Bill Dahlen Stats & Facts
Positions: Shortstop and Third Baseman
Bats: Right • Throws: Right
5-9, 180lb (175cm, 81kg)
Born: January 5, 1870 in Nelliston, NY
Died: December 5, 1950 in Brooklyn, NY
Buried: Evergreen Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY
High School: Fort Plain HS (Fort Plain, NY)
Debut: April 22, 1891 (Age 21-107d, 1,593rd in MLB history)
Last Game: October 12, 1911 (Age 41-280d)
vs. NYG 3 AB, 0 H, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB
Rookie Status: Exceeded rookie limits during 1891 season
Full Name: William Frederick Dahlen
Nicknames: Bad Bill
View Player Bio from the SABR BioProject
Statistically among the top defensive shortstops of all-time, Bill Dahlen’s exploits in the field are legendary. Dahlen, who possessed unrivaled range and a rifle-arm, starred for 21-years (1891-1911) in the National League. The sure-handed supernova retired as the front-runner in countless defensive categories and still ranks among the top ten at the position with 4,856 putouts (2nd), 7,505 assists (4th), and a 5.80 range factor per game (6th). Perhaps the best testament to his defensive prowess is the fact that he played 144 games at shortstop as a 38-year-old in 1908, leading the NL in double-plays and range factor while ranking second in fielding percentage and assists!
In a 1910 interview with freelance journalist Joseph Bowles, Dahlen disclosed a few secrets of the trade:
“Close attention to every move is essential,” explained Dahlen. “The mind must be alert at every instant during a game. There is no room in major league baseball for any except fast-thinking and fast-moving players. . . . [H]e must be on his toes, ready to jump in any given direction without the loss of an instant. A man who handles his feet well, either batting, fielding or base running, is a good player, for footwork is better than ability with the hands. It is necessary for a player to be shifty on his feet as it is for a boxer. No one can be shifty unless he is on his toes all the time. . . . When in the field, he moves with the ball and is moving when it is hit, so he covers more ground.”
Unlike most middle infielders of the era, Dahlen was no one-trick pony. The 5-foot-9 inch, 180-pound dynamo was renowned for his near-unrivaled skillset at the plate and on the bases. A true five-tool player in today’s vernacular, his most memorable offensive feat occurred in 1894 when he compiled a record 42-game hit streak, which stood three years until being surpassed by Wee Willie Keeler, who hit safely in 44 straight. Dahlen’s 42-game mark remains the fourth-best in MLB history and the longest by any right-handed NL batsman.
For what it’s worth, there are a few interesting parallels between Joe DiMaggio and Dahlen. After having his streak snapped, Dahlen hit safely in the next 28-games—giving him hits in 70 of 71 contests. Whereas, Joe D. collected hits in 73 of 74 games. Aside from the streak, Dahlen was sensational throughout his age 24 season, hitting .359 with 14 triples, 15 long balls, 108 runs batted in, 150 runs scored, and 43 stolen bases. For the year he struck out only 33 times while collecting 76 walks, good for a .445 on-base percentage. Coincidentally, DiMaggio also drew 76 walks and finished with a near-identical .440 on-base percentage, though he struck out only 13 times!
Nicknamed “Bad Bill” for his sometimes fiery temperament and reputation as a “goodtime Charlie,” Dahlen spit his MLB career among several senior circuit clubs, including the Chicago Colts, Brooklyn Superbas, New York Giants, and Boston Doves. Despite his supposed transgressions—especially his well-publicized drinking—he was one of the most productive players of the day. Sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who once called him a “loaf and drinker,” was later convinced “Bad Bill” had repented. “He is a smart, intelligent and interesting young man,” declared the venerable scribe. “I believe these stories about his drinking have been exaggerated.” Perhaps Fullerton was right: Dahlen went on to serve as Brookyn’s player-manager for parts of four seasons (1910-13).
In 1912, legendary Hall of Fame shortstop and manager, Hughie Jennings, discussed Dahlen’s faults and transcendent talent:
“If Dahlen had devoted his entire time to baseball he would have been the greatest . . . of all time,” lamented Jennings. “He could take a grounder on either side of him while in motion and throw without hesitating a moment. He could smash the ball to any part of the lot and bunt perfectly. He was a great baserunner. There was no more brilliant fielder!”
