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Big Ed Delahanty and Bus Seasons

big ed delahantyEd Delahanty died at 35, early in the 1903 season. He was swept over Niagra Falls after being forcibly detrained on the International Bridge for drunken, disorderly conduct. Seeing his name on our ballot, reminded of a crass but effective turn of phrase: “Bus season.” The year by which a player has accomplished enough that if he were hit by a bus the day, he’d still get a plaque.

I told you it was crass.

OK, what we’re really we’re asking ourselves is how quickly we can call a player a future-Hall-of-Famer without sounding fanboyish.

This is simpler retrospectively because various Halls of Fame are already populated. We can just ask whether there’s reasonable evidence that a player’s career so far puts him in the top-half of Hall members at his position. Let’s use Jay Jaffe’s JAWS* as a criteria and look at Albert Pujols.

*JAWS balances career and peak performance by averaging a player’s 7 best years by WAR and his career total.

There are 19 Hall of Fame first basemen. BB-REF says that they average 55.7 JAWS. Here’s Albert’s JAWS year by year.

YEAR WAR TOP-7 CAREER JAWS
2001 6.6 6.6 6.6 6.6
2002 5.5 12.1 12.1 12.1
2003 8.6 20.7 20.7 20.7
2004 8.4 29.1 29.1 29.1
2005 8.4 37.5 37.5 37.5
2006 8.4 45.9 45.9 45.9
2007 8.7 54.6 54.6 54.6
2008 (bingo!) 9.2 58.3 63.8 61.1

Just eight seasons—that’s how the great ones roll. For entry into the Hall he only had to stay alive and show up for 2009 and 2010.

But that wasn’t the case with Big Ed Delahanty, arguably the best LF in history before Ted Williams. Delahanty took that mantle from Jim O’Rourke, but it took him ten to thirteen years to do it. Sort of.

Delahanty barely resembled a league-average player until his fourth year, 1892. His SABR bio notes that, “Delahanty rededicated himself to his profession in the offseason, working out every day, and reporting to camp in 1892 in the best shape of his life.” Best! Shape! Of! His! Life! But snark not, once he transformed into ED DELAHANTY, he took the same amount of time to pass O’Rourke that Pujols did to enter the upper echelon of first basemen.

Anyway, Delahanty’s bus season came before his train season. It’s a shame he wasn’t around long enough to know what a bus season meant to his legacy.

—Eric

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