As of 2022, it’s been nearly 60 years since a 17-year-old took part in a major-league game.1 That was lefty pitcher Jay Dahl, on September 27, 1963, as the Houston Colt .45s fielded a starting lineup consisting entirely of rookies.
Less than two years after his cup of coffee, Dahl died in a car crash, aged just 19. No big-leaguer, either active or former, has ever been younger at the time of his death.
Jay Steven Dahl was born in San Bernardino, California, on December 6, 1945. His father was a man named James Lee Cochrane. His mother was Margaret Lorraine Atkins, who was known by her middle name. He had an older brother named Philip (born in 1942). The boys both bore the Cochrane surname at birth.2
None of the stories or records of Jimmy Cochrane list an occupation for him. As of both the 1940 and 1950 Census he was a prisoner, in the Yavapai County (Arizona) Jail and the San Bernardino County road camp, respectively. In the early ’50s, his name turned up a couple of times in the San Bernardino Sun for petty infractions. In one incident, Cochrane was booked as the drunk passenger in a vehicle being driven recklessly by an intoxicated friend.3 A few years later, he received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to the theft of $16 worth of plants and fertilizer from a nursery.4
By early 1949, fed up with Jimmy’s shenanigans, Lorraine divorced him.5 “Jimmy Cochrane was a miserable alcoholic and most likely an abusive husband,” stated Jay’s cousin, Glenda Hamrick Monroe, in November 2022.6 (Glenda’s mother, June Lee Atkins Hamrick, was Lorraine’s younger sister.) “I met him once. He was truly a disgusting person.”7
While Cochrane was serving his time in the road camp, Lorraine had moved back in with her parents, Joseph and Margaret Atkins. She was still using the Cochrane surname, as were her boys. One may infer that the Atkinses helped raise Philip and Jay in their early years.
Lorraine subsequently married Eugene Dahl, a laborer. The 1950 Census noted that the unmarried cesspool digger (who went on to work in construction) lived with his Norwegian immigrant father,8 Kansas-born mother, and a brother. “Gene Dahl was the opposite [of Cochrane],” said Glenda Monroe. “He was proud of both of his stepsons. He took such good care of them and their mother and was so supportive of the boys that they adopted Gene. They just changed their last name, but Gene was a real parent to them.”9
As a boy, Jay played baseball from Little League on up. Stories from the San Bernardino Sun dated 1959 and 1960 show him starring on the mound and at bat in Pony and Colt League competition. He did not, however, take part in American Legion ball.10
Dahl attended Colton High School in Colton, another town in San Bernardino County. While he was there, two alumni were in the majors: Cam Carreon and Ken Hubbs. Hubbs, like Dahl, died young accidentally (in a plane crash in February 1964).
In addition to baseball, Dahl – who was a chunky 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds when he was in high school – played one year of football at that level.11 His focus was clearly on the diamond, though. As a junior in 1962, the switch-hitter batted .333 and was named to the second team of the Citrus Belt League’s all-league selections. He was labeled a utility player because he played in the outfield when he was not pitching. The Colton High Yellowjackets, under Coach Gary LaComb, finished in a three-way tie for fourth in the six-team league with a 6-8 record.12
The Jackets improved markedly in 1963, going 12-2 and becoming Citrus Belt League champions. Dahl was a big part of this, going 5-1 on the mound and hitting .320, even though he was hindered by a sprained ankle. This time he was named utility outfielder on the all-CBL first team.13 Yet his pitching was more notable – Dahl posted a microscopic ERA of 0.13, which remains among the best single-season marks in the history of the Southern Section of California Interscholastic Federation (CIF).14 He was named to the All-CIF second team.15
While that season was in progress, during spring vacation in April, Dahl led Colton High to third place in the nation’s largest high school baseball tournament. That was the 28th edition of the tourney sponsored by the Pomona Elks Lodge. Over its history, more than 150 future major-leaguers played in it. The list included various Hall of Famers, the most notable being Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams.16
In 1963, the field consisted of 32 teams, and Colton’s finish was its best ever. In 16 innings pitched, Dahl struck out 35 batters – including 19 out of 21 in the game that decided third place – while also going 10-for-19 (.526) at the plate. He was voted the tourney’s most outstanding player.17 Numerous big-league scouts were on hand to assess the talent.18
