The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Big Ed Delahanty Takes A Plunge

The young woman’s bare foot stuck out from under the brown quilt.  Her toes were painted light pink.  Breathing in short, shallow spasms, like a small bird trapped, she slept softly as the big man stared.  Her bunk rocked slightly as the night train sped south out of Canada.  The stubborn shadows in the corners of her berth swallowed the gaslight whole.

Ed Delahanty, one of the Phillies' standout pl...

Ed Delahanty, one of the Phillies’ standout players in the early era of the franchise. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The man held an open straight razor.  The metal, still quite sharp, had dulled in color to a dusky hue that perfectly matched the complexion of her face.  He couldn’t remember why he’d entered her room, or what, if anything he’d intended to do once he’d come here.  Perhaps he just wanted company.  Perhaps he wanted more.

Bits and shards of the night began to come back to him, like jigsaw pieces from several different puzzles scattered about the floor.   The conductor’s face, swollen and severe, pointing a finger at him.  Terrified passengers looking at…him?  A bottle of whiskey crashing to the worn, wooden floor beside him.  He couldn’t remember holding it.  The train whistle blasting as the train approached the international border.  Black waves somewhere in the distance crashing against a barren shore.  Why was he crying?

The big man grabbed her ankle firmly.  He knew how to subdue without leaving a mark.  So Norine no longer wanted any part of him.  Well, this one would do.  There was always lots of Pretty Polly to go around.  At 35-years old, he was far from finished, no matter what she thought.  The money was long gone, but he’d be back on top soon enough, then she’d come begging and pleading to have him back.

The cabin door opened behind him, and three strong toughs wrestled him to the ground.  The woman woke with a start, cupping her hand to her mouth, stifling a scream.  He looked up at her, a pleading in his blue eyes she couldn’t fathom.  They brought him out to the club car in the back, the fight mostly having left him, at least for the moment.

He heard the wind howling outside as the train approached Niagara Falls in the dark.  As a boy down in Ohio, his grandmother, from County Kilkenny, would tell him stories on nights like this of the banshees that prowled the night.  She said that when the banshees come calling, someone was sure to die.  On the night she died, the wind blew the shutters off his bedroom window.  Now he knew she was out there, again, calling to him on this night, all these years later.  And no amount of whiskey or blood could change that.

The train ground to a sudden stop on the cold, steel track.  He was led to the back, handed his hat in the dark, and sent on his way.  No more foolishness on this foul evening.  Strangely, the woman with the pink toenails was there as well.  Barefoot, with only a shawl over her shoulders, she, too, stepped down onto the track aside the hulking Irishman.

Seems her ticket stub was not quite in order, having expired over a year earlier, and under a different name.  Seeing her as if for the first time, Big Ed took her arm firmly in his, a gentleman out for a stroll with his lady, as they stepped off together into the moonless night.

The night watchman upon the bridge called out a warning to them, but they didn’t respond.  Big Ed heard the banshee’s wail, even if the barefoot woman did not.  Her feet, stepping gingerly over the stones in the slats between the tracks, were cold now, and she longed to be back in her warm, feather bed upstairs in the farmhouse in Utica.

She clasped onto the arm of the big man, not knowing quite what they were going to do, but feeling unaccountably safe, even until the moment when the bridge suddenly ended without warning, as they plunged out of the July night into the darkness below.

In the millisecond before she went under the cold, black waves forever, she thought she felt not one, but two sets of arms, holding her soothingly until the darkness enveloped her in its firm, final grasp.  Up above, a train whistle startled what was left of the evening, the faces of the men and women in the windows searching the darkness, seeing nothing.

Below:  Ed Delahanty’s Obituary:  (Source:  Baseball Almanac)

DELEHANTY’S BODY FOUND.
_______________

Baseball Player Swept over Niagara
Falls—Woman’s Body Also
Recovered.

  NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y., July 9.—The body of Edward Delehanty, the right fielder of the Washingtonbaseball team of the American League, who fell from the International Bridge last Thursday night, was taken from the river at the lower Niagara gorge today. Relatives of Delehanty arrived here this afternoon and positively identified the body as that of the missing baseball player.

  The body of a woman thirty-five years old was also recovered at Lewiston today. It has not been identified.

  Delehanty’s body was mangled. One leg was torn off, presumably by the propeller of the Maid of the Mist, near whose landing the body was found. The body will be shipped to Washington tonight. Delehanty’s effects have been sent to his wife by the Pullman people.

  Frank Delehanty of the Syracuse team and E.J. McGuire, a brother-in-law, from Cleveland, are here investigating the death of the player. They do not believe that Delehanty committed suicide or that he had been on a spree in Detroit. In the sleeper on the Michigan Central train on the way down from Detroit,Delehanty had five drinks of whiskey says Conductor Cole, and became so obstreperous that he had to put him off the train at Bridgeburg at the Canadian end of the bridge. Cole says Delehanty had an open razor and was terrifying others in the sleeper.

  When the train stopped at Bridgeburg Cole did not deliver Delehanty up to a constable, as the Canadian police say he should have done. He simply put him off the train.

  After the train had disappeared across the bridge, Delehanty started to walk across, which is against the rules. The night watchman attempted to stop him, but Delehanty pushed the man to one side. The draw of the bridge had been opened for a boat, and the player plunged into the dark waters of the Niagara.

