This article was written by Jeff Obermeyer
It was early in the evening on March 9, 1934, as the City Light truck made its way down Fourth Avenue South in downtown Seattle. The driver saw a rotund older man step from the curb to cross the street a short distance ahead.
The truck slowed to allow him to cross, but when he took a step back the driver resumed his normal speed. He was surprised when the man stepped off the curb again and began to make his way to a car on the other side of the street.
There wasn’t enough time to react, and the truck struck the pedestrian. He was rushed to Providence Hospital, but his injuries were too severe and he passed away three hours later. Daniel Edward Dugdale, the “Father of Seattle Baseball,” was dead at the age of 69.
Dugdale (or Dug, as he was affectionately known) was born in Peoria, Illinois on October 28, 1864, the son of Edward Ryan Dugdale, an Irish immigrant, and Mary Rebecca Lyons. Little is known of his life before he signed as a catcher with the Peoria Reds of the Northwestern League in 1884. He bounced around the Midwest for two years playing with Peoria, Hannibal, Leavenworth, Keokuk, and Denver before coming to the attention of the majors, signing with the Kansas City Cowboys of the National League for the 1886 season (the only season KC was in the league). He made his major league debut on May 20, 1886, appearing behind the plate against the New York Giants. Dug picked up two hits (and allowed three passed balls) on the afternoon as the Cowboys defeated the Giants 5-4.
Though he swung the bat well that day, he was only hitting .175 after 12 games when he was forced from the lineup with a sprained knee. Dug still had to work on his game if he wanted to make it in the bigs and not just in the batter’s box: his 14 passed balls and eight errors were too many, even for the era. Despite being a work in progress, he caught on with Denver in August, finishing out the season in the Western League.
The next six seasons saw Dugdale move from team to team throughout the minors. After spending 1887 in the International League splitting time between Rochester and Buffalo, he jumped to the Western Association in 1888 and joined the Chicago Maroons. A successful three-year run with the Minneapolis Millers followed before he moved on to the St. Paul/Ft. Wayne club in 1892.
Dug headed south and joined the Chattanooga Warriors of the Southern League in 1893. Gus Schmelz managed the Warriors and liked what he saw in the veteran catcher, so when Schmelz was given the manager job with the Washington Senators of the National League for 1894, he brought the backstop east with him.
Not everyone was enamored with the choice: “What do you think of it?,” reported the Oct. 15, 1893, Washington Post. “Fatty Dugdale has already been signed by Washington for next season . The Capital is making an early bid for the last hole again.” It was around this time that Dugdale’s weight became a more and more frequent topic for derision. Much to his dismay, his size was referred to in the papers for the rest of his life.
Despite the unflattering review in the Post, the July 21, 1894, New York Clipper painted a much more rosy picture of his talents after the season got underway: “Dugdale uses more headwork in a game than three fourths of the catchers and is always on the alert to take advantage of any misplays on the part of the opposing team. He is a fair batsman and base runner, but an A1 catcher.”
His performance that season was an improvement over his previous stint in the majors, but still sub-par. He appeared in 38 games and batted .239 (the league average was an amazing .309) with 16 RBIs. Defensively, Dug improved, reducing his passed balls to nine in 33 games behind the plate, though he still had 18 errors charged to him on the season.
Despite the lackluster performance, Schmelz still had faith in the catcher and planned to bring him back in 1895: “[Schmelz] says that the only trouble with Dugdale last year was that he was not given enough work to thoroughly keep his hand in and therefore became too fat and heavy to be of much service when he was needed late in the season,” reported the Jan. 10, 1895, Washington Post. “In his opinion Dugdale, with enough work to keep him in good playing form, is superior to any of the talent available.”
However, Dugdale was not interested in spending another season on the bench backing up Deacon McGuire and sought a release. Schmelz complied, and Dug returned to his hometown of Peoria, where he bought a stake in the city’s Western Association franchise, the Distillers. He proved to be an excellent manager, keeping the club in the hunt for most of the season until breaking a finger (he was also the starting catcher) with just under two weeks to go. Without Dug behind the plate, the club faltered and eventually finished in second with a 74-55 record.
