Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball
by Jerrold Casway
Reading about 19th century baseball and baseball
players can be like eating your vegetables or attending the opera-you know, in
some sense, it's good for you-but you have a pretty firm idea that you're not
going to like it. When I met Mr. Casway at the regional SABR meeting in Reading,
Pennsylvania, I saw him selling books at a small table and went over in my head
what I knew about Ed Delahanty. I knew he was part of the famed .400 hitting
Phillies outfield in the beloved 1894 Replay set, but that was pretty much it. I
bought his book, partially because I am a habitual book buyer, and partially
because I had a vague feeling I should try to cast some light upon darkened
corners of my ignorance. I put the book away, suspecting I might not pull it out
for a while, but happy to have supported a SABR author in any case.
I was pleasantly surprised when I began Mr. Casway's book and found it to be a very easy, but thorough and insightful, look at Mr. Delahanty's life. The first pitfall of biography is an overreliance on detail, and Mr. Casway gives the reader a judicious mixture of the life and times of the Delahanty family without reporting on Ed's conduct marks in second grade. The action quickly progresses to Ed's baseball career, from games at the neighborhood firehouse to local teams in Mansfield, Ohio and Wheeling, WV, and then on to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The “King of Batters” piled up impressive statistical records, with 11 straight 0.300 full season averages, 6 OPS marks over 1.000, and 2,597 career hits. Casway gets the mixture of on field play against off the field events just about perfect-a real sense of Delahanty's life emerges, with plenty of game action to hold the baseball fan rapt. A modern reader notes with interest the reaction of Phillies fans of 100 years ago who criticized Delhanty's stellar play due to the team's overall failure in a manner reminiscent of modern fans' “What have you done for me lately” demeanor.
Delhanty's personal troubles, always in the background of his life and career, are treated compassionately and honestly by Mr. Casway, as gambling and drinking begin to trouble the aging slugger and affect his play. While still able to perform, batting 0.333 in 42 games in his final season, Delahanty was being torn apart by contract disputes between New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, injuries, and his own gambling and drinking. Tragically, Delahanty fell from a railroad bridge to his death after a confusing series of events during the 1903 season. Casway neither psychoanalyzes nor guesses at the tragic events, merely lays out the facts as they are known.
Casway's book is a marvelous look at a great player from another age, and one of the better books covering this era. I have to admit I probably would not have picked this book off a bookstore shelf, and it is proof of the treasures to be found in the less popular corners of America's pastime. --Michael Webb