he was hit by a pitch, striking the pitcher several times before players and umpires intervened. At season's end, it appeared that his unstable behavior had finally caught up to him. Then the formation of the Federal League took his career into extra innings, so to speak, as he spent time with both the Buffalo Buffeds and the Pittsburgh Rebels before retiring from pro ball in 1915.
Frank would return to his home in Cleveland, where he picked up a regular job at an automobile company. He would give baseball another try while there, playing ball for a city league which won the city championship in 1918, but Frank had other matters which deserved his attention. At age 35, he had a family to look after. It was time to put the game behind him. He couldn't know at the time what the future held for him.
Frank Delahanty continued his courses at Baldwin Wallace College, this time focusing on law instead of medicine, eyeing a future in jurisprudence and perhaps even politics. After he passed the bar in 1918, Frank began to practice law from an office set up at his home. It wasn't long before he saw the possibilities presented by political office; his brother Joe was politically active, even running for City Council in 1913, a race he would lose. Name recognition certainly helped his cause, as the Delahantys were well-known from their escapades in pro baseball. Unlike his brother Joe, Frank would run successfully for Cleveland City Council, winning one of the thirteen council seats.
It wasn't long before Frank would set about destroying what could have been a long and profitable law career. The newly-minted city councilman, sworn into office in January 1919, would face charges of bribery in March of the same year. In a probe involving a Dr. Wallace Skeels, who was a lobbyist for Ohio chiropractors, Councilman Delahanty was accused of soliciting a bribe from the doctor in exchange for Delahanty's support of a bill affecting chiropractic medicine in the state. The councilman pleaded guilty in November of the same year, tendering his resignation to the city council, in return for a one-year suspended sentence.
This wasn't the end of Delahanty's illegal activities. In March of 1925, Frank was named in an affidavit filed in Cleveland that charged seven men with violating the National Prohibition Act. Frank and six others were caught moving forty barrels of beer from a rail car. Frank would spend a year in Atlanta Federal Prison for this misadventure. It wasn't the first time Frank was involved in bootlegging, and it wouldn't be the last, even after his year-long federal sentence.
Frank would return to baseball in 1928, as an umpire in the Middle Atlantic League. In an ironic twist, outfielder Apples Holland would come to Frank's defense when an enraged crowd stormed the field and attacked him. Holland's actions saved Frank a great deal of harm, though it cost the outfielder more than his share of bruises.
On September 11th, 1930, Mary Delahanty would finalize her divorce from Frank, stating simply that she had no idea as to the whereabouts of her now ex-husband. At this point, she claimed to have not seen Frank in three years. If she had known his whereabouts, it's doubtful that she would have changed her mind. Frank was crashing at a Cleveland flophouse, where his brother Jim was also staying.
Still, against seemingly insurmountable odds, Frank decided to turn his life around as he approached middle age. Calling on old friends from his short run in politics, Frank was able to secure a job with the city, working his way up to supervisor of city streets and then finding jobs for his brothers Jim and Willie. Frank and his brothers would regain the respect of their fellow Clevelanders as regulars on the banquet circuit and at Indians games, as well as Old Timer's games.
Frank would eventually retire to a home he shared with daughters Frances and Margaret, living a quiet (and controversy-free) life until his death on July 22nd, 1966 at age eighty-two. Frank was the last of the Delahanty boys, and like his brother Ed, lived a life that seemed the product of a screenwriter's daydreams. Still, while his life was riddled with lapses in judgment and the occasional criminal activity, it was at least memorable.