Big Ed, the King of Swatsville

a baseball tragedy
by Jonathan Josephson


Before 1903, Edward "Big Ed" Delahanty was on top of the world. He was an elite ballplayer in the rapidly growing Major Leagues, he was a Batting Champ, a family man who was beloved by his teammates and his fans alike. Then - something happened. His swing slowed down a little bit, be began to drink a little more, and his world began to unravel. In July of 1903, Big Ed's body was found at the base of Niagara Falls gorge - all but naked, missing a leg.

He had been thrown off a train crossing over the Falls 10 days earlier for "drunk and disorderly conduct" including an assault of a sleeping woman and threatening train passengers with a straight razor. But was Big Ed's death the result of an accident, a suicide, or a murder? This play-with-music, presented as fractured early-20th Century vaudeville act, measures the facts of Big Ed's incredible life while grappling with his inexplicable death within a whirlwind of celebrity worship, mental illness, alcoholism, and fear.


The play was written to be performed by three men and three women though it can easily be performed by an ensemble of 12 or more.  Here is how a six-actor version could be staged with doubling:

  • Edward “Big Ed” Delahanty (M, 35) 
    The Hall of Fame left fielder for the Philadelphia Quakers and Phillies, and later the Washington Senators. Muscular, handsome, a roughneck in dandy clothing. Emotionally distraught, outwardly gregarious, mentally unstable - also an alcoholic. An inspirational hero, a violent menace. “The King of Swatsville.”

  • Norine Delahanty (F, 24)
    Big Ed’s dutiful wife. Never worked a day in her adult life, born to be a New York socialite. A mother to five-year old Florence. Not terribly into baseball but passionate about her husband, her family and her lifestyle.

  • Female Actor 1  (F, 20s-40s) 
    - PLAYER 1: a Vaudevillian
    - THE WOMAN: an adventurous, beguiling spirit in a red dress;inspiring and seductive
    - ELOISE: Eloise Hamilton, a train passenger - pleasant, proper, adamant about what is right

  • Female Actor 2 (F, 50s-60s,) 
    - PLAYER 2: a Vaudevillian
    - MAMA: Mother of Ed Delahanty, an Irish immigrant. Loyal to her son but also concerned for his well being
    - CANDICE: Candice Brouthers, a witness from the train

  • Male Actor 2 (M, 30s-40s) 
    - PLAYER 4: a Vaudevillian
    - MCGRAW: John “Mugsy” McGraw, the player-manager for the New York Giants, Big Ed’s trusted friend (and a future Hall of Famer)
    - BENNETT: an official with the Pullman Car Company
    - KINGSTON: Sam Kingston, a night watchman at Niagara Falls

  • Male Actor 1 (M, 20s-60s)
    - PLAYER 3: a Vaudevillian
    - MULLAN: Father Mullan, an Irish-Catholic Priest, longtime friend of the Delahanty family
    - COLE: Conductor John Cole, an exuberant train conductor and big baseball fan
    - GANGSTER: a hired gun of few words