In the fall, Dug left for Minneapolis, returning to his offseason job as a molder with the Minneapolis Stove Works. There was talk of him taking over the reins of the Western League club there for the following season, but that never came to fruition. He returned to Peoria in the spring, leading the Distillers to a third-place finish in 1896.
After watching the Distillers drop to fifth in 1897, Dugdale decided that it was time to move on, heading west in 1898 to seek his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. He only made it as far as Seattle, where he took a job as a brakeman on a cable car and immediately set about trying to establish a professional baseball team.
There had been attempts to bring the pro game to Seattle as far back as 1890 with the formation of the Pacific Northwest League, but these met with only limited success. The PNL was reborn in 1898 with clubs in Seattle, Portland, Spokane and Tacoma. The Seattle entry, owned by Dugdale, was known as the Klondikers and was based at YMCA Park, located on James Street between 12th and 14th avenues.
The Klondikers opened their season against Tacoma on May 18, and Dug made certain it was a big event. Festivities included a parade through downtown Seattle featuring players from both clubs in their uniforms led by a marching band. The parade wound through the city for an hour before ending at the ballpark, after which the teams were given 30 minutes each to warm up. A crowd of 425 fans turned out to watch the Klondikers take an early 1-0 lead before giving way to Tacoma, eventually losing by a score of 14-6.
The league didn’t complete the 1898 season and Dugdale had to busy himself with semi-pro ball as well as his expanding real estate portfolio. He got back into the pro game in 1901 with the re-establishment of the Pacific Northwest League, which included the same four cities as the previous incarnation. Unlike its predecessor, the new PNL was successful financially and Dug piloted his Seattle Clamdiggers to a third-place finish. The league expanded into Montana in 1902 with the addition of clubs in Butte and Helena, increasing in size to six teams. The Clamdiggers improved, finishing second behind Butte. After two successful seasons the Seattle franchise was poised to make a run for the pennant, but a war was on the horizon that would change the complexion of the baseball landscape on the West Coast.
In December 1902 the owners of the independent California League announced an expansion of their operation northward to include franchises in Portland and Seattle. The new league was named the Pacific Coast League and was to consist of six West Coast teams.
The invaders made overtures to PNL representatives, including Dugdale, hoping to lure the Clamdiggers and Portland Webfooters to their league. When Dug refused the offer, the PCL found other backers for its Seattle franchise. The owner in Portland, however, was more receptive and jumped to the new league, a breach of the territorial rights of the PNL (which now stood for Pacific National League).
A protest was filed with the National Association, which sided with the PNL and branded the PCL an outlaw league. All players under contract to PCL clubs were now blacklisted by the Association, preventing any member team from signing them until they were reinstated. The Association also promoted the PNL to a Class A league, the highest minor league designation at the time (other Class A leagues in 1903 included the American Association, the Eastern League, and the Western League).
Dugdale and PNL President William H. Lucas fired back at their rivals by announcing their intention to put franchises in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the two largest PCL cities. The move was a disaster for the PNL. Not only were they still trying to replace the team in Portland, but they also were attempting to establish two new teams more than 800 miles away.
The PCL was already ahead of the game, with five solid clubs and only one new start-up. Allegations also surfaced in the Los Angeles press that Dugdale and Lucas had tried to use Charles Dooley, former owner and manager of the Montreal Royals of the Eastern League, to buy controlling interest in the Seattle PCL club and fold the franchise as soon as he (and therefore they) took ownership. Dirty tricks and shady deals were quickly becoming the norm as the battle between the leagues escalated.
Players began jumping back and forth between the leagues almost immediately, though most of the movement was out of the PNL. Ed Hurlburt left Seattle for the PCL early in the season, and Dugdale didn’t take kindly to contract jumpers. While the club was in Portland in June, pitcher Willie Hogg approached his manager outside the team hotel and requested his release to join Hurlburt. When Dug refused the request, the June 13, 1903, Seattle Daily Times reported that Hogg “at once assumed a threatening attitude and became abusive. Dugdale, knowing his reputation, concluded that it was proper for him to act in his own defense, which he did, with the result that Hogg was put out of commission with a straight poke to the jaw that would have done credit to any knight of the ring.”
