Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cups of Coffee: Jay Dahl

I think it's safe to say that one always dreams of playing just one game in the Majors. Well, seven players in Astros franchise history got that one game, and no more. Here is the first of those seven stories.

Jay Dahl - September 27, 1963

The Colt .45s signed pitcher Jay Dahl right out of Bloomington (CA) High School in June 1963, and made his professional debut for Moultrie in the Georgia-Florida League. In his first professional game Dahl threw a complete game, striking out 17 Brunswick Cardinals, and allowed one hit - a solo homer in the 9th that proved to be the game-winning run. It was his only loss that season as Dahl went 5-1, posting a 1.33 ERA/0.92 WHIP. Dahl made a spot-start for Double-A San Antonio in 163, allowing 3H/1R (0ER).

The Colt .45s were terrible in 1963 - they were 64-95 with attendance averaging under 9,000 fans per game. The Colt .45s played their final nine games of the 1963 season at home and in the first six games of that final homestand, only the Friday night game (September 20th, 1963) saw attendance above 4,000. The following game on September 21 brought in the smallest recorded crowd of 1963 at Colt Stadium...2,231 fans.

So as an attempt to boost attendance, the Colt .45s announced the "All-Rookie Game" on September 27, 1963, in which the Colt .45s fielded a team comprised solely of rookies. Larry Yellen was ticketed to start the game for the Colts but was observing Yom Kippur, so 17-year old Jay Dahl got the start with a lineup behind him that included Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub, Jimmy Wynn, Aaron Pointer (brother of the Pointer Sisters), and Sonny Jackson. Fifteen rookies made it into the game before Carl Warwick broke up the All-Rookie lineup in the 8th inning. Dahl would be the youngest pitcher to start a Major League game since Joe Nuxhall in 1945

Dahl got two groundouts and a lineout in the first inning to retire the Mets in order. Frank Thomas led off the 2nd inning with a single and advanced on a wild pitch. Jim Hickman singled in Thomas after Colts left-fielder Brock Davis committed an error. Dahl retired Tim Harkness and Chris Cannizzaro on groundouts (which scored Hickman). Al Moran reached on an error to shortstop Sonny Jackson, and Al Jackson's single scored Moran. Joe Christopher flied out to end the inning, with the Mets taking a 3-0 lead.

The Colt .45s left two on base in the bottom of the 2nd, and Dahl came out for the 3rd. He allowed a leadoff single followed by an RBI double by R Hunt. Frank Thomas fouled out, but Hickman singled to make it 5-0 Mets. Harkness grounded out, and Cannizzaro singled again to end Dahl's day. Danny Coombs replaced Dahl, who promptly allowed both inherited runners to score, and the Mets would go on to win 10-3. The only Colts extra-base hit was a triple by Joe Morgan in the 9th inning though he, Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub, and Glenn Vaughan would record two hits on the day. Dahl's line? 2.2IP, 7H/7R (5ER), 0K:0BB. And 5,803 fans were there to see it.

Back problems in 1964 prevented Dahl from pitching, though he did appear in eleven games as an outfielder for Salisbury in the Western Carolinas League. Dahl was back on the mound in 1965, starting at Durham in the Carolina League where he went 1-1 in seven starts with a 4.50 ERA/1.79 WHIP. He was sent back to Salisbury and posted a 5-0 record with a 2.1 ERA/1.13 WHIP, allowing 27 hits in 38IP (there is no strikeout data for the Western Carolinas League in 1965).

On the afternoon of June 19, 1965 Dahl pitched for Salisbury, beating Gastonia 7-3, which propelled Salisbury into first place. That evening the players were guests at the home of Salisbury club president G.M. Hamilton, who treated the team to a steak dinner. Dahl, teammate Gary Marshall, and former Salisbury beauty contestant and 20-year old secretary Patricia Ann Troutman attended a movie and were returning home in Marshall's GTO "at a high rate of speed" when it hit a patch of sand and skidded for 185 feet and broadsided a tree, killing Troutman instantly. Dahl died of internal injuries thee hours later - early on the morning of June 20, 1965 - at Rowan Memorial Hospital in Salisbury, and Marshall broke his arm, leg, had his left eye removed, and damaged the vision in his right eye to the point where he was blind.

Marshall was initially charged with manslaughter, but  Dahl's and Troutman's parents declined to pursue the charges, and he returned to Hutchinson, Kansas. Marshall would later move to Dallas, ministering to the newly blind, and he passed away in 2008 at 62 years old.

At Age 19, Dahl is the youngest player in Major League history to pass away.