I’ve been on a bit of a Toronto Maple Leafs baseball kick lately (not that I’ve been writing about it) and one of the things I’ve been searching for are players who were part of both the Leafs and the Jays. By my count to date, there are two players and five coaches. (No, Eric Lindros doesn’t count, goofy batting practice card aside. Good on you if you thought of it, though.)
There’s only one player, however, who played for both the baseball Leafs and the hockey Leafs, and that’s Cecil “Babe” Dye. Babe was also a key figure in the creation of the hockey Leafs.
Babe Dye was a hall-of-fame NHL winger for the Toronto St. Patricks of the 1920s. He wasn’t all that big and didn’t skate terribly well, but he had great hands, a tremendous shot and a real nose for the net. He scored 176 goals in his first 170 NHL games. Nobody else maintained that kind of pace for that length of time until Wayne Gretzky arrived 50-some years later.
Babe was a three-sport athlete. He played football with the Toronto Argonauts and baseball for a number of teams, most notably Buffalo in the International League. He was offered a $25K contract by Connie Mack (Philadelphia Athletics) in 1921, but rejected it to continue with hockey.
It was a good call. Between 1920-21 and 1924-25, Dye led the league in goals three times and finished second the other two. He was first in overall scoring twice, second and third once each. In the 1922 Stanley Cup Final, he had 9 goals in 5 games, still an NHL record. He scored 38 goals in 29 games in 1924-25, a Toronto record that stood until 1961 (and a 70-game schedule).
Before the 1926-27 season, though, Babe Dye was on the open market. I can think of a couple of reasons for this. His 1925-26 season wasn’t up to his normal standards and the St. Pats had a young Ace Bailey ready to play the right side (though it was pretty thin after that). Most likely to me, Dye was a big name and a big ticket. The St. Pats were floundering, losing money and dodging lawsuits from former Toronto hockey owner Eddie Livingstone. The damages from these lawsuits would force the sale of the team in mid-season. It’s more than possible that the St. Pats simply couldn’t afford to retain their biggest name. Dye would sign with the Chicago Black Hawks (as they were then commonly spelled).
Also in 1926-27, there was a new expansion team – the Rangers – going into New York. The Rangers were being assembled by Conn Smythe and he put together a very competitive roster, mainly by raiding the stars of the old western leagues. One player he didn’t want was Dye. The reasons why seem to vary with the telling, but Smythe basically didn’t like his game. The Rangers ownership did, however, and failing to sign Dye cost Smythe his job before his team ever took the ice.
Smythe came back to Toronto and used his cash settlement from the Rangers (along with money he acquired from numerous other means, including a longshot bet at the track) to buy a controlling interest in the St. Patricks, who he promptly renamed the Maple Leafs. (Note – according to contemporary newspaper accounts, this name change had been rumoured for months before the sale. That’s a post unto itself, though.)
Dye had a great bounceback season for Chicago in 1926-27, scoring 25 goals (second overall) and 30 points (fifth). The following season, he broke his leg in training camp and was never the same again. His career would be over after 1931, and he only ever scored one goal after 1927. His last NHL games came in 1930-31, when Smythe brought him back for six games with the Leafs. He didn’t score.
In baseball, Dye played seven pro seasons. He spent most of 1920 and ’21 with the Class B Brantford Red Sox, for whom he hit .351 in 1921. He had very brief stints in 1920 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Syracuse Stars (also the name of their minor league hockey team), 9 at-bats in total. From 1922 to 1925, he played for Buffalo, where he hit for good average and power (in 1923, he hit .318 with 40 doubles, 13 triples and 16 homers). In 1926, he started out with the Leafs again and had a couple hits in the opener at the new ballpark, but was sold to Baltimore after just 8 games. He hit .215 that year in limited at-bats and dropped baseball after that. I don’t know whether it was declining performance or his move to Chicago that caused this.
Babe Dye’s career goals-per-game ratio (.742) is fourth-best in NHL history, behind only Mike Bossy, Cy Denneny and Mario Lemieux. He was elected to the hall of fame in 1970.
The card is a 1923-24 William Patterson, also known as V145-1. These cards, sold with chocolate bars, had blank backs and a full set could be redeemed for a pair of skates. Redeemed cards were cancelled either by having a hole punched in them or a stamp on the back (as is the case with this one). To reduce the number of prizes awarded, the card of St. Pats defenseman Bert Corbeau (card 25 of 40) was short-printed, making it one of the scarcest and most-expensive hockey cards in existence. Only two unredeemed Corbeaus are known to exist. (I don’t have either of them. 🙂 )
Babe Dye at baseball-reference.com
Babe Dye at hockey-reference.com
Babe Dye at the Hockey Hall of Fame
A great book on the shenanigans surrounding the St. Pats.
A complete V145-1 set at auction with history