Biddy Dolan played just one season of major-league baseball, that being part of 1914 with the Indianapolis club in the short-lived Federal League. The most notable feature about the rangy (he was listed as 6 feet tall) right-handed-hitting first baseman was his prematurely gray hair, which made him appear much older than he was. He didn’t reach the major leagues until he was 32, and a combination of his advancing age, weak hitting for a corner infielder, and a history of off-the-field headaches for his managers effectively put an end to his career. However, for a time in the early 1900s, Biddy Dolan was considered one of the top prospects in the Upper Midwest.
Leon Mark Dolan was born July 9, 1881, in Onalaska, Wisconsin, a small community near La Crosse on the Mississippi River.1His parents, James and Julia (Shaw) Dolan, were of Irish ancestry (both sets of grandparents were born in Ireland) and were originally from the East Coast, James having been born in New York, and Julia in Massachusetts. In the early 1870s the couple moved to Wisconsin, where James found work at a local sawmill. The Dolans had eight children, five sons and three daughters. In the late 1880s, the family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota.
Biddy (the origin of Dolan’s moniker, sometimes spelled Biddie, is unknown, but the most likely explanation is a variation of Buddy with an Irish accent2) broke into professional baseball in 1905 with Fargo (North Dakota) in the Class D Northern League. He hit .286 in 64 games. In 1906 Dolan signed with the Calumet (Michigan) Aristocrats in the Class C Northern Copper Country League, where he hit .290 in 91 games. After considering an offer from the Western Canadian League, Dolan returned to Calumet in 1907 and hit .260 although he missed some time in July because of an undisclosed “severe illness” that had him “looking rather thin” when he returned to the lineup.3
In early 1908, it was thought that Dolan would return to Fargo, but instead he signed with Green Bay in the Class D Wisconsin-Illinois League. Midway through the season, Green Bay manager John Pickett suspended Dolan for “indifferent playing and disorderly conduct” as well as an allegation that he was throwing games. Dolan sued the Green Bay Baseball Association, asserting that he was due his monthly salary of $150 while he was under suspension. A Municipal Court judge ruled in favor of the team and also upheld the $100 fine levied against Dolan by the club. Dolan retained legal counsel and filed an appeal, but the earlier ruling was upheld. The case, it was said, “is a precedent in the Wisconsin-Illinois League and will serve to keep unruly ball players in line.”4
Dolan left Green Bay in July and hooked on with an independent team in Virginia, Minnesota, were he finished the season. In the offseason Green Bay, which still retained the rights to Dolan, tried to trade him, first to a club in Madison, Wisconsin, and then to Rockford, Illinois, but found no takers. One reason the Rockford club was scared off was Dolan’s reputation for ignoring training rules. It was said he “has the habit of getting deaf in the evening and can’t hear the curfew bell. He never thinks of bed until the alarm clock rings.”5 He was eventually released by Green Bay and signed with the Wausau Lumberjacks in the Class D Minnesota-Wisconsin (or Minny) League.
Biddy had two-plus solid seasons (1909, 1910. and part of 1911) in Wausau. The 1910 US Census listed him as a single boarder living in Wausau, employed as an iron worker (assumed to be his offseason occupation). He got off to a hot start in 1910, leading the league in batting with a .436 average by mid-June, and hit .327 overall for the season. He was named player-manager for 1911.
In June the visiting Lumberjacks were playing in Duluth, Minnesota. In his first plate appearance Dolan homered “away over the fence past the scoreboard.” In his next at-bat, he leaned into a fastball he mistook for a curve, and the pitch stuck him on the temple; “a large indented place was left where the ball had struck.” Dolan was examined by a doctor attending the game and taken to a local hospital, where it was reported that “the malar bone had been shattered and an operation was necessary to lift the broken parts up.”6 Another report described his injury as a broken cheekbone.7 Dolan was back at the ballpark the very next day; he was not injured as badly as was feared, and he said he would be back playing within a couple of weeks.
Later in June the club disbanded.8 (The Red Wing team disbanded at the same time.) After initially considering an offer from Kansas City in the American Association and an independent team in Bismarck, North Dakota, Dolan signed with Superior of the Northern League on July 3. In August he was signed by Milwaukee of the American Association with the understanding that he would join the Brewers at the conclusion of the Northern League season. No individual statistics were published for the 1911 season, but Dolan was described as “the hitting sensation of the Minnesota-Wisconsin League this summer”9 and was named the first baseman on the Minny League’s postseason all-star team. He joined Milwaukee in late August and hit .254 in 20 games at the end of the 1911 season.
Dolan re-signed with Milwaukee for 1912 and attended the team’s spring-training camp in Cairo, Illinois. But he was caught up in a housecleaning by Milwaukee manager Hugh Duffy, and before the season began he was sold to Terre Haute of the Central League, where he hit .319 in 113 games. In February 1913 Dolan and Mary Gertrude Murphy were married in Indianapolis. (Apparently the couple didn’t remain married long; his World War 1 draft card from 1918 lists his nearest relative as his mother, Julia.)
