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The Delahanty Dynasty: Tom Delahanty

Clinton Riddle continues his series of baseball biographies with a look at Tom Delahanty

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The Delahanty Dynasty: Tom Delahanty

Tom Delahanty played all or parts of twelve seasons in the minors with sixteen different teams, including an astounding 205 with the 1904 Seattle Siwashes in the Pacific Coast League. His was a professional career which, compared with the successes of his brother Ed, Joe and Frank, was rather unremarkable. However, he was a steady and dependable player in his own right.

Born Thomas James Delahanty on March 9th, 1872, he was the fourth of ten children in the Delahanty household. His father James was working as a teamster and longshoreman at the time, and his mother Bridget was daily about her own business of turning the two-story home in which they lived into a boarding house.

By all accounts, Mrs. Delahanty ran a tight ship and was firm in her desire that her sons should learn a useful trade. As with the others, it wasn't long before Tom was drawn to the game. He would play on the same vacant lot on which his brother Ed first garnered notice as a prospect, and it wasn't long before he was noticed by the area scouts.

It's generally thought that 1894 was Tom's first season in pro baseball, though some sources mention his playing in the Ohio-Michigan League the year prior. According to what is known for sure, Tom started off with the Peoria Distillers in the Class-A Western Association, playing second base for a second-place team. He batted .297 with 39 extra-base hits (10 homers), and also stole 18 bases over 101 games.

It was in his debut year that he would make his first ML appearance, mostly at the repeated insistence of his brother Ed, who ended the season with a .404 batting average (yet he finished behind Sam Thompson's .414) and with Thompson and Billy Hamilton was part of the only outfield in ML history manned by three .400 hitters.

With a respectable 71-57 record, but a mediocre 4th place finish, the Phillies had little to lose by calling Tom to the big leagues. Regardless, a hand injury to second baseman Bill Hallman necessitated the call-up, and Tom would make his ML debut on September 29th, the final game of the season for Philadelphia. He went 1-4 at the plate and handled six chances at the keystone (4 putouts, 2 assists) in an 11-3 loss to the Cleveland Spiders.

His brother Ed, however, had a rough day in the field. Playing third base (for reasons unknown), Big Ed made two throwing errors in the sixth inning to go along with his one putout and three assists, picking up a base hit in the losing effort. At the end of the game, Ed tossed his glove into the bleachers, stating that the season was over and he had no need for it any longer.

Strangely enough, Phillies Manager Arthur Irwin would begin spring training the next year by stating his intention of moving Ed to third base permanently, to which the star outfielder replied (from The Philadelphia Inquirer; March 8th, 1895:)

I can play any position, if the club can stand it. I played shortstop for the Cleveland Brotherhood Club one day, and I made a record. I made fourteen wild throws and drove all the people off the right field bleachers.

When the '95 season began, Big Ed found himself back in the outfield.

Tom would return to the minors in 1895, this time with the Atlanta Crackers in the Class-B Southern Association. The Crackers would finish 70-37, winning the pennant handily. Tom drew high praise for his glove work while batting .290 and stealing 65 bases. He went on to play for the Western League's Detroit Tigers after the Crackers' season was over, batting .409 in his sixteen games there.

As with the previous year, Tom was drawing attention for his defensive acumen, and there were whispers among sports writers and scouts alike that Tom could eventually become the next Delahanty star in the Majors.

1896 carried Tom back to his hometown when he signed with the Spiders, the team against whom he had made his ML debut two years prior. For the Spiders, Tom would be working the hot corner, where his eleven errors in 16 games (.823 fielding average) did little to reinforce beliefs that he was soon to return to the big leagues. He also managed only a .232 average in that span.

Tom's contract was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates in late May, who sent him to the Class-A Eastern League and the Toronto Canadians after only one appearance in a Pirates uniform (1-3, one error in four chances as a shortstop.) Toronto was a team which ended up having to relocate to Albany, New York, for part of the season (where they were known as the Albany Senators), then back to Toronto before the season ended. Tom performed well for the Canadians, stealing 40 bags and batting a fair .245 in 99 games.

The 1897 season took Tom all over the baseball map, as he would play for five different clubs. His first start was with the Milwaukee Creams in the Class-A Western League, making twelve appearances with the oddly-named club before moving on to the Kansas City Blues.

The Blues would release Tom a month and a half later, according to Sporting Life, for “dissipation”, the contemporary term for drunkenness or alcoholism.

Tom's brothers Ed and Jimmy had developed a reputation for heavy drinking, and it's certainly believable that Tom could have the same problem, but only Sporting Life made mention of this. At any rate, Tom managed to get another shot with a major-league club, this time the Louisville Colonels. On June 29th he went 1-4 with a double, a runs scored and two RBI, but his defense was poor as he made two errors in only three chances.

