You know you are good when you are given the name of one of the greatest athletes of the time. Such was the case for Cecil Henry Dye, known better as Babe Dye. While his playing career ended 90 years ago, he remains one of the greatest players the NHL ever saw, so lets explore his life and career.
Born on May 13, 1908 in Hamilton to John and Esther Dye. Dye only lived briefly in the community before his mother moved the family to Toronto in 1909 following the death of Dye’s father.
Today, we often think of hockey dads building hockey rinks in the backyard for their children but for Dye, it was his mother who built the outdoor rink for her son. She was also the one who encouraged him to practice with skating and shooting drills.
Dye would say later of his mother quote:
“She could throw a baseball harder than I can.”
He would add quote:
“My mother knew more about hockey than I ever did and she could throw a baseball right out of the park.”
An old legend said that Dye, who had a pompadour, had scored 12 goals without ever crossing centre ice while playing as a child.
In 1916, Dye would begin to play for the Toronto Aura Lee, beginning his junior career. He would spend three seasons in juniors, putting up immense numbers including scoring 31 goals in only eight games in 1916-17.
In May of 1918, Dye would enlist with the 69th Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery but he never made it overseas to fight in the trenches. He would play for the battery’s baseball team at Camp Petawawa, which won the title of artillery champions of Canada.
In 1918-19, Dye began to play for the Toronto St. Patricks. One year later, he joined the team when it made its debut in the NHL, also the debut for Dye.
Dye would immediately make a huge impact on the team. The Montreal Gazette would write on Dec. 29, 1919 after a game against Quebec, quote:
“Babe Dye never played better in his career.”
After the 1918-1919 season was done, Dye began to look at where he was going to play again. It was reported in November of 1919 that Dye was looking at playing for the Calgary Wanderers. The Calgary Herald would report quote:
“Dye is credited with being a hockey marvel, a whirlwind on skates and a brilliant stick handler.”
In the end, Dye would not go to Calgary and would stay with Toronto, which was good news for his career and legend.
With the St. Patrick’s, he would win the Stanley Cup in 1922, scoring nine goals in just five games in the final, a record that stands to this day for the current playoff format.
The Saskatoon Daily Star would state of the win quote:
“There were moments when brilliant plays brought the crowd to its feet cheering wildly and Babe Dye was in the limelight most of the time. The baseball-hockey star was never better.”
During his first six seasons, Dye would score an astounding 176 goals in only 170 games.
The Vancouver Daily World would say on Dec. 5, 1922 regarding a recent game, quote:
“Babe Dye was the shining light on the visitors’ forward line. A fast skater and possessing a shot like a howitzer, he proved himself a wizard at stick-handling and gave Lehman more trouble than all the rest of the forwards put together.”
In 1923, Dye would score five goals in the opening game of the season against the Montreal Canadiens, setting a franchise record that stood until 1976 when Darryl Sittler had his legendary 10-point game.
By the end of the season, Dye was seeing that he was a superstar in the NHL and he wanted to be paid as such. Before the 1923-24 season began, Dye reported in November that he would not be taking to the ice until he received a substantial raise in his salary. At the time, he was making $1,800 per season, which amounts to about $29,000 today. Dye stated that he wanted at least $4,000 per year, or $64,000 per year today. The Saskatoon Star stated quote:
A day later, it was stated that Dye had signed a contract and that he would play if he was not sold by Buffalo to a major league baseball team the following month.
By January, Dye was back playing on the team and immediately putting the puck in the net. In his first game back, he scored his first goal of the season.
Dye would play for the team that year, and proved once again why he was one of the best players in the league. While he played only 19 games, his lowest total in his career from 1919-20 to 1926-27, he still registered 17 goals and two assists.
While Dye was not a fast skater, his shot was hard and extremely accurate. Weighing only 150 pounds, Dye had very strong arms and his stick was made of solid hickory, at a time when most sticks were made of maple, ash or yellow birch. This gave him the strongest and most flexible kind of stick. It was said that his shot was able to snap a two-inch thick plank of wood. Jack Adams would say that he once saw a shot by Dye go clean through the back rest of an arena seat, after it went through the thick wire mesh that protected the crowd in Toronto. Defensemen who attempted to stop his shot with their stick were said to suddenly find their sticks had shattered in two.
He was skilled as a stickhandler and his wrist shot was incredibly precise. This was shown in his third season with Toronto when he scored 12 of his 31 goals from behind the red line. His goals were often so quick that neither the referee, linesmen or goalie had seen the puck go into the net.
Sprague Cleghorn, someone I covered in season one (https://canadaehx.com/2021/01/10/sprague-cleghorn/) said that Dye had the best shot he had ever seen.
Hooley Smith would say of Dye, quote:
“I can’t recall a player in my time, or since, who could control a shot like Babe. He could thread a needle with the puck and it came up like a bomb”
King Clancy would speak of Dye saying quote:
Hap Day said quote:
“While he wasn’t a particularly good skater, he was always in position to take a pass. As far as accuracy is concerned, I haven’t seen a player in recent years to match Dye.”
In 1922, in the Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Millionaires, Reg Noble won the faceoff and passed the puck to Dye who shot it at the net. Hugh Lehman, the goalie, stood still not realizing the puck had gone in the net and it took several seconds before anyone discovered that the puck was already in the net.
At the same time he was playing in the NHL, Dye was playing in the Canadian Football League for the Toronto Argonauts as a halfback. He also played professional baseball in the International League with the Baltimore Orioles. It was in baseball that he earned the nickname of Babe, which was very high praise. Dye was good enough as a baseball player that he was offered $25,000 by Connie Mack to join the Philadelphia Athletics in the Major leagues, but he chose to stay with hockey instead.
