A master of deception his entire career, Tom Dolan claimed to be 17 when he caught for the independent St. Louis Reds in 1876, but he was really 21. He then spent the next dozen years deceiving ML teams into believing he was a good player even though most of the evidence was to the contrary. His grandest deception of all was actually not of his making - seemingly not, anyway. For a number of years The Sporting News Official Baseball Record Book recognized him as the record holder for the most outfield assists in a season with 63 in 1883 even though most of his assists that year came as a catcher.-Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1
Nevertheless, Dolan truly does own some significant distinctions. Beginning in 1877, he was Jim Galvin's most frequent catcher until Galvin became an established ML pitcher in 1879. Later in his career he became the only man ever to catch for three different St. Louis teams in three different major leagues in three different seasons (1883-1885). But perhaps his chief claim to sports fame is that in the mid-1880s he was the best handball player in baseball, so good that even Fred Dunlap, who fancied himself the kingpin, assiduously avoided playing Dolan. Finally, Dolan perpetrated one of the bloodiest on-field fights in baseball history on May 11, 1887, while playing for Lincoln of the Western League, when he and Denver's Pat Tebeau went at it so savagely that each was fined the munificent sum of $5. It was his customary way of taking care of business on and off the field. Soon after joining the Browns in 1883, Dolan, according to the St. Louis Republican, hired a teammate to beat up first-string catcher Pat Deasley so that he could obtain the job.
The son of John Dolan, a saloonkeeper whose business catered to a rough, working-class crowd that disregarded the racial boundaries then in sway in St. Louis, Dolan and his father openly bankrolled a local "colored" team in St. Louis called the Black Stockings in the early 1880s after he had already begun to play professionally. Dolan remained an active player until 1890, when his 3-year-old son died while he was playing in the Western Association. The following year he joined the St. Louis fire department, having earlier been a fireman during the off-season. Seriously injured in an electrical accident in 1894, he recovered to captain the fire department team for several more years. Never one for taking great care of himself, Dolan died in St. Louis in 1913 of cirrhosis of the liver.
I have absolutely no problem admitting that this brief but wonderfully witty biography of Dolan, written by David Nemec and David Ball, is substantially better than any biography I contributed to the project. If you've yet to pick up the two volumes of MLB Profiles or the companion The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball, you're missing out. They're just full of great stuff like this.