In mid-June 1963, after a workout in Los Angeles, the Houston NL club (then in its second season) signed Dahl for “a sizable bonus.” The San Bernardino Sun article gave credit to the Colts’ local scout, Keith Lowe.19 Dahl himself, however, cited future Montreal Expos manager Karl Kuehl, then also a Houston scout.20 (The bonus figure was later reported to be in the $5,000-$12,000 range.21)
Lowe remarked, “[Dahl] has a good fastball and he’s learning a ‘choke’ curve. It takes guts and heart to make it and he has them.” Dahl himself spoke highly of Coach LaComb. “He made me work and he had a real interest in me. I didn’t do anything different this year, it just seemed to fit together.”22
Lowe added, “[Dahl] just fell in love with the game. He’s strong and has a big chest. We liked him all year.” The scout indicated that the presence of many youngsters on the roster shaped Dahl’s decision to sign with Houston.23
The new pro’s first assignment was to Moultrie (Georgia) in the Georgia-Florida League (Class A). He impressed straight away in his pro debut, entering in relief in the sixth inning and striking out eight as he worked the final 3 1/3 frames.24
His best performance came against the Brunswick Cardinals in the second game of a doubleheader on July 25 (both games were seven innings in regulation). In his first start of the season, Dahl retired the first 21 men he faced, but the Colt .22’s couldn’t score, so it went to extra innings. Despite an error in the eighth, Dahl still had a no-hitter going in the ninth, but he lost it and the game when he gave up a solo homer. He struck out 17 and walked none.25
There was an additional twist: Dahl’s opponent, John Van, was another former Citrus Belt League star (Van had gone to Redlands High).26
Dahl continued to put up outstanding marks in 11 appearances for Moultrie, seven of which were starts. He was 5-1 with a 1.42 ERA in 57 innings, with 71 strikeouts and only 18 walks. Promoted to Double-A San Antonio, he allowed one unearned run in four innings in his only outing, a start.
That September, Dahl joined a development school that the big club’s general manager, Paul Richards, established at Colt Stadium for 27 prospects. “This school is designed to evaluate players and to give them intensive instruction,” said Richards. His staff included farm director Eddie Robinson, along with several of the organization’s minor-league managers: Grady Hatton, Lou Fitzgerald, Billy Goodman, Dave Philley, and Jim Walton. Walton had managed Dahl at Moultrie; also on hand was that club’s pitching coach, Chuck Churn. The young players took part in daily workouts in the morning and games in the afternoon for a two-week period that began on September 16.27
Houston played two games at Cincinnati on September 17 and 18, then came back for a nine-game homestand to conclude the season. Various students in the development school played in those games.
The Colts had originally planned to start Larry Yellen in the all-rookie lineup on the evening of Friday, September 27.28 However, the Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur started at sundown that day, and Yellen, who came from a Jewish family in Brooklyn, asked not to pitch at that time. According to a 2004 story, he did so in deference to his mother’s wishes, to avoid a family embarrassment.29 Instead, Yellen made his big-league debut on Thursday, September 26 – and the next day, the Colts turned to Dahl.
Dahl’s debut at Colt Stadium made him the youngest starting pitcher in a big-league game since 16-year-old Jim Derrington on September 30, 1956. Indeed, since 1900, only three other men younger than 18 have held that distinction: Bob Feller (17 in 1936), Roger McKee (17 in 1943), and Mike McCormick (17 in 1956, just weeks ahead of Derrington).30 Of that quintet, only Derrington and Dahl were making their first appearance.
Beforehand, according to Houston beat writer Mickey Herskowitz, Colts pitching coach Cot Deal “was amused at Dahl’s determination to be nonchalant. ‘He was surprisingly calm in the clubhouse,’ grinned Deal, ‘although he did ask me if I could suggest something for sweaty hands.”31
The evening started well for Dahl: he set the New York Mets down in order. In the top of the second, however, he gave up a leadoff single to Frank Thomas. Facing Jim Hickman, Dahl threw a wild pitch, and then Hickman’s single and an error by Brock Davis scored Thomas (Hickman got no RBI credit). Two infield outs later, Hickman scored. An error by Sonny Jackson led to another unearned run, making it 3-0.
