Friday, February 5, 2010

February 5, 1910-Turkey Mike Donlin agrees to return to the Giants-Sort of

1905 New York Giants

Mike Donlin and Mabel Hite

In the cold New York winter of 1910 people would look for anything to get their minds off of the weather and onto thoughts of spring and the baseball season. Even then the city was baseball crazy. Fans were divided between the cities' three major league teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers, The New York Highlanders and the New York Giants.

By 1910 the Giants had already won four National League pennants and one World Series which they won in 1905. They may have won another in 1904 but John McGraw, their feisty manager, was angry with American League President Ban Johnson who had suspended McGraw during his playing days.

The following year after realizing how much money he had cost his players by not playing the '04 series McGraw agreed to play and the Giants won.

This was before other professional sports like hockey ,football and basketball would come on the scene and give the New York sports fan something to occupy his time during the winter months. He would have to be happy thinking about and reading about baseball in one of the cities' 14 newspapers. Anything to do with the upcoming season would be huge news.

On February 5, 1910 Giants owner John T. Brush announced that outfielder Turkey Mike Donlin had entered into a tentative agreement and would be returning to the Giants after sitting out the previous year. Giants fans were jubilant.

You see, most people believed that Donlin was lost to the club and the game for good. Turkey Mike sat out the 1909 season over a contract dispute with Brush. Today, the amount money a player would give up by sitting out a year would lead to an agreement eventually being struck. But back in the day Mike Donlin had found that he could make more money on the vaudeville circuit than he could playing baseball.

After breaking in with the St. Louis Perfectos in 1899 Donlin had become a star. But Mike liked to drink a bit. The Perfectos, Orioles the Reds released him after alcohol related troubles. In the middle of the 1904 season he landed with the Giants and his career resurrected. He was a leader on the Giants club that won the pennant and missed the series in '04 and the one that went to the series and won in '05.

But he would also meet and marry Broadway and Vaudeville star Mabel Hite. He joined Hite's touring vaudeville tour. Other athletes had been successful in vaudeville. Christy Mathewson, Jack Johnson and Giants manager would simply go on stage and be themselves. They would tell jokes, read Shakespeare and generally be a way to draw audiences.

Donlin did this for a while but soon convinced himself he was more than just a token ball player whose name they could post on the marquis. So, much like Joe Namath and Shaquille O'Neill would do many years later, Mike set out to be a full blown thespian.

On October 26, 1908, Donlin made his stage debut in Stealing Home, a one-act play written by Donlin and Hite. Although the reviews for Donlin were mixed, critics raved over his wife's performance and the show became a smash hit. Claiming he made more money from his play, Donlin left baseball and vowed never to return.

The play ran for three successful years and was so successful that Mike never did make it back for 1910 season. The play eventually closed and Mabel was unable to land another role. Mike had to go back to baseball. But after two years off by 1911 his talents had severely disintegrated and the Giants shipped him off to Boston Rustlers after only 12 games.

After Mike finished with baseball became pals with legendary actor John Barrymore who was able to score Turkey Mike roles in numerous silent films.

He would finish his career with a .333 batting average and have three seasons in which he would score more than 100 runs. He would hit 51 home runs in the 13 years he played, prolific in the dead ball era.

Turkey Mike Donlin was one of the quirky cast of characters that made up baseball in the early 1900's. The news that he was tentatively returning to the beloved Giants was enough to brighten a cold February day.

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