2022 Early Baseball Era Committee Candidates: Bill Dahlen and Allie Reynolds

The following article is part of a series concerning the 2022 Early Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon on December 5. For an introduction to the ballot, see here, and for an introduction to JAWS, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Bill Dahlen

2022 Early Baseball Candidate: Bill Dahlen
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Bill Dahlen 75.2 40.1 57.7
Avg. HOF SS 67.8 43.2 55.5
2,461 84 548 .272/.358/.382 (110 OPS+)
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

The lone holdover from the 2016 Pre-Integration Era Committee ballot, Bill Dahlen was one of the best players of the late-19th and early-20th century. A shortstop for four teams from 1891-1911, he was renowned for his fielding, his ferocious temper — he earned the nickname “Bad Bill,” and was ejected from a total of 70 games as a player and manager — and his carousing, though he was also a very good hitter for his position, especially in his 20s. His 42-game hitting streak from 1894 still stands as the fourth-longest in major league history, and thanks to his prowess on both sides of the ball he ranks 11th in JAWS among shortstops. Dahlen helped the Brooklyn Superbas and New York Giants to two pennants apiece during a six-year span from 1899-1905, but he’s somehow slipped through the cracks historically, to the point that he was SABR’s 2012 Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend.

Dahlen was born in Nelliston, New York, the son of German immigrants, on January 5, 1870. He was good enough at baseball to get a scholarship to the Clinton Liberal Institute, a prep school in Fort Plain, where he pitched and played second base. After graduating, he played semipro ball, and began his professional career when his Cobbleskill team joined the New York State League in 1890. His .343 batting average that year placed second in the league, though his team ceased operation before season’s end.

Having impressed an umpire who had previously played with Cap Anson in the National Association, Dahlen was signed by the Anson-managed Chicago Colts (now the Cubs) in late October 1890, beginning an eight-year stint with the team. He hit very respectable .260/.348/.390 (111 OPS+) with nine homers and 21 stolen bases as a rookie in 1891, mainly as a third baseman, then split his time between shortstop and third the following year while hitting .293/.349/.423 (139 OPS+), stealing 60 bases, and ranking fifth in the NL in WAR (6.1), not that anyone knew anything about WAR at the time.

Dahlen’s offensive numbers improved as the NL’s scoring rates rose well above six runs per game while pitchers struggled to adapt to the distance change from 50 feet to 60-foot-6 in 1893. He hit .359/.445/.566 in 1894, when teams scored a whopping 7.39 runs per game; of those slash stats, only his slugging percentage cracked the top 10, ranking seventh, with his 138 OPS+ and career-high 15 homers both fourth. His 42-game hitting streak, which ran from June 20 to August 7, set a record, and has since been surpassed only by Willie Keeler (45 games, 1896-97), Joe DiMaggio (56 games, 1941), and Pete Rose (44 games, 1978). After going hitless on August 7 against the Reds, Dahlen reeled off another 28-game hitting streak, meaning that he collected hits in 70 of 71 games.

After a down 1895 season, Dahlen was even stronger relative to his league in ’96 than he had been in ’94, hitting .352/.438/.553 with nine homers. His slugging percentage ranked second, his 7.1 WAR and 19 triples both third, his 156 OPS+ sixth. The Colts went 72-58 that year, their first season above .500 since 1891, Dahlen’s rookie campaign.

Dahlen spent two more years in Chicago, the first of them shortened by a broken ankle. By now he was wearing out his welcome, gaining a reputation for indifference that countered the intensity so often on display. “Dahlen, with all his skills, is not a valuable man to a team owing to his peculiar temperament” wrote Sporting Life. He was part of the team’s “Dawn Patrol,” notorious for carousing, chasing women, and skipping curfew. Even an appointment to the role of team captain meant little to him until he got a raise, and his response was to get thrown out of 10 games in a single season. As SABR’s Tim Hagerty summarized, “While most of Dahlen’s contemporaries attributed his propensity for ejections to his fiery disposition, some teammates said it was due to his passion for betting on horse races.”