Dick Smith opened the top of the third with a single and came home on Ron Hunt’s double. Thomas fouled out, but Hickman singled again to bring in Hunt. After Tim Harkness hit into a force out, Chris Cannizzaro singled to put runners at the corners. That was all for Dahl – manager Harry Craft brought in Danny Coombs. Jerry Grote’s passed ball allowed Harkness to score, and Al Moran’s single drove in Cannizzaro to close the books on Dahl. In 2 2/3 innings, he allowed seven hits and seven runs, five of them earned. The game ended 10-3 in favor of New York, and Dahl took the loss.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if he hadn’t got anybody out,” said Cot Deal. “We know he’s going to be a good one.”32
Dahl had indicated offseason plans to attend San Bernardino Valley College.33 It’s not clear, though, that he ever did so. After the 1963 season ended, he went to the Florida Instructional League, where the Colts fielded a combined entry with the Boston Red Sox.34 A couple of months later, however, The Sporting News reported that Dahl was having arm trouble.35
As it developed, he played in just 11 games in 1964 and did not take the mound at all. With Statesville (North Carolina) of the Western Carolinas League, he came to the plate 19 times, collecting four hits (including two doubles) and three walks. His Sporting News obituary said that Dahl played in the outfield, as did the San Bernardino Sun. However, the accounts conflicted as to whether it was back or arm trouble that kept him out of action.36
Back in California that offseason, Dahl got into a scrape with the law – he was one of six youths arrested in connection with a string of burglaries. Dahl’s incident involved an auto parts store in Bloomington, the town where his family lived. As the only member of the group who was not a juvenile, he was supposed to face prosecution in adult courts.37 No further press coverage of the affair appears available though, implying settlement or leniency before the case reached the courtroom. None of the teenagers had any prior record, and their families were all very cooperative.38
By February 1965, whatever legal worries Dahl had faced must have blown over. The San Bernardino Sun noted that he was reporting to Florida for pitching drills. According to that story, the Houston organization (renamed as the Astros) planned to send him to Modesto in the California League “to test his shoulder that gave him trouble last season.”39
Instead, Dahl opened the season with the Durham Bulls of the Carolina League (Class A). He was rusty: in seven starts, he amassed just 34 innings and walked 30. He struck out only 17 and posted a 4.50 ERA. He did fire one shutout, though (he lost his other decision).
The organization reassigned Dahl to Salisbury of the Western Carolinas League, another Class A circuit. There he found his form, going 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA in six games (five starts). His control was better (16 walks in 38 innings) and his strikeout ratio was back up (32 Ks). It may well have helped that Salisbury’s manager was Dahl’s pitching coach from Moultrie, Chuck Churn.
Dahl’s cousin Glenda recalled that because her father was stationed in the military in North Carolina at that time, they went to visit Dahl in Salisbury and became the last family members to see him alive. “The last time we saw Jay was in a boarding house in North Carolina. The funny thing I remember is that Jay turned down having a beer with my parents when we went out for a meal. Jay always drank RC Cola in a glass bottle.
“I remember a young man gifted with tons of charisma and an infectious laugh,” she added. “He never ignored younger cousins who adored him.” She noted, “I remember him dancing, he could do all the dances at the time. He was the star of the family, the one who was going places. He had a knack for dealing with people.”40
On the afternoon of June 20, 1965, Dahl beat Gastonia, 7-3, to put Salisbury in first place. That evening, club president G.M. Hamilton threw a steak dinner for the team at his home. Dahl and a teammate, Gary Marshall, a fellow lefty pitcher from Hutchinson, Kansas, left after the dinner. They went to a movie with Patricia Ann “Patti” Troutman, a former Salisbury beauty contestant who was working as a secretary in Salisbury.41 After the movie, they were listening to music with other players and their dates at an apartment.42
Dahl and Marshall were returning Miss Troutman to her home when the accident occurred at 11:24 PM.43 They were all in Marshall’s Pontiac GTO, one of the original “muscle cars.”44 “Authorities said the auto was apparently traveling at a high rate of speed when it hit a patch of sand on a Salisbury street and skidded out of control for about 185 feet before slamming broadside into a tree. Miss Troutman was killed instantly.”45 Two hours after the accident, on June 21, Jay Dahl died from internal hemorrhage.46
By at least one account, Dahl was at the wheel.47 However, Marshall was responsible, according to his own later remark to Chuck Churn that he didn’t remember any details from the time he stopped his car for a stop sign until the crash.48 Marshall’s hometown newspaper, the Hutchinson News, noted that he had been driving and that “a blowtorch was required to free Marshall from the twisted machine.”49 According to another story, Patti Troutman and Dahl were thrown from the car ,50 implying that the car may have been a convertible with the top down – and that seat belts were not in use.
