With 232 players enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, it comes as no surprise that many of the games immortals are unknown to today’s fans. After all, how many of these 232 legendary ballplayers can YOU name?
Chances are it’s a lot fewer than you think; everyone knows Cal Ripken, Nolan Ryan, and Babe Ruth, but what about Gabby Hartnett, Frankie Frisch, and George Kell?
There are many great players, especially those from hall of fame classes inducted over 50 years ago, that for one reason or another have fallen out of recognition as the preeminent players of their time.
This recurring article will take a one-by-one look at some of baseball’s most unknown hall of famers. Up today is Ed Delahanty, 19th century slugger for the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Senators.
The only player to win batting titles in both the American and National leagues, Delahanty broke into the major leagues in 1888 with Philadelphia, although he would not become a regular in the lineup until 1892, four years later.
In his first season as a starter, Delahanty hit .306, and would never hit below .323 for the rest of his career. With fellow Hall of Famers Sam Thompson and Nap Lajoie in the lineup, Philadelphia set an all-time record for highest team batting average, hitting at a team clip of .349 in 1894.
In 1899, arguably Delahanty’s best season, he hit .410 while leading the league in hits and RBI, as well as 55 doubles (a record until 1923). Two years later, both he and Lajoie joined Washington, switching to the AL in the process.
In his first year with his new team, Delahanty promptly won the AL batting crown, hitting .376. Washington, however, was stuck near the bottom of standings and Delahanty, having never played on a championship team, yearned to play in the post-season.
He signed to play for the New York Giants for the 1903 season, but a dispute between the American and National Leagues that resulted in a peace settlement froze all players with their former teams, sending “Big Ed” back to Washington.
Unhappy back in Washington, experiencing marital problems and stuck in debt to John McGraw (Delahanty had been advanced part of his contract by the Giants owner before the peace settlement kept him in Washington), Delahanty began to turn to drinking as an outlet for his frustration.
In July of 1903, Delahanty was ejected from a train traveling across the International Bridge over Niagara Falls. Drunk, Delahanty set off after the train but slipped on the tracks and fell to his death in the Niagara River. He was just 36 years old and still had several productive seasons left.
Hitting over .400 three separate times, Delahanty finished with a career batting average of .346 on the strength of 2,597 hits in just 1,835 games. He also slugged 1,464 RBI and stole 455 bases. Delahanty was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945.
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