A Case for Bad Bill Dahlen

One of the greatest shortstops in baseball history, Dahlen came about his nickname because he was said to have the uncanny knack for enraging umpires with the shortest invective.  Although he was quite well-versed in choice phrases, Dahlen was also a gifted shortstop and quite superior to his Hall of Fame peers–with the notable exception of Honus Wagner, the greatest shortstop of all-time.  No other shortstop can compare with the Flying Dutchman, but two other shortstops in the Hall of Fame from that era, Joe Tinker and Bobby Wallace, failed to measure up with Bad Bill.  Not only was Dahlen superior to both Wallace and Tinker–he was vastly superior as this essay will prove.

A rowdy ballplayer, Bad Bill was the protegé of Hall of Famer Cap Anson early in his career.  Later on he captained John McGraw’s New York Giants because he was a master of McGraw’s fiery brand of ball.  He had such an impact on the Giants the year he joined the team that New York raised their wins total by a whopping 22 games.  Dahlen was such a great well-rounded player that it was written that he had no deficiency on the field.  He hit well, was an exceptional fielder and John McGraw claimed he was the best base runner in baseball.  He currently rests 28th all-time in career bases stolen.

From 1901 to 1945, Dahlen is one of just three shortstops to have led his respective league in RBI–Wagner and the slugging Vern Stephens are the other two.  There were fewer run-getters better than Bad Bill.  When compared with his Hall of Fame peers Wallace and Tinker, Dahlen excels them in baseball’s most important aspect–the scoring of runs.  Dahlen averaged 0.651 runs scored per game and 0.505 RBI per game.  These averages easily eclipsed Wallace and Tinker’s marks.  The former St. Louis Brown averaged 0.444 runs scored per game and 0.470 RBI.  The Cubs shortstop of the fabled Tinker, Evers and Chance double-play team averaged 0.429 runs scored per game and just 0.434 RBI.  Bad Bill had a string of six consecutive seasons during his career in which he scored 100 or more runs.  Both Tinker and Wallace never once scored 100 runs in any single season.

When you peruse the career stats of these three stars of baseball’s early years there is one player that clearly distances himself in all departments, and strangely enough, he is the one not in the Hall of Fame.  Their career totals are as listed:

RUNS: Dahlen 1,590, Wallace 1,057, Tinker 774

HITS: Dahlen 2,461, Wallace 2,309, Tinker 1,690

DOUBLES: Dahlen 413, Wallace 391, Tinker 263

RBI: Dahlen 1,234, Wallace 1,121, Tinker 783

BATTING AVERAGE: Dahlen .272, Wallace .268, Tinker .262

ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Dahlen .358, Wallace .332, Tinker .308

SLUGGING AVERAGE: Dahlen .382, Wallace .358, Tinker .353

WAR: Dahlen 75.9, Wallace 60.5, Tinker 49.2

By looking at these numbers, an argument can only be made by one whose head is in the clouds that Wallace and Tinker were superior players to Bad Bill.  Dahlen’s career WAR (wins above replacement) is the highest among non-enshrined infielders with the notable exception of Jeff Bagwell, who should have been elected his first year on the ballot.  Of all the shortstops in baseball history, only Wagner, Cal Ripken and George Davis have higher WARs than Dahlen–that’s right Yankees fans, Derek Jeter is below Bad Bill.  Also, Dahlen ranks in the Top 50 all-time in such categories as WAR, triples and runs scored.

Now, Dahlen is clearly superior to both Wallace and Tinker in the offensive facet of the game.  The critics here might claim that the two enshrined gentlemen were better defenders, but that claim would be false.  That fabled double-play trio of the Chicago Cubs only had one year in which they turned in the excess of 70 double plays, despite the poem written about their exploits, which was all too overblown.  Bad Bill turned over 70 double plays twice in his career, one more season than Tinker and two more than Wallace, who never turned 70 twin-killings in a single season.  All three men were exceptional defenders and each shortstop retired with an identical fielding percentage thirteen points above league average.

In career defensive stats, Bad Bill rests much higher on the lifetime columns than both Wallace and Tinker.  Dahlen currently rests second all-time in career putouts among shortstops as only the nimble, scampering oddball Rabbit Maranville has more putouts than Bad Bill.  In assists, Dahlen is fourth all-time.  The Top Three in assists among shortstops are all modern players as Dahlen, number four on the list, has the highest total of assists of any shortstop who debuted before World War II.  Taking all these numbers into consideration, it makes no sense whatsoever to keep Dahlen out of the Hall of Fame.  I say this about so few players, but he belongs in Cooperstown.

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