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The Delahanty Dynasty: Jim Delahanty

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Clinton Riddle presents part two in his series of historical articles regarding the Delahanty Brothers.

Jim Delahanty
Jim Delahanty

The Delahanty Dynasty: Jim Delahanty

Utility player Jim Delahanty carved quite a niche for himself in the majors as easily the most successful Delahanty brother not named "Big Ed". From 1901 to 1915, Jim played 1186 games for eight different ML and Federal League teams, batting .283 and demonstrating base-stealing speed and selectivity at the plate along the way. However, he also found time to appear in 630 minor-league games in six different leagues. Jim started out in the Southern Association, playing for the Montgomery Senators as a 19 year-old third baseman.

Nicknamed "The Yellow Kid" after a famous contemporary cartoon printed in the New York World and the New York Journal, Jim started off slower than his brother Joe, but would bat .328 for the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association in 1902. He followed that up with a .383 average (again with Little Rock) before being called up to the majors as a full-time player.

In 1904, Jim was a full-time third baseman for the Boston Beaneaters of the National League, where he batted .285 with 60 RBI, 16 steals, 27 doubles and eight triples in 142 games. He would move to the outfield in 1905, where he performed adequately, batting .258 with 55 RBI. Jim was traded to the Reds in January 1906 for Al Bridwell, where he was moved back to third base.

He hit  well enough, driving in 39 runs and stealing 21 bases to complement his .280 batting average, while finishing in the top five in putouts, assists and total chances among third basemen. Jim split the 1907 season between the St Louis Browns and the Washington Senators, playing second base primarily but appearing all over the field at different times and continuing to show himself a steady infielder. He then batted .317 for the Senators in 1908 over 83 games. He would also find himself in hot water after an on-field incident in his native Cleveland.

On August 4th, Jim and Otis Clymer got the boot for arguing calls with umpire and future HOF'er Silk O'Loughlin. Jim then unleashed a profane tirade audible to most of the game's fans, a litany so offensive that it led AL president Ban Johnson to bar Delahanty from playing in Cleveland for one year.

He also fined Jim $50, an amount that hardly seems to reflect the severity of the punishment levied against Delahanty. In an effort to be fair to the other teams in the league, manager Joe Cantillon went the extra mile and held Delahanty out of games versus the other contenders for the league pennant.

In all, Delahanty's mouth cost him 27 games.

He was shifted to second base on a regular basis in 1909, a season which he split between the Washington Senators and the Detroit Tigers. While with Detroit, Delahanty led the team in batting average during their World Series appearance, posting a .346 mark with five doubles in an ultimately losing effort.

Jim had his best season at the plate in 1911, batting .339 with 30 doubles, 14 triples and 94 RBI in 144 games. It would prove to be his swan song in the majors, however, as the Tigers would release him just after the half-way mark of the 1912 season.

It was suggested that Jim's support on the side of the players and teammate Ty Cobb (a team strike due to Cobb's suspension after striking a fan) played a role in this decision. He was also making $4,000 on the season, and so finances could have played a role. Even the "release" itself was disputed, as Tigers team president Frank Navin commented on July 23rd. From the Star Press, July 25th, 1912:

"If Jim Delahanty has been released he must have released himself," said President Frank Navin of the Tigers, yesterday. This is a direct contradiction to the word received from Manager Hughey Jennings a few days ago that Delahanty was sold to the Pacific Coast League. "We got a pitcher from Sacramento, but not for the Tigers. He was sent to Providence to strengthen the club there. Delahanty was not mentioned in the deal," said Navin.

Whatever led to the misunderstanding ended up being a moot point, as both Delahanty and Manager Jennings knew that the aging utility player with a bum knee was on his way out.

He had purportedly played a central role in the team-wide mutiny stemming from outfielder Ty Cobb's May 15th, 1912 assault on fan Claude Lucker at New York. Delahanty, along with Sam Crawford, spurred Cobb to action after the fan allegedly called Cobb a "half-nigger." While highly offensive for entirely different reasons in the 21st century, it was among the gravest insults any Southern-born player could endure one hundred years ago. Cobb had endured Lucker's taunts since the first pitch, had attempted to have the fan removed and even sought out New York manager Harry Wolverton to warn him that he would endure no more of Lucker's abuse.

Nevertheless, by the sixth inning Cobb could take no more, climbing into the stands to beat Lucker senseless. Sure enough, Cobb was suspended. His teammates responded by striking on May 18th, prompting ownership to throw together a patchwork club made of locals who were, themselves, beaten senseless by the Philadelphia Athletics, losing 24-2. Again, Cobb entreated his teammates to return to the field, which they did. It has been suggested that this single incident was the catalyst for the formation of the Baseball Players' Fraternity, which would lead to our modern MLBPA. Dave Fultz, founder of the Fraternity, spoke specifically about the Cobb incident in Volume 10, Issue 1 of Baseball Magazine in November 1912:

"The fraternity will endeavor to procure legislation which will prevent a repetition of the Cobb strike and of the occurrence which caused it. While regretting the strike, we realize that it did a great deal of good in bringing forcibly to the attention of the public and magnates an abuse to which the player has been subjected for many years. The professional is a man of high tension, otherwise he does not make a good player. To expect him to go placidly about his work while some degenerate under cover of the crowd hurls abusive and obscene epithets at him, is to expect too much."

After his release from the Tigers, Jim joined the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, where he nearly led them to the league pennant in 1913. This was the first time in four seasons that the Millers failed to finish in first place, but certainly not due to Delahanty's play. While he was once described by a Detroit Free Press writer as someone who "could hit like a fiend, but his defensive work resembled that of a sieve trying to stop a leak", the 1913 A.A. Season would find Jim in fine form.

According to the Reach Official AL Baseball Guide for 1914, Delahanty played outstanding defense at the first sack for the Millers while batting nearly .300 for much of the season. Jim would return to a major-league-level team in the Brooklyn Tip-Tops of the Federal League, where he played 91 games between '14 and '15, finishing his professional career with Hartford in the Fed League's own minor-league system.

While his career had its moments of infamy, Jim Delahanty actually had a reputation for professionalism and class, widely seen as a positive clubhouse influence despite momentary lapses of control. One memory, humorous in retrospect, shines a light on those moments, and is said to have been the impetus behind his waiving from the St Louis Browns to Washington in 1907. From The Washington Times, February 28th, 1912:

"Jim Delahanty five years ago wore the uniform of the St Louis Browns, and was "asleep at the switch" most of the time. Manager (Jimmy) McAleer tin-canned Jamie for failing to slide on a play at the plate. The run would have won the game for the Browns. Delahanty strolled home as though he didn't care whether he was put out or not. Instead of sliding, he walked into the catcher and allowed himself to be tagged out.

"Why didn't you hit the dirt?" demanded Manager McAleer, when Delahanty returned to the bench.

"He had me dead to rights," replied Delahanty, "and I couldn't see any use of soiling my clean flannel shirt."

A week later, Joe Cantillon, manager of Washington, quietly picked up Delahanty, clean shirts and all.