In January 1899, Dahlen was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for infielder Gene DeMontreville, but in March he was transferred to the Brooklyn Superbas, who were owned by the same syndicate. Though he was less than thrilled with the way things unfolded, Dahlen helped the Superbas to back-to-back pennants under manager Ned Hanlon; he hit .283/.398/.395 (116 OPS+) with 4.6 WAR in 1899 but dipped to .259/.364/.344 (92 OPS+) with 3.2 WAR in 1900. Where he’d hit for a 123 OPS+ during his Chicago tenure, he was more or less a league-average hitter thereafter, though strong defense still bolstered his value; that 3.2 WAR was his lowest mark between 1898-1905, a span during which he averaged 4.7 WAR.

After three more seasons in Brooklyn, the last of them worth 5.0 WAR (fifth in the NL), Dahlen had apparently worn out his welcome again. “In the first place, Dahlen, while a great player, never was an observer of discipline,” wrote the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “He looked upon rules from the standpoint that they were made only to be broken, and while this has in no way affected his playing ability, still the injury to the team in a disciplinary way has been great.”

Because he wouldn’t agree to a pay cut, Dahlen was traded again in December 1903, this time to the Giants in exchange for Charlie Babb, Jack Cronin and $6,000. The 34-year-old shortstop clicked with manager John McGraw, who called the trade the “most successful deal I ever made.” Though Dahlen hit a modest .268/.326/.337 (100 OPS+), he led the NL with 80 RBI, anchored the infield defense behind Christy Mathewson and company, and placed third with 5.5 WAR while helping the Giants to a 106-47 record and a pennant. Alas, McGraw and Giants owner John Brush refused to play the AL champion Boston Americans in the World Series.

Aided by another strong season from Dahlen (5.4 WAR, seventh in the NL despite just a 98 OPS+), the Giants won 105 games and another pennant in 1905. This time they did agree to play in the World Series, and beat the Philadelphia Athletics in five games despite Dahlen going 0-for-15. Fortunately, his record 0-fer didn’t last long, as the Cubs’ Jimmy Sheckard went 0-for-21 in 1906.

Dahlen’s offense and defense tailed off over the next two seasons; he declined to 3.1 WAR and then 0.5. In December 1907, he was part of an eight-player deal that sent him to the Boston Doves (formerly the Beaneaters, soon the Braves) for whom he produced a 5.3-WAR season at age 38 on the strength of great defense. Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbets tried to trade for him to manage the Superbas — so much for that worn-out welcome — but was rebuffed.

After a dismal 1909 season in which he played just 69 games, Dahlen was released by the Doves. He returned to Brooklyn, where Ebbets handed him total control of the team, including authority for all player moves. He spent four years managing — or not, given his total of 36 ejections in that capacity — and made brief cameos as a player in 1910 and ’11. The Dodgers could do no better than a .436 winning percentage (65-84 in 1913), but Dahlen did get high marks for his leadership and for laying the foundation of a team that soon improved under successor Wilbert Robinson, winning the 1916 pennant.

When Dahlen retired, he held the records for most games at shortstop (2,133, still 12th), most putouts (4,856, still second), and most assists (7,505, still fourth), as well as the second-most errors (975); Rabbit Maranville would eventually surpass him in games and putouts. Dahlen’s 2,444 games played was a record at the time as well if you don’t consider the National Association a major league (Major League Baseball does not, though Baseball Reference does); with NA numbers, Anson held the record. Among players who spent the majority of their time at shortstop, to that point only Honus Wagner (whose career spanned from 1897 to 1917) and George Davis (1890-1909) collected more hits, but both had also spent more time at other positions. Wagner was one of the first five players elected to the Hall, while Davis wasn’t elected until 1998, 89 years after his final game and 58 years after his death.

