“The two Best Batsmen of the Game”

19 Aug

Jack Doyle spent part of 17 seasons in the major leagues from 1889 until 1905. In 1910, he told William A. Phelon of The New York Telegraph that among hitters, “There were two men who were real topliners in their trade.”

It was, he said, “Hardly probable,” there was anyone better than Pete Browning and Ed Delahanty.

browning

Browning

Doyle said neither benefited from “scorers who make everything a hit except a dropped pop fly.”

But, the two were largely dissimilar:

“(T)here never were two men more radically different in their ideas and their opinions of the game than those two great sluggers.”

“Pete Browning was an artist. To him baseball was an art or profession and batting an absorbing passion.

“Delahanty was a workman. Baseball to him was labor or a trade and batting simply part of the daily toil.

“When Browning left the field, the game wasn’t over. He continued to talk batting, theorize on batting, and I think dreamed of batting all night long.

“When Delahanty left the ballpark, the game was all through for the day, as if he were a laborer going home for supper. He ceased to think baseball and would only talk baseball when someone started the conversation that way.”

delehanty.jpg

Delahanty

Each handled success differently:

“Pete Browning made five hits one afternoon. He kept his clubmates awake for hours, telling it over and over. ‘Old Petey’s eyes is pretty bright yet, huh?’ he shouted. ‘Reckon the old man ain’t there with the hits no more, eh?’

“When Delahanty made the record in Chicago, four home runs and a single (July 13, 1896) and was told that he had outdone all former deeds, he grunted, said ‘That right?’ And wanted to know who won the second race.”

Their reaction to adversity differed as well:

“If Browning failed to make a hit at the time of need, he would have tears in his eyes and would bitterly bewail his misfortune. If Delahanty fell down in the pinch, he shrugged his shoulders, hoofed back to the bench and began to talk racing or the weather.

“When an outfielder galloped to the fence and pulled down one of Browning’s mighty drives, Pete would regard it as a personal insult, and glower at the defender like a baffled tiger. When an outfielder robbed Del of a home run, Ed would grunt ‘Good catch bo, didn’t think you’d get it!’ and forget it forever.”

And, of course, no one treated their bats and eyes the way Browning did:

“Pete Browning spent hours polishing his bats, hours rubbing his eyes, in the belief that it made them brighter. Delahanty, perhaps, spent an occasional half-hour fixing up his bats on a rainy afternoon.

“If you had told Pete Browning that the business was losing money, and that he would have to cut his salary next season, he would have accepted the money rather than lose the chance to play the game. If you handed that talk to Delahanty, he would have sneered scornfully, and remarked that you’d have to come up with 500 more beans before he’d even look at a contract.”

The two did have two things in common, he said:

“Neither Peter nor Del cared much where their teams finished on the season. Pete thought only of his hits and the glory of making them, Del thought of a comfortable winter life on the money he made in the summertime.”

Also, he said neither could bunt:

“Del wouldn’t simply try. Pete, with much groaning and protestation, would be coaxed to make the attempt, but his attempts were fizzles. Pure, old-fashioned, straightaway sluggers, both of them, and the two best batsmen of the game.”

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