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The Delahanty Dynasty: Joe Delahanty

Clinton Riddle continues his exploration of the Delahanty baseball dynasty with a look at brother Joe Delahanty.

Joe Delahanty
Joe Delahanty

The Delahanty Dynasty: Joe Delahanty

Joe Delahanty was a left fielder and second baseman who played thirteen seasons in the minors, though he did show himself to be a solid (if unspectacular) big-leaguer during his 270 games with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Joe was born on October 18th, 1875, growing up near a large vacant lot which had become a makeshift baseball field for the local children. It's safe to say that Joe was fascinated by the game as soon as he could swing a bat, an attraction made even stronger given that his brothers Ed and Tom were soon to make their way into the professional ranks.

His mother Bridget (née Croke) was at first insistent, as she had been with all of her sons, that Joe should learn a useful trade. To this end, Joe would attend Immaculate Conception Grammar School until he reached eighth grade, then took vocational training in lithography. Sadly, at least for Mrs. Delahanty, it didn't take, and soon Joe would seek his fortunes on the diamond.

In his first foray into pro ball, Joe signed with the Quincy Bluebirds in the Western Association in 1896. This was a recently-organized league that was formed around the core of the old Illinois-Iowa League, with teams in Nebraska, Illinois and Iowa, and a season schedule from May 1st to September 10th (though some sources say September 1st).

As a Class B league, they were two levels above the then-lowest level of minor-league ball, and no easy adjustment for a 19 year-old rookie. There is no record of that season known to exist, though the general impression given of Joe's inaugural pro season is that it was not a memorable one. The WA folded in August of that year, at any rate, and Joe was in a holding pattern back in Ohio until the next season.

Joe would sign on with the Fall River Indians in the New England League in May of 1897, according to The Evening Times (Washington, D.C.) While he performed well in limited playing time (.344 BA in 25 games), he was released in June. No explanation was given, or at least none that is known. He then caught on with the Newport Colts and the Wheeling Nailers, in the New England League and the Interstate League, respectively. Again, little exists in terms of records for either of those teams.

In 1898, minor-league manager/promoter/team owner Bill Sharsig, at that time the general manager of the Allentown Peanuts of the Atlantic League, signed Joe to play alongside his brothers Tom and Jimmy, who were already on the roster. Sharsig was building quite the reputation in baseball business circles, and his signing of this third Delahanty was to be a great boost to his club.

Joe batted .311 in 85 games for the Peanuts, though he missed 37 games to injury. In 1899, he set an Atlantic League record with 30 three-baggers (including a 17-game, 17-triple stretch) while batting a robust .344 during the abbreviated 86-game season. He also stole 24 bases and scored 72 runs.

His luck seemed to be on the upswing when the Reds purchased his contract at the end of the '99 season, but he returned to the Atlantic League when the National League dropped four teams and the Reds lost interest in him. Joe had apparently been voted the most popular Allentown player in 1899, a gesture for which he felt he deserved a raise.

As of the end of April, he was still on the hold-out, and Manager Sharsig hadn't budged. Nevertheless, Joe was back in the fold by May 1st, just in time for the start of the season. Joe would man left field, while brothers Jim and Tom played short and second, respectively.

Parenthetically, Joe was due more than a raise; for being voted most popular Allentown player, the American Medicine Company presented him a gold watch. Joe would respond by smashing a triple to left field, driving in his brother Tom for the first run of the season in the first inning.

The Atlantic League ended up going under in June of 1900, and the 24 year-old left fielder headed to the Montreal Royals of the Eastern League. Joe was on an absolute tear with Allentown at the time of the league's demise, batting .468 with 11 triples, but his numbers sank considerably in the highly-competitive EL (.248 in 54 games.) In 1901, he came back with a vengeance, batting .292 with 34 doubles, 16 triples and five homers for the Royals. For his efforts, he drew the interest of the Cleveland Indians. Nothing came of it, however.

He remained in the EL for 1902, though with the Worcester Hustlers, who signed Joe for second base to replace his former Allentown teammate Homer Smoot. He would bat .277 with 19 doubles and 12 triples, adding a career-high eight home runs.

By now, the 27 year-old outfielder was a veteran of eight different teams, spanning three minor-league levels. He hadn't made it to the big leagues just yet, but he was making an impression. Also, the mere fact that he was a Delahanty carried weight and cache which preceded him wherever he went. Joe was a fine player in his own right, but that legacy certainly didn't hurt him.

In 1903, Joe found himself again with Worcester, but forty games into the season he was sold to the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association. Before he could get underway with the Pelicans, Joe got a call to return home when his brother Ed was found dead after falling (or being pushed, depending on who you ask) into Niagara Falls. When he returned, he went on a slugging tear, batting .371 in forty games for the Pelicans. At the end of the season the Pelicans attempted to send him to another SA team, this time the Memphis Egyptians.

However, since there was no element in Joe's contract that would allow Memphis to retain his services (the so-called "reserve clause"), he instead returned to the Eastern League with the Buffalo Bisons. There had been news that the Boston Beaneaters in the National League had acquired his services, but it appears that nothing came of that, either. He batted .282 with the Bisons in 1904, then .313 the following season. After all his efforts, Joe still was not drawing serious interest from any ML team, and had watched four of his brothers make it to the big leagues by that time.

Joe spent the 1906 season with the Williamsport Millionaires in the Tri-State League, an independent league at that time. He would bat .279 with 23 doubles and 17 triples for Williamsport, adding in another five homers, giving him 45 extra-base hits over 113 games.

