7/2/2003 by Mike Sowell


The Mysterious Death of Hall-of-Famer Big Ed Delahanty
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 The title (a nominee for dullest of the year) refers to the day that Big Ed Delahanty, a heavy-drinking, heavy-hitting baseball superstar, tumbled down Niagara Falls to his death. An accident? Suicide? Murder? Sowell, who seems to specialize in baseball-death books (The Pitch that Killed, 1989), sorts through the clues in an intelligent study that, like its predecessor, uses tragedy as a springboard for carefully researched baseball history. Delahanty is forgotten today, despite his presence in the Hall of Fame and his spectacular lifetime hitting average (.345, fourth highest ever). Sowell does nothing to resurrect his subject's fame; he's far more interested in observing the social and economic forces that swirled around Delahanty's career. At the time of Big Ed's death, the National League, 20 years old and already carrying a reputation for rowdyism, faced stiff competition from the new, ``clean'' American League. Sowell recounts the battle for dominance between the leagues, as managers and players leapfrogged from one to the other while lawyers, union organizers, and gamblers stirred the muddied waters. Delahanty comes off as a minor figure, playing second fiddle to charismatic characters like pitcher John Montgomery Ward, a Columbia Univ. Law School graduate who racked up 47 wins in one year and was the first player to write a book about baseball. Nonetheless, Delahanty's strange death raises eyebrows. Was he driven to suicide by National League officials? Mugged by a stranger and tossed over the edge? What of the mysterious security guard who kept changing his story? Sowell takes no sides, except that of baseball itself, which he clearly loves. Filled with period trivia (``from the hotel, the players rode to the ballpark in uniform aboard horse-drawn carriages, a ceremony known as the `tally-ho' '') that lighten the tedium of the historical ins-and-outs, making this a hit--a solid double, no more, no less--for baseball buffs. (Eight-page photo insert--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-02-612415-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1992


NonfictionMIRACLE AT FENWAY by Saul Wisnia
by Saul Wisnia