Dahl was interred at Montecito Memorial Park in Colton. His coach at Colton High, Gary LaComb, was one of the pallbearers.51 “Jay had a closed casket,” his cousin Glenda recalled. “Whatever the death certificate said, Jay had great facial/head damage. He was a very handsome guy. His mom was very broken up about that.”52
The following month, a tournament featuring five San Bernardino County all-star teams of boys aged 15-16 was held. The tourney was dedicated to Dahl.53
Gary Marshall – who had been blinded while also suffering a broken right arm and broken right leg – was shielded until August 11 from the news that his passengers had died. Chuck Churn accepted the duty of informing the young man. Churn said that Marshall told him, “I thought that Jay might have been injured and in another hospital. But one day I had someone read me the league pitching averages from a newspaper and his name wasn’t listed. Then I began to wonder what I wasn’t being told.”54
Not long before, the accident had prompted the issuance of a manslaughter warrant against Marshall.55 According to a report in the Salina (Kansas) Journal, both Dahl’s parents and Patti Troutman’s indicated that they did not wish to pursue the case.56 Chuck Churn also noted that neither family bore any resentment.57
Ultimately, in June 1966, Rowan County Superior Court Judge John R. McLaughlin “ruled that the state did not present sufficient evidence that ‘culpable negligence’ was involved on the part of Marshall.”58 Marshall, who had grown up with a strong Christian faith, eventually went to Bible college in 1980 and subsequently worked for the state of Texas as an instructor for people who had been recently blinded. He died in 2008, survived by his wife and children.59
It’s impossible to tell whether Jay Dahl would ever have made it back to the majors. He might have gotten hurt again, or his career might simply have stalled at a lower level. As it is, Dahl’s debut age and tragically short life make him unique in major-league history. The latter also makes his autographs scarce – and thus desirable to collectors. The few Jay Dahl signatures that survive fetch more than $2,000 on the market.60 More’s the pity, however, that he didn’t have more chances to sign for baseball fans.
The California Digital Newspaper Collection (https://cdnc.ucr.edu/) was especially useful.
Where not cited specifically in the Notes, information came from ancestry.com and findagrave.com.
Special thanks to Glenda Hamrick Monroe for her memories of her cousin Jay Dahl and for the headshot photo of Dahl from her collection (portrait commissioned by Lorraine Dahl).
Continued thanks to Eric Costello and Paul Proia for additional research.
This biography was reviewed by Paul Proia and Jan Finkel and fact-checked by Tom Reinsfelder,
2 Birth announcements, San Bernardino Sun, December 8, 1945: 5. Birth announcements, San Bernardino Sun, November 22, 1942: 19.
3 “Gunfire Brings Driver to Halt,” San Bernardino Sun, February 14, 1950: 10.
4 “Theft Admission Brings Suspended Sentence,” San Bernardino Sun, June 11, 1953: 25.
5 “Divorce Actions,” San Bernardino Sun, March 29, 1949: 10. The couple had been married since September 27, 1941.
6 E-mail from Glenda Hamrick Monroe to Rory Costello, November 1, 2022 (hereafter Hamrick Monroe e-mail).
7 Telephone interview, Glenda Hamrick Monroe with Rory Costello, November 1, 2022 (hereafter Hamrick Monroe-Costello interview).
8 Of note, Jay Dahl listed his ethnicity as Irish and Cherokee Indian – not Norwegian – in the publicity questionnaire he filled out for William J. Weiss on July 15, 1963. Genealogical research has not revealed any definitive Cherokee heritage. The Cochrane line is Irish; half of the Atkins line is Irish, and the other half is German and English.
9 Hamrick Monroe e-mail.
10 Weiss questionnaire.
11 Weiss questionnaire.
12 “Bears Head All-CBL Team,” San Bernardino Sun, May 18, 1962: C-4.
13 “Colton Tops All-CBL Nine,” San Bernardino Sun, May 18, 1963: 15. Sam Feldman, “Houston Signs Colton Pitcher,” San Bernardino Sun, June 16, 1963: B-11.
14 CIF-Southern Section All Sports Press Guide and Record Book, 2018 edition.
15 Claude Anderson, “Sport Slants,” San Bernardino Sun, February 17, 1965: C-1.
16 Jim McConnell, “Pomona tourney was historic,” InsideSoCal.com, March 3, 2009 (http://www.insidesocal.com/tribpreps/2009/03/03/mcconnell-pomon/).
