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Babe Dahlgren

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Ellsworth Tenney Dahlgren

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[edit] Biographical Information

Babe Dahlgren is best remembered as the man who took over as the New York Yankees first baseman in 1939 when Lou Gehrig ended his legendary consecutive games-played streak.

He had a 12-year career, which included playing in the 1939 World Series, where he batted eighth in the lineup. He hit two doubles and a homer as the Yankees swept the Cincinnati Reds in 4 games. He had another good year in 1940, when he hit .264 with 12 homers and 73 RBIs in 155 games.

His best year was 1941, when he had 23 home runs and 89 RBI, split between the Boston Braves and the Chicago Cubs. No Brave that year had more than 12 home runs, while on the Cubs, he was second in homers behind Bill Nicholson.

His career was shaken by an unfounded rumor that he was a marijuana smoker. This explains why the Yankees sold him to the Braves before the 1941 season, without giving an explanation. Manager Joe McCarthy claimed that his fielding was lacking, which went against the observations of anyone who had watched him play. He was leading the Braves in home runs and RBIs when they traded him to the Cubs later that year, again without a valid explanation. In 1942, he played for three different teams. On May 13th, the Cubs sold him to the St. Louis Browns, but they returned him six days later, after he had made only a couple of pinch-hitting appearances. On that same day, the Cubs sent him to the Brooklyn Dodgers, again for cash. The explanation was that there was uncertainty about whether he would be entering the United States military (this was a few months after Pearl Harbor), but again, it makes little sense on its own. In any case, he never got going that season and eventually was sent down to the AAA Montreal Royals, but he refused to report.

The Dodgers turned around and sold the unwanted Dahlgren to the Philadelphia Phillies before the 1943 season. The Phils were a woeful team that needed all the help it could get, and did not mind adding a player who had become a pariah because of the drug rumors. It turned out to be a wise move, as Dahlgren could still play. He played 136 games, hitting .287 with 56 RBIs and was named to the All-Star team. However, his season was cut short when he was inducted into the military on September 16th, but he failed his physical exam because of a sinus condition. Before the 1944 season, he was traded again, this time to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played every game for the Bucs that year, hitting .289 with 101 RBIs. In 1945, his 115 double play and .996 fielding percentage both led the National League, and he hit .250 with 75 RBIs.

In 1946, with the Pirates getting pre-War starter Elbie Fletcher back from the service, he was traded back to the St. Louis Browns on April 23rd. he spent the whole season with the team but only played 28 games, hitting .175, being bothered by an injured shoulder. He was released at the end of the season and decided to retire. He returned to his native California but was lured out of retirement by the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League, who installed him at first base. He hit .298 in 115 games and was voted team MVP by the fans, but his season ended early when he had to undergo an emergency appendectomy and retired for good after that.

After his playing career ended, he was a Kansas City Athletics coach in 1964. He also scouted for the Athletics form 1956 to 1958 and for the Baltimore Orioles after that while being active in Little League Baseball in Arcadia, CA. He became a pioneer in using film to study batters' swings and as a teaching device, working on this with the A's and with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1965. He had amassed a tremendous collection of film materials on hitters dating back to the 1940s, but all of these were lost when his home burnt down in 1980. His sons Ray Dahlgren and Don Dahlgren both played in the minor leagues. His grandson, Matt Dahlgren wrote a biography of Babe Dahlgren, addressing the drug use rumors, entitled Rumor in Town, in 2007.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • NL All-Star (1943)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1941)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 1 (1944)
  • Won two World Series with the New York Yankees (1938 & 1939; he did not play in the 1938 World Series)

[edit] Further Reading

  • Matt Dahlgren: Rumor in Town: A Grandson's Promise to Right A Wrong, Woodlyn Lane, Ashland, OH, 2007. ISBN 978-0979583407

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