- Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball
Historians of Irish-American life and baseball fans will find much to admire in Jerrold Casway's approach to telling the story of Ed Delahanty, the "Irish kid from Cleveland" who rubbed shoulders with and played against some of the greatest players of the late-nineteenth century dead-ball era. Casway properly urges readers to see that Ed Delahanty occupies a significant place in both American historical narrative and in baseball's collective imagination by situating his life story within the larger context of what he terms the "Emerald Age" of the national game.
Irish immigrants in the United States after the Famine settled in larger urban centers and were often employed as domestic servants and manual laborers. Baseball appealed to second-generation Irish-American males not only because it was similar to the bat-and-ball game of hurling, but also because success in the game met some of the major social and personal challenges in immigrant life. "Irish men," Casway writes, "still congregated and sought social outlets from everyday ordeals. Success and acceptance in these male refuges focused on achievement and community recognition. Here, physical and athletic prowess became compensating factors for immigrant male socioeconomic shortfalls. Baseball, a competitive team sport where individuals excelled, was an ideal expression for this masculinity."
Casway's employment of Delahanty's story to illuminate the Emerald Age is apt. There was a distinctly Hibernian cast to many of the players and the managers: "Jim 'the Orator' O'Rourke, Dan Brouthers, and Mike 'King' Kelly were instant darlings in Irish neighborhoods" and they were succeeded by Ed Delahanty, several of his five brothers, and such turn-of-the-century luminaries as Ned Hanlon, Tommy Leach, Connie Mack, and John McGraw. Their presence as players was seen as an advantage; as one manager put it, "Give me an Irishman for the inside game." Ed Delahanty, like other Irish-American boys of his era, admired these athletes for their popularity, bravado, and conspicuous spending. As a boy, Delahanty loved to hang around the firehouse in Cleveland near his Phelps Street home, where he was discovered and invited to join a Mansfield, Ohio, minor league team. Without telling his parents, the nineteen-year-old left home that day and began a sixteen-year career in baseball.
After Mansfield, Delahanty signed with the Phillies, for whom he played and starred for a decade. He was an accomplished hitter, a rugged outfielder, and a fine baserunner who compiled excellent statistics and most often played with a flair and dash that earned him the affection of fans and the moniker "the only Del." But he was often accompanied by off-the-field troubles with drinking [End Page 157] and gambling. Failing to deliver Philadelphia a championship after many tries, Delahanty finished his career with the Washington Senators. Casway retells Delahanty's career highlights and the drama of individual ballgames, together with the details of the stars repeated attempts to break contracts or jump leagues. Ed Delahanty was also—to his emotional and financial detriment—a central figure in the owners' strategies to preserve their powers. Casway thoroughly explores the owners' highhandedness with the reserve clause and the shenanigans of John Brush, Colonel Rogers, and such "upstarts" as Ban Johnson, president of the American League. Then as now, manipulation and broken promises characterized Delahanty's and other ballplayers' dealings with baseball's owners.
Casway portrays Ed Delahanty, finally, as a man short on a sense of duty and unable to control himself or to keep away from the racetrack and, especially, to stop drinking. When he absolutely had to get organized, Ed was harnessed first by his mother, Bridget, and later by his wife, Norine. The book is especially compelling as Casway carefully pieces together the story of Delahanty's last days. He died in July, 1903, as he either fell or jumped from a railway bridge over the Niagara River after he had been put off a train by the conductor for...