William Frederick “Bad Bill” Dahlen was a native of Nelliston who became a “ferocious” shortstop in major league baseball in the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to an article by David Krell of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
Nelliston native Charles Gehring of the New Netherlands Research Center in Albany grew up in the house where Dahlen had lived at the corner of Dahlen and East Main Streets. Gehring wrote, “I even found one of his bats in our cellar.”
Born in 1870, Dahlen was the son of a German immigrant, mason Daniel Dahlen, and his wife Rosina Shellhorn Dahlen. The young man attended elementary school in Nelliston and played local baseball. He then was a pitcher for a private school, Clinton Liberal Institute in Fort Plain, which he attended on what might be called an athletic scholarship today.
According to a newspaper article by Matthew Rapacz, Dahlen signed with a semi-pro club in Cobleskill in 1889 at a salary of $40 a month.
Dahlen started playing in the majors in 1891 with the Chicago Colts, predecessor of the Chicago Cubs. In 1894, the year he permanently switched to shortstop, Dahlen had at least one hit in 42 straight games.
In 1899 Dahlen was traded to Baltimore, with Chicago management praising his baseball skills but hinting he was not a great team player. The year before during a vacation in Minnesota, Dahlen and two friends were charged with killing a farmer’s mule.
Dahlen ended up playing for another team affiliated with Baltimore, the Brooklyn Superbas, who later became the Dodgers.
Dahlen married twice. His first wife was named Hattie. They divorced in 1901 amid domestic violence allegations, according to Krell’s SABR article. In 1903 Dahlen married Jeanette Hoglund.
Also in 1903, Dahlen was traded to the New York Giants. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote, “Dahlen, while a great player, never was an observer of discipline.”
Dahlen played four years with the Giants and manager John McGraw called him the best shortstop in the nation.
In 1907 Dahlen was traded to the Boston Doves. In 1910 he went back to Brooklyn as team manager. As a manager he frequently argued with umpires and was often ejected from the game. In 1912 he was suspended for ten days and fined $100 for fighting with an umpire.
Brooklyn never got above sixth place during Dahlen’s time as manager and he was let go after the 1913 season. He spent the next season as a scout for Brooklyn. He stayed connected to baseball and scouted several years for the Giants.
Dahlen had a semi-pro team in Brooklyn, worked on the New York City docks and owned a gas station. He was an attendant at Yankee Stadium and a night clerk in a Brooklyn post office.
Dahlen died in Brooklyn after a long illness on Dec. 5, 1950. He was buried, reportedly in an unmarked grave, in Brooklyn’s Cemetery of the Evergreens. He was survived by a daughter and two sons.
The year he died, Dahlen’s baseball glove was displayed in the window of Harry Cramer’s Fort Plain store.
In 1998 a committee headed by Fort Plain residents Robert Moyer and Robert Diefendorf collected 400 signatures, convincing the Nelliston village board to petition the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown (just 25 miles away) to induct Dahlen.
SABR’s 19th Century Committee selected Dahlen as its “Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend” for 2012.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].