SABR

Pat Donahue

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

The Cleveland Indians paid Pat Donahue $200 for a tip that led to the signing of Bob Feller in 1935. They later gave him another $200 to forestall him from making any claims for additional compensation. Donahue saw Rapid Robert while umpiring a semipro game in Des Moines.

Before he moved on to umpiring, and scouting, Donahue had worked from 1908 to 1910 as a major-league catcher and sometime first baseman for three different American League clubs, and from 1902 through 1917 in the minor leagues. He was the younger brother of Jiggs Donahue, who had his own, longer career, and was a key member of the 1906 world champion Chicago White Sox.

Pat and Jiggs were both born in Springfield, Ohio. Jiggs (John Augustus Donahue) was born in 1879 and Patrick William Donahue on November 3, 1884. Their parents were John and Mary Donahue. John is listed in the 1880 US Census as a blacksmith. Like John, Mary was born in Ireland and came to America. By 1900 John was gone and Mary was the head of a large family of diverse occupations all sharing the same household in Springfield. Eldest son Thomas worked as a blacksmith, Martin as a bartender, and Edward as a pool marker. John, 21, was a ballplayer, and George, 19, was an iron molder. Patrick was listed as a clerk. Francis (Frank) was 14, and – after seven sons – a daughter had been born, who was named Mary like her mother. The 1910 census has both John and Patrick as ballplayers.

The Sporting News says Patrick started in 1900. His Associated Press obituary says the first team he played with was Washington Court House, Ohio, in 1902.

Donahue started the 1902 season with Schenectady, but was released in early August.i He signed on and played in 11 later-season games with Utica, batting .170 – not considered a bad average for a catcher at the time. Donahue played for Utica for the three years after that, through the 1905 season, the year he turned 21. Batting average is far from the main measure of a catcher, but it’s one of the few statistics we have from more than a century ago; Donahue’s batting average with Utica ranged from .141 in 1903 to .266 in 1904.

During the offseason between the 1903 and 1904 campaigns, Pat was in charge of the bowling alleys at Karl’s Café in Utica.ii In September 1904 one of the Donahues’ brothers died of pneumonia. By the time Pat completed his 1905 season, he’d proved more versatile than just a catcher. “Indeed, Pat Donahue has played every position on the Utica team this season excepting pitch, third base, and left field. As a utility man, no player in the State League has anything on ‘Donny,’ ” Sporting Liufe wrote.iii

After four seasons in the New York State League, Donahue wound up working on the West Coast in 1906. It was a decision that could have cost him his life. When the San Francisco Earthquake struck at 5:12 on the morning of April 18, 1906, Donahue and his teammates were asleep in a hotel. “With others Donahue jumped a distance of about twenty feet to the ground, Sporting Life reported. “He sprained both ankles and was bruised considerably.”iv He was hospitalized in Oakland for a period of time. But he recovered well enough to play in 116 games for the Pacific Coast League’s Portland team and hit .221. Portland won the pennant by 21 games in 1906.

When the Los Angeles Times looked back at the season, it said Donahue “is one of the most popular players in the league and is one of the best, for he is great behind the bat, at either catching what the other fellows are trying to hit, or at hitting what the other fellows are trying to catch.” An additional comment was offered: “One reason why he is popular is that when he strikes out he does not stand at the plate and eat up a rag carpet or two, discussing the great question as to why that last one wasn’t a strike.”v

There was a note in March 1907 that Donahue had jumped to “the outlaw Stockton (Cal.) club” – this may perhaps have referred to the end of 1906, because Pat played for Portland again in 1907, appearing in a pretty substantial 163 games and hitting .226.vi It’s not as though he never expressed a complaint; during a game on April 24, a 3-2 ten-inning loss to Los Angeles, he uttered a “fearful roar” when a strike was called a ball in the fifth inning, and was fined $10 on the spot for “loud howling.”vii

In July Donahue signed a contract to play for the Boston Americans in 1908, reportedly traded for Babe Danzig and Bunny Madden, but as was often the case at the time, he was to report the coming year. In Portland, the team that had won the pennant so handily in 1906 dropped to last place, 41½ games out of first, in 1907.

Donahue came to terms with Boston in December. There was a hint that he’d been challenged by drink in a newspaper report that said he’d “signed a pledge for three years” and noted, “Even on the Honolulu trip, when ‘good times’ were plentiful, Pat stuck to the water cart, and if a player could stick with soft drinks through that campaign, he was fireproof.”viii

By the time Donahue arrived in spring training for Boston, the Boston Americans team had changed its name to the one it’s still known by today – the Boston Red Sox.