17 “Dahl Fans 19 Batters,” San Bernardino Sun, April 11, 1963: D-2.
18 Claude Anderson, “He’s a Dahl,” San Bernardino Sun, April 12, 1963: B-7.
19 Feldman, “Houston Signs Colton Pitcher.”
20 Weiss questionnaire.
21 “Crash Ends Astro Bonus Star’s Career,” Sacramento Bee, June 22, 1965.
22 Feldman, “Houston Signs Colton Pitcher.”
23 Feldman, “Houston Signs Colton Pitcher.”
24 Claude Anderson, “Great Debut for Dahl,” San Bernardino Sun, July 10, 1963: B-9.
25 “Colt Hurlers Allow 2 Hits; Win First Tilt, Lose Second,” Moultrie (Georgia) Observer, July 26, 1963: 6.
26 “John Van Edges Jay Dahl in Georgia Battle,” San Bernardino Sun, July 27, 1963: C-4.
27 Clark Nealon, “School Begins for Youngsters in Colt System,” The Sporting News, September 28, 1963: 8.
28 “Colts Will Field Team of Future,” San Antonio Express, September 26, 1963: 15.
29 Peter Ephross. “Hall of Fame gives Jewish major leaguers their due,” The Jewish News of Northern California, September 3, 2004: 22.
31 Mickey Herskowitz, “Colt All-Greenie Lineup Battered in Major Debut,” The Sporting News, October 12, 1963: 27.
32 Herskowitz, “Colt All-Greenie Lineup Battered in Major Debut.”
33 Weiss questionnaire.
34 Lonnie Burt, “Taylor and Wood Top List of Gems That Need Polish,” The Sporting News, October 5, 1963: 40.
35 Mickey Herskowitz, “Teen-ager Jackson Ticketed for Colt Spare Part Role,” The Sporting News, December 7, 1963: 14.
36 “Obituary,” The Sporting News, July 3, 1965: 42. Claude Anderson, “Sport Slants,” San Bernardino Sun, July 22, 1964: B-8.
37 “More Light Shed on Youths’ Arrest,” San Bernardino Sun, November 7, 1964: B-1.
38 “4 Bloomington Students Face First Offenses,” San Bernardino Sun, November 6, 1964: B-1.
39 Anderson, “Sport Slants,” February 17, 1965: C-1.
40 Hamrick Monroe e-mail. Hamrick Monroe-Costello interview.
41 “Obituaries,” The Sporting News, July 3, 1965: 42.
42 Jim Epting, “Pilot Tells Blinded Hurler of 2 Deaths in June Auto Crash,” The Sporting News, August 28, 1965: 45.
43 Epting, “Pilot Tells Blinded Hurler of 2 Deaths in June Auto Crash.”
44 As far as can be determined, the make of the car comes from an undated e-mail to the Astroland.net website from Bill Jacobs, Dahl’s teammate in Salisbury and an opponent in high school. No contemporary articles that mention a GTO have surfaced yet.
46 His death certificate specified “laceration of the inferior vena cava and pelvic vessels.”
47 “Baseball Career Over for Hurler,” San Mateo (California) Times, June 22, 1965: 23.
48 Epting, “Pilot Tells Blinded Hurler of 2 Deaths in June Auto Crash.”
49 “Gary Marshall s baseball career ended by accident,” Hutchinson (Kansas) News, June 22, 1965: 20.
50 “Baseball Career Ends for Hutchinson Youth,” Kansas City Star, June 22, 1965: 3B.
51 “In the Shadows,” San Bernardino Sun, June 27, 1965: C-8.
52 Hamrick Monroe e-mail.
53 Claude Anderson, “Sport Slants,” San Bernardino Sun, July 17, 1965: C-1.
54 Epting, “Pilot Tells Blinded Hurler of 2 Deaths in June Auto Crash.”
55 “Manslaughter Warrant Issued in Dahl Case,” San Bernardino Sun, July 31, 1965: 31.
56 “Gary Marshall Boards Plane for Home Saturday,” Salina (Kansas) Journal, August 22, 1965: 14.
57 Epting, “Pilot Tells Blinded Hurler of 2 Deaths in June Auto Crash.”
58 “Marshall Freed of Charges,” Durham (North Carolina) Herald-Sun, June 3, 1966.
59 Gary Allen Marshall obituary, Austin American-Statesman, May 28, 2008.
60 As seen in October 22 on both Amazon.com and the Steiner Sports Memorabilia website.