Bill Donovan

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Note: This page links to long time major league pitcher 'Wild' Bill Donovan. For the pitcher who played in 1942 and 1943, click here.


William Edward Donovan
(Wild Bill)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 11", Weight 190 lb.

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]


Wild Bill Donovan was one of the top pitchers in baseball in the early 1900s and occasionally appeared as a position player as well. With the Brooklyn Superbas, he led the National League with 25 wins in 1901. Prior to the 1903 season, he jumped to the Detroit Tigers of the American League, and in 1907, he went 25-4 with a 2.19 ERA for the club.

Donovan earned the nickname "Wild Bill" in his first major league season, with the 1898 Washington Senators, both for his fiery temper and lapses of control on the mound (he was ejected from games repeatedly throughout his career, both as pitcher and a manager). He was 1-6, 4.30 as a pitcher and batted .165 that first season, playing both as a pitcher and an outfielder, but he would improve significantly on both counts in later years. He hardly played for the Brooklyn team that won the NL pennant in 1899 and was worse in 1900, posting a 6.68 ERA in limited duty after he spent most of the year with Hartford of the Eastern League. He rewarded manager Ned Hanlon's faith in him with his great season in 1901, and followed that with a 17-15 record in 1902.

In his first three seasons with Detroit, Donovan was a workhorse but his record was barely above .500 each year. Then in 1906, he was slowed by a sore arm and tumbled to a 9-15 record and a 3.15 ERA - much higher than the 2.77 league average in those days of the Deadball Era. Worse, he led a player revolt against manager Bill Armour which could have cost him his livelihood but instead resulted in Armour's dismissal. However, he got along much better with new manager Hughie Jennings and led the AL in winning percentage in 1907, posting a 25-4, 2.19, record as the Tigers won their first-ever pennant. He was the starter in Game 1 of the 1907 World Series against the Chicago Cubs and pitched 12 solid innings in a game that ended in a 3-3 tie. He came back in Game 4 but was beaten 6-1 as the Tigers lost their first of three consecutive World Series. He went 18-7, 2.08 in 1908 and pitched a shutout against the Chicago White Sox on the season's last day to clinch the pennant. He was beaten twice by the Cubs' Orval Overall in the World Series, however. He was bothered by a sore arm in 1909 and was only 8-7, but four of his wins were shutouts. He won Game 2 of the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates by a 7-2 score, but was rocked in the decisive Game 7, being lifted in favor of George Mullin in the first inning in a game the Tigers would lose 8-0.

Wild Bill Donovan had a couple more productive seasons in 1910 and 1911, posting records of 17-7 and 10-9 respectively. After being kept on the sidelines by arm problems for most of 1912, he was named player-manager for Providence Grays in the International League late in 1912 and held the job thorough 1914. The second year, he managed a young Babe Ruth in his first professional season and led the team to a pennant.

He umpired a few major league games, one in the National League in 1902, a couple in the American League in 1903, and one more in the AL in 1906.

Donovan managed the New York Yankees from 1915 to 1917, making a handful of appearances on the mound in his first two years with the club. He was a Tigers coach in 1918 and pitched in two more games. He later managed the Philadelphia Phillies for the first half of the 1921 season. In mid-July of that year, he was summoned to Chicago, IL to testify at the Black Sox Scandal trial, as he was familiar with most of the characters in the drama. Even though he was cleared of any wrong-doing by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Phillies owner William Baker still fired him as he felt the indirect association with the scandal to be too distasteful (that, and the fact the Phillies had an abominable record too). Donovan then successfully managed the New Haven Indians of the Eastern League for the next two seasons. He was expected to be hired as manager of the Washington Senators for the 1924 season. He was on his way to the winter meetings in Chicago when he was a victim of one of the most famous American train wrecks of the 20th Century, the crash of the Twentieth Century Limited, at Forsyth, NY, 25 miles east of Erie, PA. He was killed instantly, one of nine victims of the tragedy, and was buried near Philadelphia, PA.

His main teammates included Sam Crawford (4463) and Ty Cobb (3660).

"Batters have a wrong idea when they crowd the plate. They give the pitcher a swell mark to steady their control and instead of worrying them, they actually help. If a batter keeps away from the plate it is almost impossible for the average pitcher to put the ball over often enough . . . He has no mark to shoot at . . . I don't like to pitch to these chaps who stand off." - Wild Bill Donovan in Sporting Life, Sept. 26, 1908

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • NL Wins Leader (1901)
  • AL Winning Percentage Leader (1907)
  • NL Games Pitched Leader (1901)
  • NL Saves Leader (1901)
  • AL Complete Games Leader (1903)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 8 (1901-1905, 1907, 1908 & 1910)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 2 (1901 & 1907)
  • 25 Wins Seasons: 1 (1901 & 1907)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 9 (1901-1908 & 1910)
  • 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1901 & 1903)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (1901)

Preceded by
Roger Peckinpaugh
New York Yankees Manager
Succeeded by
Miller Huggins
Preceded by
Gavvy Cravath
Philadelphia Phillies Manager
Succeeded by
Kaiser Wilhelm

Year-By-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1912 Providence Grays International League 8th none replaced Fred Lake in early August
1913 Providence Grays International League 69-80 6th none
1914 Providence Grays International League 95-59 1st none League Champs
1915 New York Yankees American League 69-83 5th New York Yankees
1916 New York Yankees American League 80-74 4th New York Yankees
1917 New York Yankees American League 71-82 6th New York Yankees
1919 Jersey City Skeeters International League 56-93 7th none
1920 Jersey City Skeeters International League 62-91 6th none
1921 Philadelphia Phillies National League 25-62 -- Philadelphia Phillies replaced by Kaiser Wilhelm on July 26
1922 New Haven Indians Eastern League 100-51 1st none League Champs
1923 New Haven Profs Eastern League 90-63 2nd none

Further Reading[edit]

  • Doug Skipper: "William Edward Donovan", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 540-541.

Related Sites[edit]