Dahlen slipped through the cracks to an even greater extent than Davis when it came to the Hall, receiving just one vote apiece on the 1936 Old Timers ballot and ’38 BBWAA one. Per the research of Graham Womack, he was considered by the Veterans Committee at least nine times between 1953 and ’95, but when the process was reconfigured, he wasn’t on a ballot again until 2009, when he received “fewer than three votes” on the VC’s pre-1943 ballot (Joe Gordon was elected). However, with SABR’s Nineteenth Century Committee having recently spotlighted his career, he received 62.5% on the 2013 Pre-Integration ballot, and 50% three years later. With Doc Adams, the leading vote-getter from that latter slate, not on this one, Dahlen’s path to election is more clear, though the variety and depth of the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues Black baseball candidates threatens to overshadow his cause.

From here, it seems clear that Dahlen belongs. His Deadball-era offensive numbers were good for a shortstop, his defensive numbers outstanding. His range and durability helped him to 139 fielding runs, which is tied for 13th at the position. Among Deadball-era shortstops, Joe Tinker (180), Germany Smith (160), Jack Glasscock (149), Davis (146), and Art Fletcher (144) outrank him, but none of the others besides Glasscock (112 OPS+ in a career that spanned from 1879 to ’95) and Davis (121 OPS+) were in his class as a hitter. His skills on both sides of the ball are why Dahlen ranked among his league’s top five in WAR five times, and among the top 10 eight times.

Dahlen ranks 11th among all shortstops in WAR, and in fact owns the highest position player WAR of any pre-1950 player who’s not already enshrined, about 13 wins more than Glasscock and Shoeless Joe Jackson, the latter of whom is ineligible. Dahlen’s 40.1 peak WAR is only 20th among shortstops, but that’s in part the product of shortened 19th century schedules; the Colts averaged 138 games per year during his first eight seasons. Even with those shortened schedules, Dahlen is 11th in JAWS, below nine Hall of Famers plus 2022 BBWAA ballot debutante Alex Rodriguez, and ahead of 14 other Hall of Famers. Alan Trammell is directly above him in the rankings, Barry Larkin and Derek Jeter directly below.

While Dahlen could certainly be a handful given his temper and his penchants for drinking and gambling, he was hardly outside the norms of 19th and early 20th century baseball, and he clearly had the talent and keen baseball mind to stick around even after his best days as a hitter. I have no doubt he belongs in the Hall of Fame, and would almost certainly reserve one of the four spots on my Early Baseball ballot for him if I had one.

Allie Reynolds

2022 Early Baseball Candidate: Allie Reynolds
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Allie Reynolds 25.4 20.9 23.1
Avg. HOF SP 73.3 50.0 61.7
182-107 1,423 3.30 109
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Allie Reynolds only pitched in the majors for 13 seasons (1942-54), but in that span, the hard-throwing righty made quite an impact, helping the Yankees to six championships, earning spots on five All-Star teams, and in 1951 becoming the first AL pitcher to throw two no-hitters in the same season. Not only was Reynolds a reliable starter, he was often used out of the bullpen in key situations as well. In the World Series, he threw five complete-game victories — including a two-hit shutout in 1949 and a four-hit shutout in ’52, both against the Dodgers — and notched four saves as well, three of them in series where he’d also gone the distance.

“Reynolds was two ways great, which is starting and relieving, which no one can do like him,” manager Casey Stengel once said in his own inimitable patois. “He has guts and his courage is simply tremendous.”

Reynolds was born in Bethany, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City, on February 10, 1917. He was three-sixteenths Creek Indian (his grandmother, Eliza Root Reynolds, was three-quarters Creek) but upon growing tired of explaining the three-sixteenths, he often referred to himself as one-quarter Creek. As with several other ballplayers of Native American descent, he had to endure the application of “Chief” as a nickname; in his case it was “Super Chief,” “Superchief,” or “Big Chief.” Though meant in admiration, the nicknames made Reynolds uncomfortable. From coverage of his 1994 funeral in The Oklahoman:

[Bobby] Brown, the former American League president, said it was the New York City writers who tagged Reynolds as the Superchief while he was winning 131 games in eight Yankee seasons.