That was the last time a player asked the Seattle owner to be released, but it wasn’t Dugdale’s last fight. Later that summer, he got into a scuffle with captain Gus Klopf of Spokane when the two crossed paths in a Seattle cigar store. There was a history of bad blood between them, and Klopf was knocked down twice by the much larger (265-pound) Dugdale, suffering a number of facial cuts and bruises.
As the summer wore on things got worse for the PNL. The new Portland franchise relocated to Salt Lake City on July 12, Tacoma and Helena disbanded on August 16, and the two California entries followed suit on August 21. The league staggered to the finish line with only four of its eight clubs intact, and the war was effectively over. The PCL had come out on top, and Dugdale sold his team and territorial rights to the victors. The PNL lasted one more year as a four-team circuit, but following the 1904 season it folded for good.
Over the next three years, Dug remained involved in a number of baseball-related projects. He sponsored the Dugdale Pennant of the Puget Sound League, a 20-team semi-pro league that operated in western Washington. He also briefly managed the Portland Browns of the PCL in 1904 and was instrumental in establishing the Class B Northwestern League in 1905. He was slated to manage the Bellingham (WA) club in that circuit during its inaugural season, but backed out before the opener.
The PCL was forced to abandon Seattle prior to the start of the 1907 season. While most sources indicate this was due to poor attendance and the uncertain future of the league in the wake of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, PCL President Cal Ewing had another explanation. He told the Los Angeles Times that Seattle owner Russ Hall was in collusion with Dugdale in an effort to keep the team off the field.
When Hall was “unable” to field a team and the league failed to find a new ownership group, the territory was automatically relinquished according to the rules of the National Association. This paved the way for Dugdale to establish a new Northwestern League team in the city, the Siwashes (known as the Turks in 1909 and the Giants in 1910-18). Ewing’s allegations of underhanded conduct were supported by the fact that Hall was named the manager of the Butte Miners of the NWL following the demise of his PCL club.
Dugdale funded the construction of Yesler Way Park in 1907 to house his new team. The upgraded Northwestern League consisted of six teams, though changes in member cities were still fairly common from season to season. The four cities that made up the backbone of the circuit were Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver, B.C. Other members at various times included Aberdeen (WA), Butte (MT), Great Falls (MT), Victoria (BC) and Portland (OR). The Seattle franchise was successful both at the gate and in the standings, capturing pennants in 1909, 1912, and 1915.
The success of his clubs increased the popularity of the gregarious owner. Always approachable, Dugdale was a fan favorite who usually had a kind word for the local bleacherites and took the time to talk baseball with them. His fellow owners and officials from other leagues respected him for a totally different reason: his commitment to the bottom line. Dug understood that baseball was a business, and he was in business to make money.
While many of his players felt that he was loyal to them, others had a different perspective. Shad Barry resigned as manager of the Giants early in the 1912 season, citing interference by the owner in the handling of players as well as personnel decisions being made for purely economic reasons. In a tell-all interview in the June 13, 1912, Sporting News Barry said of his former boss, “Cut down expenses is his hit-and-run sign.”
In 1912 Dugdale began designing a new ballpark that he hoped would be the finest on the West Coast. He got some help in the layout from none other than Connie Mack of the Athletics, who was traveling through Seattle that winter on tour with his team. The park (eventually known as Dugdale Park) was completed just prior to the end of the 1913 season. The all-wood structure was located at the intersection of Rainier Avenue and McLellan Street in the Rainier Valley (South Seattle) and was the first stadium on the West Coast with double-decked stands. It was a significant investment, with the stands alone costing $35,000 to construct, and it remained the home of Seattle baseball for the next 18 years.
The first problems within the Northwestern League began in 1915, when Spokane, Vancouver, and Tacoma conspired to alter the schedule late in the season without notifying the other owners or the league president. Dugdale was furious, but powerless to prevent the collusion. He began to drop hints in the press that he would be open to overtures from the PCL if this kind of thing continued.
Teams were struggling financially in the NWL as they were throughout baseball in the wake of America’s entry into World War I, and the league was granted approval from the National Association to end the 1917 season on July 15. The approval was necessary as the league did not want to disband and sought to maintain territorial rights to its member cities. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Seattle club had lost money over the previous three seasons and that Dugdale was again looking to jump to the PCL.