Team owner John I. Taylor arranged to bring a larger number of recruits than usual to spring training at Little Rock in 1908; the catchers included Lou Criger, Ed McFarland, Bill Carrigan, and Pat Donahue. Criger and Carrigan got the most work.

There were reports in April that Donahue’s contract had been sold to Kansas City and to Toronto. The Kansas City report was not true, and the Toronto one was perhaps premature in that manager Jim McGuire said he wasn’t going to cut anyone before May 1.ix Pat’s brother Frank played with the Red Sox in spring training games – and even played third base while Pat caught in an April 18 exhibition game in Lowell, Massachusetts.x

Donahue’s first game with the Red Sox came on May 29. The day before, when the Chicago White Sox were in town, Pat had watched brother Jiggs play first base. On the 29th, the Washington Senators were the opposition and Pat played in both games of the day’s doubleheader, coming into the first game after Criger had been pinch-hit for in the bottom of the eighth. In the top of the ninth he made an error in two chances but his first at-bats came in the second game; he was 0-for-3, himself removed for a pinch-hitter later in the game.

Donahue hit the first homer of his major-league career on September 4, against Philadelphia’s Gus Salve in the seventh inning of the second game of a doubleheader, an inside-the-park homer in Boston’s spacious Huntington Avenue Grounds but a prodigious drive that the Boston Globe said “hit the center fence” – at least 400 feet. He had himself a 3-for-4 game. Donahue appeared in 35 games, with 99 plate appearances, a .289 on-base percentage (and a .198 batting average), with six RBIs.

After the season Donahue had planned to travel to Japan with the Reach All-American team, but at manager Fred Lake’s request, he agreed not to do so but instead worked in Honolulu to coach a local baseball team. It was his second trip to Hawaii; he’d traveled there with another team the previous winter.xi

Hot Springs, Arkansas, hosted the Red Sox for 1909 spring training. During the season Donahue got into 65 games, driving in 25 runs and batting .237 (.308 on-base percentage), with two home runs. He was the backup catcher to Bill Carrigan, or – as the Chicago Tribune’s Ring Lardner put it – “P. is kept to catch when Carrigan is sick and to hit when it is the pitcher’s turn.”xii Lardner was writing about an August 25 game that ended in a 4-4 tie only after Donahue had driven in the tying run in the ninth inning with two outs and two strikes on him. The article’s subhead read, “Jiggs’ Brother There with Timely Hit.” In early September Jacob Morse wrote, “Pat Donahue is one of the heroes of the season by reason of the gilt edge timely stick work he has done. Several times he has been stuck in at a pinch, and has responded gamely to the demand of the hour.”xiii

Donahue had a busy year in 1910, but appeared in only 19 games. He began with Boston and by early June had got into only two games, with four at-bats and no hits. His contract was provisionally sold to the Toronto Maple Leafs on June 4, but he refused to report. It was meant to be a two-week trial, with Toronto paying $2,000 if satisfied. Faced with his refusal, the Red Sox sold him to the Philadelphia Athletics on June 10. He was reportedly pleased to be joining a club that had a shot at the pennant. Oddly, on first joining Mack’s Athletics, he was seen wearing a white cap with a “C” on it, prompting the suggestion that “there must be a dearth of lids among the Mackmen.”xiv

It’s not like Donahue got a lot of work with Philadelphia; in two months, he appeared in 14 games, batting .147, and then was sold to the Cleveland Naps on August 16. He played in two games for Cleveland, with one hit in six at-bats. He’d been loaned on trial, but when Cleveland obtained catcher Grover Land from Toronto, Donahue wasn’t really needed, so he was returned to the Athletics in a matter of days, as reported in the weekly Sporting Life of August 27. In his second round with Philadelphia, Donahue appeared as the third of three catchers in the morning game on September 5, striking out in his one at-bat, his last at-bat in the big leagues. He had appeared in 119 major-league games, with a .211 batting average and a .978 fielding percentage.

Donahue was only 25 years old. He still had five more years of minor-league ball in him. The first of these was 1911 when he played for Memphis and Toledo. Connie Mack had sold his contract to Memphis of the Southern Association in February.xv In mid-July Memphis traded catcher Eddie Brennan to Toledo for Donahue. Prompting the trade may have been “disagreements with Manager [Bill] Bernhardt” which resulted in Donahue having “jumped” the ballclub.xvi For Memphis, he played in 43 games, hitting .205, and for Toledo, he appeared in 23 games, batting .159.