“I suppose it was in part due to his Indian heritage,” he said.

“But for some of you too young to remember, the Santa Fe Railroad at that time had a crack train (call the Superchief) that ran from California to Chicago, and it was known for its elegance, its power and its speed.

“We always felt the name applied to Allie for the same reasons.” Brown said the name wasn’t used by the Yankees, however.

“When we talked with him, we called him Allie,” he said. “But when he wasn’t in the room, he was referred to as the Chief, because we felt he was the one at the top, the real leader.” [De Vier] Pierson [a relative of Reynolds] said Reynolds was not always comfortable with the nickname.

“He knew chief was a sacred title, not conferred lightly, and he was not officially the chief of any Indian nation,” he said. “But all American Indians were proud to call him Chief, because he was a great ambassador of American Indian values, and he had the respect and admiration of all tribes and all nations.

Reynolds’ father, a Nazarene preacher, prohibited him from playing sports on Sunday, which prevented him from playing baseball on a team until after high school. He did play softball, track, and football while growing up, and during his senior year for the Capitol Hill High School Redskins (ugh), he quarterbacked the team to an undefeated season. Because he was just 145 pounds, he drew no scholarship offers for football, but in 1935 he received a track and field scholarship from Oklahoma A&M, and as a walk-on was the team’s leading rusher on the freshman football squad. He went on to start at fullback and defensive back for the varsity.

In 1937, Oklahoma A&M athletic director, basketball and baseball coach Henry Iba saw Reynolds throwing the javelin, asked if he’d be interested in throwing batting practice, and wound up issuing him a uniform when he began striking out batters. Reynolds homered and pitched a complete game in his first start, helped Oklahoma A&M win a state conference title in 1938, and threw a no-hitter as a senior in ’39.

Aided by Iba, Reynolds signed with — of all team — the Cleveland Indians for a $1,000 bonus. He was the first of over 60 major leaguers discovered by legendary scout Hugh Alexander. He began his professional career with Springfield of the Mid-Atlantic League, struggling with wildness but going 11-8 with a 3.60 ERA. At A-level Wilkes-Barre in 1942, he went 18-7 with a 1.56 ERA and was named the Eastern League’s top right-hander (future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn was the lefty). Cleveland called him up in September, and the 25-year-old righty, now six feet tall and 195 pounds, debuted with four innings of relief work against the Senators on September 17, allowing one unearned run despite five hits and four walks.

Reynolds made one more appearance out of the bullpen that year, then made the team the following spring, mainly working out of the bullpen through June but announcing his presence with a three-hit shutout of the Yankees on July 2, one of three shutouts he threw that year. He finished the season 11-12 with a 2.99 ERA (104 ERA+) and a league-high 151 strikeouts in 198.2 innings.

Reynolds spent three more seasons with Cleveland, battling control issues (he walked more than he struck out annually from 1944-46) with a second-division club. In the best of those seasons, he went 18-12 with a 3.20 ERA (101 ERA+) and a league-high 130 walks (against just 112 strikeouts) in 247.1 innings in 1945.

After the 1946 season, Cleveland was hot to acquire All-Star second baseman (and future Hall of Famer) Joe Gordon despite his rough return to play following two years in the military. The team was said to offer any pitcher except for Bob Feller; club president Larry MacPhail had his eye on Red Embree. MacPhail asked Joe DiMaggio for his input, and DiMaggio supposedly replied, “Take Reynolds. I’m a fastball hitter, but he can buzz his hard one by me any time he has a mind to.”

The 30-year-old Reynolds began his Yankees tenure with back-to-back shutouts of the Senators and Red Sox; his four shutouts on the season tied for second in the AL behind Feller’s five. Bolstered by an AL-high 6.4 runs per game of offensive support — his first of four times in a five-season span that he’d receive at least six runs per game — he went 19-8 with a 3.20 ERA (110 ERA+), the staff’s big winner on a team that took the pennant by 12 games. In the World Series against the Dodgers, he went the distance in Game 2, allowing three runs, but was chased in the third inning of Game 6. The Yankees won in seven.