Despite his strong season, Dolan was released by Terre Haute in early May 1913. He hooked on with a semipro team in Terre Haute, the Miller Giants. The Giants played a game in Indianapolis against the ABC’s, the prominent black team. He caught the eye of Indianapolis management and signed with the Hoosiers of the then-independent Federal League a short time later. On July 3 Dolan knocked in all four runs in a 4-0 win over Kansas City with a triple and home run that “bounded away to the auto park fence.”10
In August the Hoosierfeds, as they were called, faced the Cleveland Green Sox, managed by Cy Young, in what was termed a “crucial” three-game series. Dolan had ten hits in the three games, six of them for extra bases, leading Indianapolis to a sweep that took “all the pennant aspirations out of Cy Young’s aggregation.”11 No individual batting statistics were published, but Dolan was presented with a silver-plated bat and ball for leading the pennant-winning Hoosiers in batting in 1913.12
Throughout Dolan’s career, there were conflicting reports about his defensive abilities at first base. In 1908 the Duluth News-Tribune said of him, “[N]or is Biddy the best man that ever moved around a first sack. …” and two years later wrote that “Dolan will continue at first base, largely because of his hitting ability.” He may have improved as he got older because in 1911, the paper said, “At first, Biddy Dolan is the wonder of the league. The way he digs them out of the mud, grabs them with his meat hand, and pulls them out of the clouds, isn’t slow.”13 And in 1913 the Indianapolis Star said, “[H]is work was classy enough around the first station.”
Because the Federal League was considered an “outlaw” league, many players signed under assumed names in order to protect their status with the established American and National Leagues. It was suggested that one such player was Dolan, who may have signed under the pseudonym O’Day.14 An O’Day was in Indianapolis box scores playing first base on May 28 and 30 in games against Covington, Kentucky (the franchise would soon move to Kansas City). When Indianapolis returned home to face Pittsburgh on June 1, the Hoosier first baseman in that day’s box score was named Dolan. There was no mention of an O’Day the rest of the season. Although not conclusive, it is likely Dolan went by the name O’Day for a short time.
In 1914 the Federal League assumed major-league status. Dolan’s three-run home run and RBI single led Indianapolis to a 7-3 win over the St. Louis Terriers in the team’s opener. (The most memorable aspect of the Federal League opener may have been that “motion pictures were taken of the game.”)15 But Dolan, who had now turned 32 years old, was hitting only .223 after 32 games. His weak bat, along with seven errors in 31 games, prompted manager Whoa Phillips to go looking for a new first baseman. Dolan was released in early June and finished the 1914 season, and his professional career, with Peterborough, Ontario, in the Canadian League.
Eventually Dolan returned to Indianapolis, where he lived the rest of his life. He worked as a machinist for a motor-car company, and in 1919 he was still playing baseball with a semipro team in Indianapolis called the Reserves. No further information could be found on Dolan, other than a reference from the 1930 US Census indicating that a Mark Dolon16 was an inmate at Central State Hospital, a mental institution in Indianapolis. The 1940 Census lists a Mark L. Dolan as a resident of the same institution.
The individual in both the 1930 and 1940 censuses was listed as divorced, born in Wisconsin, and of an age consistent with Dolan’s 1881 birthdate. An archivist with the State of Indiana confirmed in 2013 that Biddy Dolan was, in fact, a patient at Central State Hospital.17 He died there on July 15, 1950, at the age of 69, reportedly from complications of bronchopneumonia after falling and breaking his left hip.18 He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Indianapolis.
The Baseball Necrology (thebbnlive.com)
1 His birth record lists only his last name, Dolan. Later census records and city directories list his name as both Mark Leon and Leon Mark.
2 James K. Skipper, Baseball Nicknames: A Dictionary of Origins and Meanings (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1992.
3 Duluth (Minnesota) News-Tribune, July 24, 1907.
4 Sporting Life, August 15, 1908.
5 Rockford (Illinois) Daily Register, March 10, 1909.
6 Duluth News-Tribune, June 1, 1911.
7 La Crosse (Wisconsin) Leader, June 2, 1911.
8 Red Wing dropped out because of poor attendance and resulting financial problems. Wausau voluntarily dropped out so the league could still have an even number of teams (six instead of eight) and a balanced schedule. The Wausau players were dispersed to other teams in the league. See Duluth News Tribune, June 24, 1911.
9 Denver Post, August 13, 1911.
10 Indianapolis Star, July 4, 1913.
11 Indianapolis Star, August 16, 1913.
12 Robert Payton Wiggins, The Federal League of Baseball Clubs: The History of an Outlaw Major League (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2009).
13 Duluth News-Tribune, August 2, 1911.
14 Indianapolis News, May 31, 1913.
15 Indianapolis Star, April 14, 1914.
16 His last name was spelled with and “o” instead of an “a,” but a view of an electronic version of the census sheet in Ancestry.com shows that the last name could be interpreted as either Dolan or Dolon.
17 Email from Alan January, director of patron services, Indiana State Archives, June 25, 2013.
18 The Baseball Necrology.