Ed Delahanty was the most 19th Century baseball player ever

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Magglio Ordonez’s retirement inspired Trent McCotter of SABR to note that Ordonez ended his career with an 18-game hitting streak. That’s the longest streak at the end of a career ever, eclipsing the previous record holder, Ed Delahanty, who ended his career with a 16-game streak.

This in turn led to some Twitter talk about the great Ed Delahanty, who is probably one of the more overlooked Hall of Famers ever.

Delahanty was a slugger among sluggers in the late 19th century. He led the league with 19 homers in 1893, which was a pretty significant total for the day. He did so again in 1896. Five times he led the NL in slugging. He thrice led the NL in RBI, with 146, 126 and 137. And he was not a one-dimensional hitter. He got on base at an amazing clip, leading the league with a ridiculous .500 OBP in 1895, and finishing his career with a .411 OBP.  He led the NL in OPS five times.

But the reason why his being overlooked is damn nigh criminal is not because of his baseball prowess — he was inducted to the Hall, after all — but because the way he broke into the major leagues and the way he died is unknown by so many. There are books with long colorful descriptions of Delahanty’s life and hard times, but in the interest of saving time and hassle, I quote Wikipedia:

Delahanty also played minor league ball in Wheeling, West Virginia before the Phillies obtained him as a replacement for Charlie Ferguson. Ferguson had died early in 1888 from typhoid fever, and Ed was originally brought in to fill in for him at second base …

and:

Delahanty died when he was swept over Niagara Falls in 1903. He was apparently kicked off a train by the train’s conductor for being drunk and disorderly. The conductor said Delahanty was brandishing a straight razor and threatening passengers. After being kicked off the train, Delahanty started his way across the International Bridge connecting Buffalo, NY with Fort Erie (near Niagara Falls) and fell or jumped off the bridge (some accounts say Ed was yelling about death that night). Whether “Big Ed” died from his plunge over the Falls, or drowned on the way to the Falls is uncertain.

If you got your job because of a typhoid fever death and had your career end because of a booze-fueled plunge over Niagara Falls, you have to be the most 19th Century baseball player of all time. At the very least it’s between him and Old Hoss Radboun.

Crowd honors Jose Bautista in his last Blue Jays home game

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Jose Bautista ran onto the field on Sunday afternoon, alone, in what was likely his last hurrah as a Blue Jays player. The 36-year-old outfielder signed a one-year, $18 million contract with the club prior to the 2017 season and is not expected to get his $17 million option picked up for 2018. During Sunday’s series finale, he got a fond farewell befitting a decade-long career as one of Toronto’s most prolific hitters, drawing standing ovations every time he stepped up to the plate.

The Blue Jays came out swinging against the Yankees, building an eight-run lead on Teoscar Hernandez’s first-inning home run and a smattering of hits and productive outs from Darwin Barney, Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales. Bautista supplemented the drive with his own RBI single in the fourth inning, plating Hernandez on an 0-2 fastball from reliever Bryan Mitchell.

Later in the inning, he nearly scored a second run on a Kendrys Morales two-RBI single, but was caught at the plate on the relay by Starlin Castro.

It’s an encouraging end to what has overwhelmingly been a disappointing season for the Toronto slugger. Entering Sunday’s finale, he slashed .201/.309/.365 with a franchise single-season record 161 strikeouts in 658 plate appearances, numbers that somewhat obscure the six straight All-Star nominations, four MVP bids and 54-homer campaign he once enjoyed with the team. Even a bounce-back performance in 2018 likely wouldn’t command a $17 million salary, but there’s no denying his impact on the Blue Jays’ last 10 years, from his signature bat flip to his tie-breaking home run in the 2015 ALDS.

The Blue Jays currently lead the Yankees 9-2 in the top of the sixth inning. Expect a few more standing O’s before the end of the game.

Why more baseball players don’t kneel

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Bruce Maxwell was the first baseball player to kneel for the National Anthem. There may be others who do so, but I don’t suspect many will. Indeed, I’m pretty confident that the protests we’re seeing in the NFL today, and will see more of once basketball season begins, will not become a major thing in baseball.

Some will say it’s because baseball or baseball players are more patriotic or something, but I don’t think that’s it. Yes, baseball is a lot whiter and has a lot of conservative players who would never think to protest during the National Anthem or, for that matter, protest anything at all, but I suspect there are many who saw what Colin Kaepernick and other football players have done — or who have listened to what Steph Curry and LeBron James have said — and agreed with it. Yet I do not think many, if any of them will themselves protest.

Why? I think it mostly comes down to baseball’s culture of conformity.

Almost everyone in baseball comes through a hierarchy. Even the big names. Even if you are the consensus number one pick, you do your time in the minors. Once there, conformity and humility is drilled into you. This happens both affirmatively, in the form of coaches telling you to act in a certain way and passively, by virtue of all players being in similar, humbling circumstances. Bus rides, cheap hotels, etc. In that world, even if you are ten times better and ten times richer than your teammates, you fall in with the crowd because doing otherwise would be socially disruptive.

The very socialization of a baseball player is dependent upon them learning to talk, walk and carry themselves like all those who came before. No one is given special treatment. In the rare cases they are, it’s head-turning. Bryce Harper was a more or less normal minor leaguer, but since he got their earlier by bypassing his final years of high school, he was thrown at and challenged in ways no other minor league stars are. It does not take much for a guy to be singled out for punishment or mockery and even the superstars like Harper are not on solid professional ground as long as they’re still in the minors. Indeed, between a player’s education, as it were, in the minors and their pre-free agency residency in the majors, it can be a decade or more before a unique personality or a true showman is able to shine through, and by then few are willing. They’ve been conditioned by that point.

Even budding superstars can be roundly criticized for the tiniest of perceived transgressions or the most modest displays of individuality. Think about all of the “controversies” we have about the proper way to celebrate a home run or run the bases. If that’s a cause for singling out and, potentially, benching or being traded or being given a shorter leash, imagine the guts a baseball player has to have in order to do something like take a knee during the National Anthem. A guy with multiple MVP Awards would likely be in an uncomfortable spotlight over such a thing, so imagine how brave someone like Bruce Maxwell, who has barely 100 games under his belt, has to be to have done it.

CC Sabathia, a 17-year veteran, spoke out yesterday, but I suspect he won’t kneel for the National Anthem when he lines up with his teammates before the Wild Card game next week. Other ballplayers will likely wade into the fray in the coming days. But I suspect baseball’s very nature — it’s very culture — will keep ballplayers from following in the footsteps of the many NFL players who took a knee today.