He was again in the outfield, where he corralled 187 putouts and recorded 15 assists while making only six errors. That error total was actually pretty decent in a time when outfielders would routinely make double-digit miscues over a full season.

In 1907, the Tri-State League was awarded a Class B categorization, as well as new territories in Trenton, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware, much to the chagrin of the Atlantic League, who had laid claim to those cities for its own.

This was the year in which Joe found himself, along with a number of other players, on a list of "contract jumpers", which players would be prohibited from playing in any other league than the Tri-State "for all time to come." Delahanty was named for having supposedly jumped from Buffalo to Williamsport, but it didn't keep him from his most important assignment to date.

Joe's contract was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1907, though he would have to wait a bit before he made it into the lineup. He would eventually make his ML debut with the Cardinals on September 30th, after sitting the bench for three weeks.

By then, he was 31 years old and a veteran of numerous minor-league teams, and he was not really expected to become a regular. Joe rapped three hits and stole three bases as the Cards won, 5-1. The next day, he hit his first ML home run. It was somewhat surprising that Joe would play so well as to force himself into a starting role for the Cards, whose woeful offense desperately needed a boost of some kind.

Joe got off to a good start when Spring Training rolled around in 1908, and the Cards put him in the starting lineup in left field. He performed well for a team that had little to celebrate (49-105 record), batting .255 and adding 14 doubles, 11 triples and 44 RBI. He also continued to play well in the field in what ended up being his first full season in the Majors.

The 1909 season found Joe less than prepared for the start of Spring Training, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch so eloquently reported:

"Billy Gilbery, Joe Delahanty, Steve Evans, Eddie Phelps and Johnny Rush are honorary members of the fat squad, and it is to them that Roger (Bresnahan) devotes his particular attention. Every day after the other players are told to run for the heated car which conveys the team back to the hotel, Manager Bresnahan takes the fat squad for another marathon around the park. Any time that one of the obese ones is seen idling for a minute, he is sent on a hike or else told to get busy with the medicine ball."

Upon witnessing the six men being put through their paces by Bresnahan, Cardinals third baseman Bobby Byrne was quoted as stating, simply, "I'm glad I ain't a fat man."

Joe's batting took a nosedive in '09, as he managed only a .214 average with 16 doubles and only four triples. On the bright side, he did drive in 54 runs, and provided a versatile utility-man glove for the Cards, playing 48 games at second base, 45 in center field, 14 in left and 7 in right. His defense in the outfield was strong (two errors, eight assists, two double plays in 63 games as an outfielder), and while he made twenty errors at second base, he at least gave the team another option for the keystone. For a club that finished 54-98, there were few highlights.

As 1910 began, Bresnahan decided to cut his losses with Delahanty. Joe was 34 years old, coming off of a poor season and running out of time and options. He returned once more to the Class A Eastern League, signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He batted .287 there in 144 games, with 39 extra-base hits, a performance more in line with Joe's professional experience. He returned to the Maple Leafs in 1911, though his numbers dipped noticeably (.265 BA, 19 doubles, 10 triples), even more disappointing considering that he was then almost seven years older than the average EL player.

With his days in professional baseball now growing short, Delahanty arranged his own release from Toronto in order to try out for the Class AA Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association. Joe had been sending letters to manager Charlie Hemphill insisting that he could make the grade with Hemphill's team, and the Crackers were somewhat shallow on the outfield depth chart at the time.

Nevertheless, Joe came up empty in this pursuit. At a time when his brother Jim, then second baseman for the Detroit Tigers, was thinking of the future and considering joining the Cleveland police department, Joe was intent on continuing his sinking baseball career.

After the Atlanta tryout went South (so to speak), Joe signed with Cleveland Forest City in the newly-formed United States Baseball League. The USBL was intended to challenge the Major Leagues as a rival and eventual equal, however lofty that goal may have sounded at the time. Not surprisingly, the USBL managed to last less than two seasons, beset on all sides by financial difficulties, low attendance, and uneven leadership.

Even with well-known baseball men such as Jack O'Connor, former Chicago Cub Harry Steinfelt, former Louisville Colonel and Pittsburgh Pirate Deacon Phillippe, and veteran of seven ML teams George Browne each managing a league team, there were too many holes in the ship to keep it from going under. Over sixteen games in the league, Joe batted .414 against competition which paled in comparison to that which he had grown accustomed to facing.

As the USBL collapsed in June 1912, Joe moved on to his final stop on the pro ball path, the Wilkes-Barre Barons in the Class B New York State League. It was another step backward for the veteran of thirteen minor-league seasons, who by then had played for fourteen different teams (not counting Memphis) and amassed a total of 1,636 hits, 201 steals and a career batting average of .303, no small task at any level of play. He was the third of five Delahanty brothers to make it to the Major Leagues, an astounding group accomplishment, followed by Jim and Frank.

Following the end of his professional baseball career, Joe would marry Anastasia Hayes on November 24th, 1914, and continue working as a lithographer, a job he had held in many off-seasons prior to this year. He also opened a tavern with his brother Willie named Delahanty Brothers, and continued playing ball in a local semi-pro league.

As Joe's mother Bridget's health declined in 1925, the family began squabbling over what was a rather small inheritance, as well as arguing over care and guardianship of Bridget. That role ultimately fell on Joe, though the cost would be years of estrangement between the Delahanty brothers and their spouses.

Likely due to his political contacts within the local Democratic Party representatives, Joe would be named the deputy sheriff of Cleveland, a position he held for the rest of his life. He would pass away on January 29th, 1936, a victim of a cerebral hemorrhage. He would be buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, survived by his wife, his sister Katherine Maguire, and brothers Tom, Jim, Frank and Willie.