  Delehanty’s relatives hint at foul play, but there is nothing in the case, apparently, to bear out such a theory.

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/d835353d

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11 thoughts on “Big Ed Delahanty Takes A Plunge

  1. Bill,
    This is a fantastic story. The fact that you included the obit that inspired it only makes your story that much more impressive.

    Can we expect to see more posts along this format from you in the future?

    Allan

    • Thanks very much, Allan. I have been considering doing more posts like this. I used to do a lot more creative writing a while back than I do now, and I miss it. We’ll see what I have left in the tank.
      Take care,
      Bill
      P.S. And thanks so much for re-blogging this one!

  2. Glen Russell Slater on said:

    I searched and I searched and I searched and I searched in the Google newspaper archive, which is at http://news.google.com/newspapers

    I tried to find some more information on Ed Delahanty, but since a lot of it is either pay-per-view or whatever, and Google has halted their archive, on top of that. At least their not adding to it. So no real research can be done.

    MY old newspaper, The Evening News (Newburgh, New York), luckily, had its archive pretty much completed by Google before the powers to be decided that the newspaper archive wasn’t a money-maker. Money, money, money. How can they expect anyone to do real research.

    The same is with the so-called Google “Scholar”. Yeah, scholar, right. If you have lots of money, you can pay to read more than the “abstract” of the article. Yes, there are some articles that have been helpful (such as finding out that mangoes have anti-inflammatory properties, which has worked really well for my father’s arthritis in both of his knees, plus mangoes taste great, on top of it.

    But for the most part, Google Scholar is a joke.

    The internet was supposed to be an anecdote to the dumbing down of America. Instead, it is a failure. It’s a money-making enterprise. This is not the internet that Al Gore (who NEVER said that he “INVENTED” the internet, despite all the jokes; he just BELIEVED that it would be a great thing in terms of education and learning) was hoping for.

    Just as TV was labeled as a “vast wasteland” by Newton Minow, the then-FCC head, in his famous speech in 1961, the internet has proven to be the same. What a disappointment. I wonder what he would say about the internet. (He’s still alive.

    As a freelance writer, it is very disappointing and frustrating for me.

    Oh, it’s great for people who want to look at moronic crap such as Facebook and the like, and you can learn SOME things. Wikipedia is a piece of crap that is not a reliable source of information by ANY stretch of the imagination, but they don’t discontinue THAT.

    I’m glad that we have blogging, at least, but I’ve always found that historical newspaper reading is the best way to find out things, because it’s history AS ITS HAPPENING.

    As for your blog post, Bill, it’s very well-written, not to mention entertaining.

    Were you there, by any chance, when all of this stuff happened to Big Ed? Personally, I think that either J. Edgar Hoover or L.B.J. or the mob or Jack Ruby or Lee Harvey Oswald or James Earl Ray or John Wilkes Booth or the “disappointed office seeker” that assassinated President Garfield was behind the killing of Big Ed Delahanty; it was all a big conspiracy, and I know this to be true because I get all of MY information from Wikipedia. (Thus, I am a moron, which is what, it seems, the internet wants us all to be.)

    Glen

  3. One of the great murder/suicide/violent death cases of early big-time baseball, and my sense is that there were quite a few more of them before say the ’20s than there have been in recent decades. This scenario strikes me as, at minimum, highly plausible.

    • Hi Arne, You’re certainly right about that. Now that ballplayers are generally rich, they tend to not succumb to the same sorts of fatalities as they were prone to a century ago.
      Thanks for checking in,
      Bill

  4. Bill! Wow! What a legend you’ve penned! Great job! This belongs in the canon beside all the other great ones. Is the evil female temptress and the whiskey and regret Ed felt fictional embellishment? I love it. Reminds me of the lady in The Natural without the happy ending.

    The DeadBall Era doesn’t list big Ed as a suicide either and the obit says nothing about a lady. I prefer your version and think the suicide theory is off the mark. Being drunk and rowdy on a train seemed to be the smoking in the boys room equivalernt back in the day. http://thedeadballera.com/Obits/Obits_D/Delahanty.Ed.Obit.html

    And then there’s The Baseball Project’s musical take on it. Again, great job Bill!

    • Hey Steve, Most of it is embellished, but the obit does mention that a body of an unidentified woman was also recovered. That intrigued me, and sort of caused me to write this. I don’t think he intentionally committed suicide, though his life was such a mess at that point that falling off a bridge might not have seemed like a bad idea to him, either. Thanks for sending that song clip along. I’d never seen it before.
      Cheers,
      Bill

      • If only someone would have bought him a sleeping car. I wonder if suicides or suicidal thoughts would happen less frequently if people would go to sleep, wake up and enjoy the distance from whatever happened the previous night.

      • Interesting thought. But I guess you can’t sleep indefinitely. Still, whatever haunted him might have gotten him sooner or later anyway.
        -Bill

      • Yeh, unfortunately, you’re probably right. I always like to think or hope that whatever demon or whatever is haunting someone can be minimized in terms of its effect on the person. Sleep is sometimes a temporary cure, but as you say, we’re not always so lucky and sooner or later it sometimes gets us.

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