The Sporting News would state in August 1924 quote:
“Dye is surely a nifty baseball player, a good hitter, reliable outfielder and speedy on the base paths.”
Shag Shaughnessy would say of Dye quote:
“I remember one Summer when Babe was playing in the outfield for Brantford in the old Canadian Baseball League. He had lost most of his teeth in hockey the previous winter and was breaking in a new set of choppers. He was chasing a fast-sinking line drive when his new teeth bounced out of his mouth. Babe went searching for them in the grass and while he was doing it, the hitter circled the bases for an inside-the-park homerun.”
In 1922, Dye contemplated leaving hockey. The Edmonton Journal would report on April 5, 1922 quote:
“Babe Dye, crack shot of St. Patricks, world champions, may quit hockey. The authority for the statement is Dye himself. His one ambition is to become a high class baseball player. If he can make the grade with Buffalo in the International League this year and earn a regular berth then hockey will be forgotten.”
Of course, that would not be the case.
Playing all these sports began to take its toll on his body as he aged, and the owners of the St. Patrick’s were not happy about their star player playing two sports. As a result, in an effort to fix their financial situation, the team owners put Dye up for sale.
For eight seasons, Dye would play for his hometown St. Patrick’s, and would lead the league in goals in 1920-21, 1922-23 and 1924-25. In 1923 and 1925, he also led the league in scoring. His 38 goals in 30 games in 1924-25 set a franchise record that would stand for 35 years until it was broken by Frank Mahovlich, who played a 70 game season in 1960-61.
In 1926, Dye would be sold to the Chicago Black Hawks, who had just joined the NHL.
The Victoria Times Colonist reported at the time quote:
“Cecil Babe Dye was sold to the Chicago Club and while no price was made known it is understood the local club secured a good sum for the sharpshooter.”
This deal would come back to haunt the St. Patrick’s when Dye lead the league in goals.
That would be the last bit of glory for Dye. At training camp before the 1927-28 season, Dye would seriously break his leg and he would never be the same player he was.
Dye and the team had been practicing at the Chicago Ampitheatre when he collided with Art Townsend, a rookie and fell to the ice, breaking his leg. He would be taken to the hospital where he would stay while his leg began to heal.
In that season, he went 10 games without scoring a goal and he was then sold to the New York Americans. Over 42 games with the team, he had just one goal.
On Nov. 15, 1929, Dye was traded to the New Haven Eagles of the Canadian-American Hockey League. With the team, he would have 15 points, including 11 goals, in 34 games.
In February 1930, Dye was signed by his former team, now called the Toronto Maple Leafs. He would play only six games before he was released. This would be the last time he would play NHL hockey.
The Ottawa Citizen reported on Dec. 9, 1930 quote:
“Babe Dye, veteran sharpshooter, has been given his outright release by the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League. Dye failed to fit in the Leafs’ fast skating attacks, as he was slowed considerably from the time when he led the league’s marksmen in scoring honors.”
In the 58 games after he broke his leg, he managed only one goal. This was in sharp contrast to the 201 goals he scored previously in his career. Over the course of his NHL career, Dye had 248 points, including 202 goals, in 268 games. He remains the all-time franchise points-per-game leader in Toronto Maple Leafs history. His best season was with the Toronto St. Pats in 1924-25, when he had 44 points, including 38 goals, in just 29 games. His prowess as a goal scorer is shown in the fact that in his entire NHL career, he only hit double digits once in assists, when he had 11 in 1922-23. In contrast, from 1920 to 1927, he never had less than 17 goals in a season. Dye was not an exceptionally rough player either, only registering 221 penalty minutes in his career and never having more than 41 in a season. This is in contrast to someone like Sprague Cleghorn who registered over 50 penalty minutes in a season six times, or Eddie Shore who had over 100 penalty minutes in a season five times.
After he retired, Dye remained in the hockey world. He would coach the Port Colborne Sailors, followed by time with the Chicago Shamrocks, where he won the league title in 1931-32. Unfortunately, Dye was fired right before the championship-winning game on April 9, 1932 because he did not stop the team captain from going to Toronto to get married between games. The team captain was fined $1,000.
On March 19, 1935, Dye made his debut in the NHL as a referee. He would ref the following season as well but he was not liked by fans and the Daily News reported in 1937 that the crowds would chant Three Blind Mice whenever Dye was refereeing. After the 1938-39 NHL season, Dye was no longer a referee in the NHL but he would continue to work as one in the minor leagues until 1943.
For the next 20 years, Dye worked for Seneca Petroleum.
In 1961, he was a television guest for the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup Final series. He would say of playing in that day than his, stating quote:
That same year, he would suffer a stroke.
He would pass away at the age of 63 in Chicago on Jan. 3, 1962. He had been hospitalized for several months prior due to a heart attack and his health was failing.
In 1970, he would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1998, The Hockey News ranked him the 83rd greatest player in NHL history.
To date, his goals-to-games ratio is fourth best in NHL history, behind only Mario Lemieux, Cy Denneny and Mike Bossy.
Information from NHL.com, Canadian Encyclopedia, Sportsnet, Wikipedia, Society for Baseball Research, Maple Leafs Legends, Leafs Nation, The Montreal Gazette, Red Deer Advocate, Nanaimo Daily News, Vancouver Sun, Edmonton Journal, Saskatoon Daily Star,