Friday, July 2, 2010

July 2, 1903: Big Ed

FORT ERIE, Ontario - Ed Delahanty was one of the great stars of the early days of Major League baseball. The oldest and most talented of five brothers who eventually played in the Majors, Delahanty is fifth all-time in career batting average, twice leading the league in home runs and hitting above .400 three times. He was deservedly elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.

But now, more than 100 years after he played his last game, Delahanty is remembered more for his strange death than for his playing career. On the night of July 2, 1903, Delahanty was swept over Niagara Falls after either falling or jumping off the International Bridge connecting Ontario with Buffalo, New York. The many unknown circumstances surrounding his death make it all the more interesting to study years after the fact.

Despite being 35 years old in 1903, Delahanty was easily the best team on the going-nowhere Washington Senators, to whom he had jumped after years playing for Philadelphia in the National League. Halfway through the season, though, personal problems started to consume him. Suffering through marital and financial problems, Delahanty left the team in July to go visit his estranged wife in New York. Boarding a train that would take him from Chicago, through southern Ontario, and on to New York City, Delahanty found the bar in the train to be much to his liking. After causing a disturbance on the train - the conductor said he had brandished a straight razor and threatened other passengers - he was kicked off the train just as it was about to cross the Niagara River back into New York.

The common story presented is that after being kicked off the train, Delahanty angrily and drunkenly chased the train across the International Bridge before tripping and falling into the river below. However, other theories have been brought up as to why Delahanty fell off the bridge. Pointing to his recent personal problems, some people have suggested suicide. Others point to eyewitness accounts of a mysterious man following Delahanty that night and suggest a robbery-murder.

Whatever the reason, Delahanty fell into the Niagara River, and his body was found at the bottom of the falls a week later. One of the brightest stars of the late 1800s died while he was still an effective ballplayer. Despite his hall-of-fame plaque, Delahanty will always be better remembered for his bizzare death rather than his quality play.

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