It was a while before Donahue situated himself in 1912, and he was seen playing semipro ball in Springfield, but in late May he signed with Atlanta. It wasn’t a long engagement. By August the Atlanta club had changed management, Donahue was suspended and then released outright.xvii He’d appeared in 38 games, and hit .234. He filed a claim against the Atlanta club, saying he’d been injured and released; the club countered that, yes, Donahue had been injured but he was released because of a failure to keep in condition. The National Commission, baseball’s governing body, agreed with the club.xviii

Donahue joined the Montgomery Rebels in 1913, and appeared in 65 games (hitting .225) before contracting “malarial fever” and returning home to Ohio in August. He flirted with a couple of Federal League clubs, but in the end returned to the Rebels in 1914, signing on May 5. He played in 109 games, with a .235 average.xix He was involved in a fracas with Umpire Fifield and struck him, resulting in indefinite suspension without pay.xx It wasn’t the first time Donahue had come across as a little belligerent. A couple of years earlier, he’d been talked out an earlier incident in which he challenged a loud Crackers fan to meet him under the stands.xxi

Offered a cut in salary for the 1915 season, Donahue declined to sign with the Rebels, instead entering into an agreement to play semipro ball for the Knights of Columbus in Montgomery’s City League.xxii He signed in May 1915 with the Beaumont Oilers, but was one of three Oilers released on May 29.xxiii As far as we know, he didn’t play ball in 1916.

In 1917 Donahue is listed as playing shortstop for the Dayton team in the Central League, appearing in 45 games and hitting .169. His season was cut short, as were – it seems – some of his fingers in a serious train accident on August 23 near Mansfield, Illinois. Pitcher Louis Schettler had an eye knocked out, outfielder “Deerfoot” Spencer had an ear torn off, and Donahue had “three fingers torn off and back injured.”xxiv Several other players suffered burns from steam, lacerations, and other injuries.

The obituary prepared by the Associated Press in 1966 said Donahue had quit playing after the train wreck, which had resulted in a career-ending injury. At the time Donahue registered for the draft during the World War, he was working as a clerk in Springfield for a Mr. Cooper. By 1919 he had taken up work as an umpire, and he began a second phase in his baseball career, umpiring in the Western Association, the Western League, the Texas League, the Sally League, and the American Association. In 1928 he turned to scouting, working for (perhaps among others) the Pirates in 1947 and the Athletics from 1949 to 1953.xxv SABR’s Rod Nelson adds that he was also known to have scouted in the American Association in the 1930s. During that work, Donahue is said to have made the kind of find every scout dreams of. He saw Bob Feller at the national amateur baseball tournament in Dayton when Feller struck out 18 batters in one game and 21 in another. He tipped off Cleveland scouting director Billy Evans, and Indians scout Cy Slapnicka beat out 12 other scouts in signing Feller.xxvi Donahue reportedly got $200 for the tip and another $200 later to “make no further claims against the Cleveland Baseball Club.”xxvii

Donahue died of a cerebral vascular thrombosis at City Hospital in Springfield on January 31, 1966. He had been admitted five days earlier for treatment of an illness that had lingered for two years. He was survived by his widow, Irene Donahue, who listed his profession on his death certificate as “baseball scout.”

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Donahue’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Rod Nelson.

 

Notes

i Sporting Life, August 16, 1902.

ii Sporting Life, February 13, 1904.

iii Sporting Life, September 16, 1905.

iv Sporting Life, May 5, 1906.

v Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1906.

vi The quotation comes from the March 23, 1907, Sporting Life.

vii Los Angeles Times, April 24, 1907.

viii San Jose (California) Mercury News, December 29, 1907.

ix Sporting Life, April 15, 1908, and the Washington Post, May 30, 1908.

x That the two were brothers was reported in the April 25, 1908, Sporting Life. The Lowell game account was in the April 19, 1908, Boston Globe.

xi Sporting Life, November 7, 1908.

xii Chicago Tribune, August 26, 1909.

xiii Sporting Life, September 4, 1909.

xiv Sporting Life, June 25, 1910.

xv Sporting Life, February 25, 1911.

xvi Sporting Life, July 15, 1911.

xvii Sporting Life, August 17, 1912.

xviii Sporting Life, March 8, 1913.

xix The interest of Federal League clubs is noted in the Montgomery Advertiser of January 17, 1914.

xx New Orleans Item, August 3, 1914.

xxi New Orleans Item, July 21, 1912.

xxii Montgomery Advertiser, April 17, 1915.

xxiii Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 26, 1915, and Sporting Life, June 12, 1915.

xxiv Muskegon (Michigan) Chronicle, August 25, 1917.

xxv Hartford Courant, February 2, 1966, and The Sporting News, February 12, 1966.

xxvi Chicago Tribune, October 8, 1936.

xxvii The Sporting News, February 12, 1966.

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