Bolstered by strong offenses, Reynolds continued to post impressive won-loss records with modest ERAs: 16-8 with a 3.77 ERA (108 ERA+) in 1948, 17-6 with a 4.00 ERA (101 ERA+) in ’49; in both years he again walked more batters than he struck out. He did make his first All-Star team in the latter season, and his performance included 15.1 innings of scoreless relief work, during which batters went just 3-for-49. He made seven starts and two relief appearances totaling 50.1 innings (with a 2.84 ERA) in September alone while helping the Yankees edge the Red Sox by a single game. Pitching on three days of rest, he fired a two-hit shutout at the Dodgers in the World Series opener, which the Yankees won 1-0 via Tommy Henrich’s walk-off solo homer off Don Newcombe, then added 3.1 scoreless innings and a save in Game 4. The Yankees won in five.

That was the first of five straight championships by the Yankees, and Reynolds continued to play a significant part. He made his second All-Star team in 1950, and posted his best ERA+ (115) and WAR (3.2) to date. Against the “Whiz Kids” Phillies in the World Series, he pitched a 10-inning, one-run complete game in Game 2, and came out of the bullpen to strike out Stan Lopata — representing the tying run — and complete the sweep in Game 4.

Reynolds led the AL in shutouts in back-to-back seasons in 1951 and ’52, with seven in the former year and six in the latter. Matched up against Feller and Cleveland on July 12, 1951, he became the first Yankee in 13 years to throw a no-hitter; Feller, who had thrown his third no-hitter just 11 days earlier, allowed just four hits and one run. On September 28, in the first game of a doubleheader against Boston, Reynolds added his second no-hitter, capped by retiring Ted Williams on a pop foul for the final out. The feat made him the first pitcher from either league to tally two in one season since Johnny Vander Meer did so in back-to-back starts in 1938. To date, only four other pitchers — Virgil Trucks (1952), Nolan Ryan (1973), Roy Halladay (2010) and Max Scherzer (2015) — have thrown two no-hitters in a season.

Roughed up by the Giants in the 1951 World Series opener, Reynolds rebounded with a two-run complete game in Game 4; the Yankees won in six. He put together his best year in 1952, going 20-6 with league bests in ERA (2.06) and strikeouts (160), making his third All-Star team. After finishing third in the AL MVP voting in 1951, he placed second behind another pitcher, Bobby Shantz, in ’52.

Reynolds was a particularly busy man in the seven-game World Series against the Dodgers in 1952, losing Game 1, throwing a four-hit shutout in Game 4, recording a four-out save in Game 6, and getting credited with the win for three innings of one-run middle relief in Game 7.

Having collected six saves apiece in 1951 and ’52, Reynolds spent an increasing amount of time pitching out of the bullpen in ’53. He made just 15 starts and 26 relief appearances, notching 13 saves, the league’s third-highest total (though here it should be noted that the stat wouldn’t become official until 1969), though he closed the season on a roll as a starter. In the World Series, again facing the Dodgers, he allowed four runs in 5.1 innings in his Game 1 turn, then notched a save in Game 5. He entered Game 6 in the eighth inning, with the Yankees holding a 3-1 lead and six outs away from their fifth straight title. After a scoreless eighth, he served up a game-tying two-run homer to Carl Furillo in the top of the ninth, but was credited with the win when the Yankees rallied in the bottom of the frame, with Billy Martin driving in the winning run. It was Reynolds’ seventh World Series victory, tying him with Red Ruffing for the record

Reynolds pitched for one more season, going 13-4 with a 3.32 ERA (105 ERA+) in 18 starts and 18 relief appearances, making his third All-Star team. Though the Yankees won 103 games, they finished eight games behind a powerhouse Cleveland squad. Now 37 years old, dealing with arm problems, and beginning to build a successful oil business, he decided to retire. He continued to work with the Major League Baseball Players Association — which had formed in 1953 but was not yet a union — helping to negotiate a pension plan tied to percentages of the radio and television proceeds of the World Series and All-Star Game, as well as gate receipts from the latter.

