Bill Dahlen would have a better chance of making it into the Baseball Hall of Fame if John McGraw, or Tinker, Evers or Chance were around to tout his candidacy because his credentials do not shriek loudly enough to woo a non-familiar voter looking back at his lifetime stats a century after his retirement.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound shortstop played Major League ball from 1890 to 1911, parts of 21 seasons until retiring at age 41. The finest years of his career were spent with the Chicago Cubs between 1891 and 1898 (predating the infielders that became more famous than he in Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance, though overlapping with them in the National League). He also played for the pugnacious McGraw with the New York Giants for several years between 1904 and 1907 and bookended his Giants commitment with stays with the Brooklyn Dodgers, including a 1910-13 managerial stint.
Actually, the Cubs were known as the Colts when Dahlen played for them and the Dodgers were known as the Superbas. But they were just different nicknames for the same franchises. Dahlen is one of 10 nominees on the ballot for Hall consideration by the Pre-Integration Era Committee gathering at the Winter Meetings in early December.
Dahlen appeared in 2,444 games (which was a record when he retired) and posted a lifetime average of .272 with 2,461 hits. He had some dramatically more productive hitting seasons with the Cubs than his typical seasons later, however. In 1894 Dahlen batted a career high .359 and he put together a 42-game hitting streak. In 1896 he batted .352. But he only hit .300 one other time. Three other times Dahlen hit in the .290s, but he had numerous seasons with mediocre averages under .260, too. The only time Dahlen led the league in an offensive category was in 1904 when he knocked in 80 runs.
Even after his average begin to decline Dahlen, who played his entire career during the deadball era when scoring was lower, accumulated RBIs at a steady rate. He knocked in 108 runs in 1894, 82 in 1901, and 81 in 1905, in addition to the season he led the NL with the lesser amount. Dahlen was also a superb base stealer, collecting 548 thefts during his career and nine times topping 30 in a season. His high was 60 in 1892.
Born in 1870, Dahlen, who lived until 1950, was not known for making friends on the field. He had a hellacious temper and displayed it often, at least often enough to acquire the unflattering nickname “Bad Bill.” What he was most respected for was spectacular glove work. Dahlen’s fielding was more admired than his hitting and he led the National League in assists four times and double plays three times. When he retired Dahlen owned the Major League records for assists, putouts, double plays and chances for a shortstop. All of this time later he still has the mark for a shortstop for total chances with 13,325. If ever there was a guy who got his glove on everything it would have to be Dahlen.
It is interesting that Dahlen was first considered for the Hall of Fame when it held its very first vote in 1936. Of course, at the time, when there was a blank slate, taking care of business focused on the very greatest of players, from Babe Ruth to Ty Cobb to Cy Young to Walter Johnson. Dahlen was not going to beat out candidates of that stature. His credentials have been looked at again in the 2000s with not enough support mustered, but his career is back now for inspection.