Jun 1, 2013

From the Polo Grounds to Hollywood- Early 20th Century New York Giants Star: Turkey Mike Donlin

Michael Joseph Donlin was Born on May 30, 1878 in Peoria, Illinois. His family moved to Erie, Pennsylvania where he tragically lost both his parents in bridge collapse while still a young boy.

Eventually he made his way out west to California & began to play baseball. He earned the nickname Turkey Mike due to the way he walked with gait like a turkey.

He was acquired by the National League’s St. Louis Perfectos (who became the Cardinals) in 1899 & 1900. He was an excellent hitter but a poor defensive player, and he decided to jump over to the American League. He went to Baltimore & played for his former team mate John McGraw. He ran into trouble when he got arrested during a drinking binge & was waving a loaded revolver on a train. He had to do six months time in Albany New York.

The Orioles released him but the Reds picked him up and in 1903 he was 2nd in the NL in hitting (.351). He was in the league’s top five in most offensive categories becoming one of the games best hitters. In 1904 he was having another great year when his heavy drinking got him arrested again & suspended for 30 days which eventually led to a trade to the New York Giants.

He arrived in New York playing outfield for his old team mate John McGraw again. He hit .280 in the last 42 games of the season, helping the Giants win the NL pennant. They didn’t play in the World Series because John McGraw refused to acknowledge the American League as an equal.

Turkey Mike loved New York, he was a heavy drinker & a real ladies man, who loved to stay out late. He was a sharp dresser with dashing looks and always seemed to find trouble. He was popular with the ladies, & the guys like hanging out with him too.
In 1905 he had one of his best seasons; finishing third in the NL in hitting (.356) second in hits (216), leading the league in runs scored (124) fifth in on base percentage (.415) third in HRs (7) eight in steals (33) & fourth in doubles (31).

The Giants went on to the World Series & beat Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. In the Series Turkey Mike hit .263 (5-19) with a double, 2 walks and an RBI.

Actress Mable Hite
In April of 1906 he decided to settle down and married Vaudeville actress Mable Hite. He was hitting .315 after 37 games when he broke his ankle sliding into second base & had to miss the rest of the season.
Turkey Mike still wanted the same salary next year as well as the $600 bonus he received for staying sober. Giants owner John T. Brush refused. The result had Turkey Mike sit out the entire 1907 season until an agreement was made. He spent time with his wife & lived the high society life.
He returned in 1908 & hit the game winning walk off HR on opening day at the Polo Grounds. He again came in second in the league in hitting (.334) for the fourth time in his career. He was second in hits (198) fourth in doubles (26) & HRs (6). Sixth in stolen bases (30) eighth in triples (13) & in runs scored (71).

The Giants finished 2nd to the rival Cubs, in the famous year of “Merkles Boner” which some blamed on losing the pennant. Defensively Donlin had his finest year only making a career low six errors (155 games) & posting a career best .977 fielding percentage.
In October of 1908, Donlin & his wife Mable Hite, wrote a one act play called “Stealing Home” & he made his stage debut. Although he received mixed reviews, critics raved over his wife's performance and the show became a huge hit.

He claimed he made more money from his play & he left baseball vowing to never to return. The shows success lasted for three years, after that Mable Hite couldn’t land any leading roles. This led to Turkey Mike returning to baseball and once agin playing for John McGraw.

By now Donlin was 33 years old & no longer the player he used to be. He was traded to Boston and finished the season batting .316 overall with 234 at bats. He briefly played in Pittsburgh in 1912 batting .316 in 77 games but wasn’t resigned. He had one last chance with the Giants in 1914, batting .161 in 34 games before retiring for good. After a 12 season career he batted .333 lifetime with 1282 hits 176 doubles 97 triples 51 HRs 543 RBIs & 213 stolen bases.

In 1912 his wife Mabel died of cancer and two years later he marr
ied actress Rita Ross of Fenton & Ross comedy fame. After baseball he returned to acting and switched from the stage to the screen in Hollywood. He had a number of small roles in the era’s silent movies including the classic starring Buster Keaton “The General”. Also “Raffles The Amateur Cracksman” (1917) and “The Sea Beast” (1926).

One of Turkey Mikes best friends and drinking buddies was renowned actor John Barrymore who helped place him in a few of his movies. He was also used as an advisor on a number of baseball movies. He passed away from a heart attack, in his sleep at age 55 in Hollywood.
Quotes: As night baseball was first being introduced, Donlin said “Think of that, taking a ball player's nights away from him!"

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