He gave it one more shot with the NWL, newly reformed as the Pacific Coast International League for the 1918 season. Unfortunately, the new circuit fared no better, struggling at the gate as U.S. involvement in World War I intensified. Two teams disbanded by the end of May, and the league folded on July 7. Dug saw the handwriting on the wall and sold his majority interest in the club to an ownership group headed by cigar store magnate James Brewster for $60,000 in January 1919.
Brewster renamed the team the Rainiers (later changed to Indians early in the 1920 season before changing back to Rainiers in 1938) and transferred it to the PCL, where it remained a mainstay until the American League Pilots came to Seattle in 1969. The sale to Brewster was the close of the Dugdale Era of professional baseball in Seattle and ended his 21-year reign as a local owner.
Dugdale maintained ownership of Dugdale Park, however, and continued leasing it to the club until selling it to the new owner of the Indians, Bill Klepper, in 1928. It remained the home of the Indians until a July 4, 1932 fire left the stands and clubhouse a smoldering ruin.
The fire was discovered by night watchman George Felton, who raced to the clubhouse and called the fire department shortly after midnight. Unfortunately, by the time the first of the three responding fire companies arrived the wood grandstands were already fully engulfed in flames, and it was all they could do to prevent the conflagration from spreading to neighboring businesses and homes. Three houses on the other side of Rainier Avenue also caught fire, but these were quickly contained with only minor damage.
Investigator Frank Harshfield reported that the inferno started in the main runway of the grandstand, and that an oil drum was found nearby in the stands. The investigation didn’t turn up much else. It wasn’t until serial arsonist Robert Driscoll confessed to setting the blaze three years later that the mystery was finally solved. The damage to the structure was estimated at $100,000, only $24,000 of which was covered by insurance.
It was an inglorious end to a great ballpark that had not only been the home of five championship teams, but had also hosted some of baseball’s greatest stars such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Bob Meusel, all of whom played exhibition games on its diamond. The Indians relocated to Civic Stadium (near the present-day home of the Space Needle) and remained there until the construction of Sick’s Stadium in 1938.
Dugdale stayed involved in the Seattle baseball scene throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s, lending his support to various semi-pro organizations such as the Puget Sound Baseball League, which he led as president in 1931. He was also actively involved in politics as a member of the Democratic Party and was appointed to the legislature as a representative of the 34th District to replace the incumbent, William Allen. Following the death of his wife Mary in October 1933, Dug moved in with his sister Elizabeth, living with her for the last six months of his life.
At the time of his passing, Dug was president of the Northwest Semi-Pro League and was busy preparing for the upcoming season. He was also looking forward to the fifth annual “Busher’s Banquet,” the yearly get-together for former baseball players and fans held at the Washington Athletic Club. The event was scheduled for March 10 — the day after the fatal accident. Instead of a celebration, it became a wake for the popular magnate. Seattle Times Sports Editor George Varnell wrote a fitting eulogy for his friend:
“The name of Daniel E. Dugdale has on this Pacific Coast been synonymous with all the better things that go with professional baseball. His word in a baseball deal was as good as his bond, as is (sic) was in every other transaction.
“He was a nobleman among his fellows. He was Dug’ to the multitude of his friends and acquaintances. Baseball was his life and in recent years … He devoted his valuable experience and ability to the upbuilding of the lesser light of baseball, the semi-pros.
“But whether it was league ball, semi-pro, amateur or sandlot baseball for the kids, Dugdale always stood ready to put his shoulder to the wheel. And always it was there. Baseball was his first love and his sudden and untimely death robs the Northwest of its greatest individual figure in the national game.”
Dug was laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery near the University of Washington. Local fans paid homage to their fallen friend at “Dugdale Night” on June 7, 1934, with the largest night-game crowd of the season (4,500) on hand to watch the Indians knock off the Portland Beavers by a score of 6-1, a fitting tribute to one of Seattle baseball’s great larger-than-life figures.
A version of this article originally appeared in the 2006 SABR publication Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, Mark Armour (editor), photos from the David Eskenazi Collection.
In preparing this story, the author made use of various issues of the Seattle Daily Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Sporting News, Los Angeles Times, New York Clipper, and the Washington Post. Statistics came from Total Baseball, 8th Edition.