That would be his final appearance as a major-league player, a game that the Colonels lost to the Chicago Colts by the astounding score of 36-7. He signed with yet another team, the Western League's Tigers, after he was released by the Colonels, but soon he would move on to the Newark Colts in the Atlantic League, a Class-B league at the time and another step down the professional ladder. Tom batted .314 for the Colts in 22 games, with six doubles and a triple. Thankfully, he wouldn't have to change his address again until 1898.

In both the '98 and '99 seasons, questions were raised about Tom Delahanty's alleged problems with alcohol. Several times in the Pennsylvania newspapers he was reported to be “tired”, “sick”, or stricken with some vaguely-defined illness. In a 4-3 Allentown victory over Reading on August 5th, he had a verbal altercation with the umpire which resulted in a three-game suspension. The September 5th, 1898 edition of The Allentown Leader made mention of a decided lack of effort on Tom's part:

A peculiar coincident is that in each instance (Richmond player) Hargrove made a hit and Dundon sent an easy grounder to Doherty, who was ready to double up Hargrove and Dundon, but second was uncovered. It was very rocky work on the part of Tom Delahanty and the management gave him a good talking-to.”

What was especially intriguing about this is that it mentions the same fielding chance, with the same runner on first, and the same batter at the plate. At the least, it suggests less-than-honest effort by Delahanty, though there is no further evidence that it was anything more than poor play on his part.

The 1898 season was also notable for being the first season for promoter Billy Sharsig's Allentown Peanuts, a new Atlantic League club. Sharsig was a man of many hats, at different times team owner, manager, promoter, scout and all-around baseball man. He had managed the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association in 1886, and again from 1888-91. It should be noted that he also owned at least part of the aforementioned teams to which he assigned himself as manager.

He started managing in the minors in 1895 with the Hazleton Quakers in the Pennsylvania State League when previous manager John Hanlon resigned before the season began because the league wouldn't allow him to be both secretary of the league and manager of a team at the same time.

When the '98 season rolled around and Sharsig found himself owner of the newly-formed Peanuts, he would split managerial duties with James McGeehan and the team would finish fifth among the eight-team Atlantic League with a 55-67 record. Delahanty would bat a combined .288 in 118 games between his time with Allentown and the Newark Colts, while fielding at a .925 clip in 101 games at the keystone. He would return in 1899 to bat .333, though only in 54 games.

By the end of the 1899 season, plans were forming that would have Delahanty take over Allentown as a player-manager and team captain, but the entire league went under on June 12th, 1900, and so Tom had to make alternative plans. In his time with the Peanuts, Tom had the opportunity to play alongside his brothers Joe and Jim; Sharsig, being the promoter he was, knew the value of the Delahanty name. Also, it seemed every one of the brothers could play in fast company, though there was always the sense that one of them would live up to Big Ed's example.

As the 19th century drew to a close, Tom was looking for a new team. While Sharsig sold Tom's contract to the Cleveland Lake Shores of the then-Class-A American League, he spent only a few games there before being sent to the Youngstown Glass Blowers in the Interstate League. He started 1901 with the Western Association's Grand Rapids Woodworkers, where he broke his wrist vs. Dayton but rebounded and wound up batting .313 in 62 games before the Denver Grizzlies of the Western League picked him up.

While with the Grizzlies, Delahanty would experience one more career revival. In 1902, Tom rapped 194 hits in 137 games, scoring 118 runs, stealing 38 bases and finishing with a .350 batting average, good for fourth in the league. Grizzlies owner D.C. Packard was so appreciative of Tom's efforts that he handed over the managerial reins to him for 1903, but it would be an exceedingly difficult and painful year for Tom and the entire Delahanty family.

The '03 season proved to be a difficult one for Tom. There are certain personality traits commonly found in leadership positions: assertiveness, confidence, sometimes a touch of arrogance. Tom was a quiet man who spent a lot of time in his own head; more of an observer than a leader, and it quickly showed.

While dealing with the stress of management, a terrible family tragedy struck the Delahantys when brother Ed died after falling into Niagara Falls. Whether he fell, was pushed, or even had committed suicide was difficult to say; Ed had been reported as drunk and belligerent on a Michigan Central train near Fort Erie, Ontario, and was forced off the train by a Mr. Cole, a conductor.

Ed was a man who lived the high life whenever possible, and that meant the best hotels, the best restaurants, and a significant amount of alcohol. It also meant gambling, specifically horse racing, and both his extravagant spending and his gambling habits caught up with him at the end of his life.

Notorious for jumping contracts whenever a better offer popped up, Ed now found himself under contract with both the New York Giants and Washington after a botched attempt to jump to greener pastures in The Big Apple. The result was that he received $2500 in advance of his NY contract from team owner John T. Brush, and Brush was adamant that he would hold Big Ed to his obligation with the Giants.