As a Hall of Fame candidate, Reynolds received modest attention from the BBWAA. He actually was not yet eligible to receive votes when he first did so in 1956 (the five-year waiting period had just gone into effect in ’54), but received just 8.9% in ’60, his first year of eligibility. He peaked at 33.6% in 1968, and closed with 27.7% in ’74. Between 1980 and 2000, he was considered at least 13 times by the old Veterans Committee, and in ’94, about 10 months before his death, reportedly “came close,” though no further specifics were offered.

Reynolds received 19.8% on the 2003 expanded Veterans Committee ballot, but he wasn’t considered again until ’09. On a ballot specifically for players who made their biggest marks prior to 1943, he received 66.7% — eight of 12 votes, one short of election on a ballot where Gordon, for whom he was traded in ’46, made the grade. Reynolds received fewer than three votes on the 2013 Pre-Integration ballot, but was left on the next one three years later.

Because of the late start and early end to his career, not to mention the frequency of his relief appearances, Reynolds didn’t reach any major milestones that would significantly improve his chances for the Hall. That shouldn’t be too surprising given that his 2,492.1 innings is fewer than all of the enshrined non-Negro Leagues starters besides Addie Joss, Sandy Koufax, and Dizzy Dean. Reynolds was nowhere near as dominant as any of those pitchers, and in fact his 109 ERA+ is better than just eight out of 65 enshrinees, and tied with two others.

Likewise, Reynolds doesn’t fare very well when advanced statistics are considered. His 25.7 WAR is just over one-third of that of the average Hall of Fame starter (73.3), and less than half that of teammate Whitey Ford (57.0). In fact, his total is lower than any enshrined non-Negro Leagues starter. Not even my experimental S-JAWS, which limits the peak score impact of 19th and early 20th century pitchers with heavy workloads, makes Reynolds look like anything close to a Hall of Famer using WAR. He’s just too far off the standards.

What Reynolds has going for him, mainly, are two things: a lopsided .630 winning percentage and a strong World Series record. On the former front, I noted that during his Yankees years he had a stretch where he was backed by over six runs per game of support. In fact, based on research I did with Colin Wyers in the service of Baseball Prospectus‘ 2012 book Extra Innings, Reynolds was the best-supported starting pitcher outside the Hall, with support 22% above the park-adjusted league average; 19th century hurler-turned-executive Al Spalding (34% above) and Newcombe (20% above) are the only two other pitchers in that rarefied air. Given that, judging Reynolds on his won-loss record is likely to lead to wildly inaccurate conclusions about his standing.

As for his World Series record, Reynolds went 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA and four saves in 77.1 innings. It’s impressive stuff, and he still occupies some top-10 spots on various World Series leaderboards: tied for second in wins, fourth in WPA (2.4), tied for seventh in starts (nine), tied for 10th in complete games (five), and so on. Those rankings speak more to his numerous opportunities than to his dominance; he had some great World Series and some less-than-great ones, including three with an ERA below 2.00, and three with an ERA above 4.00.

Reynolds would hardly be the first pitcher elected for what he did in October, but again, he’d be an unusually weak selection when compared even to the likes of Jesse Haines (32.6 WAR, 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA in four World Series), Lefty Gomez (38.7 WAR, 6-0 with a 2.86 ERA in five World Series), Catfish Hunter (40.9 WAR, 5-3 with a 3.29 ERA in six World Series), or Jack Morris (43.5 WAR, 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA in three World Series). He had an impressive career but I just don’t see that it merits a spot in Cooperstown.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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2 years ago

Dahlen is an easy yes and probably the most glaring omission from the early 20th Century White leagues