Dahlen began his big-league career with the 1891 Cubs, finishing the season with a .260 batting average, 13 triples, 76 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. The 22-year-old’s sophomore campaign was even more impressive; he hit .293 with 19 triples, 114 runs scored, and 60 stolen bases. In 1893, Dahlen smacked 28 doubles, 15 triples, and topped the .300 mark for the first time (.301). As mentioned earlier, he took it to the next level in 1894, hitting .359 with 14 triples, 15 home runs (4th in the NL), 108 RBI, and 43 steals. Following an off-year (.254), “Bad Bill” was back with a vengeance in 1896—.352 with 19 triples (3rd in the NL), nine homers, and 51 stolen bases.
Years later, Johnny Evers called Dahlen the most astute baserunner he’d encountered, especially when avoiding tags with his ambidextrous hook slide. “[Bill] had a great way of anticipating where the throw from the catcher was coming, and he played his slide to a nicety,” Evers explained. “Coming straight along, he’d suddenly fall down on his hips, to one side or the other, spread his legs ad then use the greatest cleverness in pulling out of reach and twisting himself to hook the base with either foot. . . . He was almost sure to get the better of close plays around second base, even when throws were on the mark.”
Going into the 1897 season, Dahlen, age 27, seemed destined for even greater things. Inexplicably, however, his offensive output suddenly went south; he would never again reach the .300 plateau (or even come close in most years). However, this was no sweat for the so-called “master of all trades,” who continued to play world-class defense, draw plenty of walks, and steal around 30 bags a year; he even won an RBI crown (80) as an indispensable member of the NL Champion 1904 New York Giants. Despite batting only .242 in 1905, “Mugsy” penciled in his stalwart shortstop as the cleanup hitter for the duration. “Dahlen the Determined” arose to the occasion, finishing among the league leaders with seven homers (3rd), 81 RBI (7th), and 37 steals (7th). The Giants went on to win the 1905 Fall Classic.
As the 1906 season got underway, the 36-year-old’s legs and reflexes began to fail him, though he was still at times spectacular in the field. That year, he hit .240 but with little extra-base power or speed, though he mitigated it somewhat by drawing 76 walks. He followed that with a dismal .207 average in 1907. Upon being traded to Boston in 1908, the 38-year-old “improved” to hit .237 over parts of two seasons, but the writing was on the wall. Following a few cameo appearances (four games) with Brooklyn in 1910 and 1911, the man Hans Wagner called “one of the best” shortstops of all-time retired as an active player at age 41.
All told, Dahlen amassed 2,461 hits—413 doubles, 163 triples, 84 home runs—1,234 RBI, 1,590 runs scored, 580 stolen bases, and a .272/.358/.382 slash-line over parts of 21 MLB seasons. On a per annum basis, he averaged 26 doubles, 10 triples, 78 RBI, 100 runs scored, 35 stolen bases, 70 walks, and only 47 Ks per 154 games played. According to historian-author Dan Holmes: “When Dahlen retired he held the all-time record for games played and ranked among the top ten in nearly every offensive category in major league history. In fact, his 84 homers were the major league mark!” As for his defensive wizardry, it’s certain that “Bad Bill” would’ve taken home several Gold Glove awards in the modern era.
Following his playing days, Dahlen became a recluse of sorts, and little is known of his remaining life. Following a long illness, he passed away, age 79, at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn on December 5, 1950. The Associated Press ran an understated obituary that recounted his exploits with the New York Giants and mentioned his short tenure as a big-league skipper. He was survived by a sister, Mrs. Douglas Bishofff, and a brother, Harry J. Dahlen.
Many historians consider Dahlen one of the biggest Hall of Fame snubs of all-time, an assertion I humbly share. For the yet unconvinced “new-age” crowd, consider this: According to baseballreference.com, Dahlen’s 75.4 WAR (wins above replacement) is the 8th best all-time among MLB shortstops. According to sportingnews.com, “115 Hall of Fame position players have less WAR than Dahlen.” Sadly, in Cooperstown balloting (1936-37), Dahlen topped out with only 1.3% of the vote. He will next appear on the ballot in 2021 when the Early Baseball Era Committee meets.
✍️ Bobby King II
◾Sources: https://www.baseball-reference.com + https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov + https://baseballhistorydaily.com + https://sabr.org + http://www.thedeadballera.com