Frank Delahanty, who was playing for Syracuse at the time, J.E. Croke, a brother of Mrs. Delahanty, and brother-in-law E.J. McGuire would travel to Fort Erie when they received word that Ed had died. Police Chief Griffin was leading an investigation as to the nature of Big Ed's death. The Delahanty party came to Fort Erie with the notion that Ed would never have killed himself, and thus it was either an accident or he was murdered. Questioned in the incident were chief conductor Cole and night watchman of the International Bridge Mr. Kingston, each who reported Ed as having been belligerent and uncontrollable.

Regardless of the circumstances, Ed's body was discovered on July 9th, just below the falls on the Niagara River. While Delahanty's family would hold the railroad responsible for his death, filing suit against the Pullman Company, Grand Trunk Railroad and the International Bridge Company, they weren't able to find the answers they sought, and in July 1905 their suit was dismissed.

As with the rest of the family, Ed's death would dramatically affect Tom; they were especially close, and while Tom would rush to get back to Cleveland for Ed's funeral, the family rushed to have the service and Tom missed out. With the condition of Ed's body, the endless questions surrounding his death, and the family's wish to move on, one could see their point of view. Tom, however, never forgot this. His return to Denver found him relieved as manager, though he continued on as the regular second baseman for the Grizzlies. He would bat .310 and score 82 runs, though it was a singles-heavy year for him.

Tom moved on to the Pacific Coast League for 1904, landing a job with the Seattle Siwashes, managed by long-time pro ball vet Parke Wilson. He would be in for a marathon with his new team, as he ended up playing in a mammoth 205 games. Even so, he didn't even lead his own team in that regard; George Van Haltren played in 222 games in a career which spanned more than 3000 games at multiple levels, 1990 in the majors.

In February 1904, it was reported that Tom had actually jumped his contract with Denver to join the PCL, referred to as an outlaw league at that time. In fact, Denver seemed happy to be rid of him. Seattle didn't even seem to be his final destination, at first: initially, he was reported heading to the Southern Association, then Portland in the PCL.

While Delahanty didn't exactly struggle, the team as a whole certainly had its issues, and the blame was often laid on Tom's shoulders. It didn't help that the PCL had a far-longer schedule than he was accustomed to, but at age 32 his legs were going as well. After batting .275 in his 205 games for the Siwashes, Tom was on the move once more.

When Joe Cantillon traded left fielder Dusty Miller to Seattle, both Tom Delahanty and outfielder Bob Ganley were expected to be sent in exchange. Cantillon was both manager of Milwaukee and president of Des Moines, teams in the Western League, and was reported as planning to send Ganley to Milwaukee while keeping Delahanty at Des Moines.

Ganley had played at Milwaukee in 1903 and was already a fan favorite, while Delahanty had been somewhat maligned during his time in Seattle. Cantillon disputed the assumption about the Brewers acquiring one of these players, however. From The Des Moines Register; Jan 11th, 1905:

I have closed a deal with Tom Delahanty of Seattle and Bob Ganley of Oakland. This talk about one of them going to Milwaukee is a mistake. I have secured them both for Des Moines and they are going to play on the Des Moines team.”

However, that turned out to be false as well. Delahanty would head to the indy leagues to play with Lodi, feeling the Des Moines salary offer was unacceptable. Soon after the season began, he was on the move once again to the Colorado Springs Millionaires, a return to the Western League.

He got off to a strong start, as the Denver Post reported on May 21st that he had made only one error and had at least one hit in all but one game, to this point. He played in only 72 games in '05, batting .304 and playing first base in order to lessen the strain on his quickly-aging legs. Also, he was a favorite of the Colorado fans, as he had been in so many other cities with the home crowds. Seattle seems to be a glaring exception.

When 1906 came around, Tom was at the end of the line in his baseball career. At 34, he was quite aware of it, and wished to join his brother Joe in Williamsport, part of the Tri-State League, another so-called “outlaw” conglomeration of regional teams competing with other organized leagues. He began campaigning for a spot on the roster more than a month before the season began, writing to manager Jimmy Sebring on at least one occasion.

He would get his wish, though he played in only 27 games and batted an anemic .168. When the end of June arrived, Tom Delahanty was released. His baseball career had reached its end. It was a career of which he could be proud, even if he never made his mark in the major leagues. Afflicted with rheumatism (a general term referring to more than 200 specific disorders and conditions), his body took a lot of battering over his 1300+ game career.

Tom would move back to Cleveland and live in the house in which he grew up, working in tool and die-type positions and as a boilermaker. He dabbled with running a saloon, from time to time. By the late-20's, Tom had moved to Sanford, Florida to retire, where he ran his own general store and arranged fishing trips for customers. He passed away on January 10th, 1951, at age 78, his funeral rites taking place the next day. He was survived by his brothers Willie, Frank and Jim, as well as his sister Katherine Delahanty-Maguire.

(Sources for this and other articles in the Delahanty series include at least twenty newspaper archives, the SABR biography section, and Baseball-Reference.com. Jerrold Casway wrote an excellent and all-inclusive biography on Big Ed Delahanty, a must-read for further info on this baseball family.)