On the morning of April 16th, 1912 headlines across America told the story of the tragic sinking of the Titanic. On its maiden voyage across the Atlantic the ship went down with more than 1,500 people aboard. Buried somewhere in the sports section of those same newspapers was a box score heralding the debut of Arizona’s first native-born major league baseball player. His name was Lee “Flame” Delhi and he hailed from Harqua Hala, a small mining town south of Salome.
Flame was the son of a gold miner and was christened Lee William and that’s what people called him until a Los Angeles sports writer nicknamed him “Flame” for his blazing fastball and a shock of flaming red hair.
That was back in 1910 when he was pitching in the Pacific Coast League. Flame was considered the best pitcher in the league and during the winter of 1911 major league teams were in a bidding war for his services. The Chicago White Sox bid highest and bought his contract for $5,000. He reported for spring training in February, 1912, about the same time Arizona became a state. It was the first time he’d been east of Prescott. Incidentally, the White Sox got the 5K, not Flame.
Flame made his debut on April 16th. He was called into relieve in the 7th inning against Detroit. The Sox were losing 4 to 0. He showed the smoke that earned him his nickname striking out the first batter he faced. Then the Tigers teed off on him pretty good in the next three innings. When the dust had settled Detroit was ahead 10-1. In three innings he gave up 7 hits, 6 runs, (3 earned) walked 3 and struck out 2. Apparently the White Sox saw no future in the youngster. Flame never pitched another game in the majors. A week later he was back in the minor leagues
Eventually Flame returned to Arizona and pitched in the semi-pro leagues. He was recruited by the Ray Mines baseball team and in exchange for his services the company trained him as an engineer. In time his blazing fastball slowed and he retired from the game, settling into a career as a engineer. And he became a good one. In 1924 he began a 22-year career at Western Pipe and Steel. Eventually he became vice-president in charge of ship building operations.
When the Great Depression came in the 1930’s many working people wound up selling apples on street corners, Not Flame Delhi. This man who pitched only a couple of innings in the major leagues; Arizona’s first native born major league baseball player was earning $80,000, not as a ballplayer but building ships. Ironically, he was earning the same salary as the immortal New York Yankee right fielder, Babe Ruth.