John Donahue played 1,176 known minor-league games from 1914 to 1927. His only time playing in the majors saw him get into just 10 games as a right fielder for the Boston Red Sox at the tail end of their last-place 1923 season.
He was one of just 22 Red Sox players, as of 2014, who had been born in the city of Boston. He was born in the Roxbury neighborhood as John Frederick Donahue on Patriots’ Day — April 19, 1894.1
A switch-hitting outfielder, Donahue managed to get into every one of the last 10 games of the 1923 season and rack up 36 at-bats between his debut of September 25, 1923, and the final game on October 7. He batted a respectable .278 (and an on-base percentage of .350) for manager Frank Chance, with four doubles (and five strikeouts), scoring five runs but driving in only one. He handled 25 chances without an error.
Donahue was born to John Donahue and Bridget (Sullivan) Donahue, both natives of Ireland. John emigrated to the United States in 1882 and Bridget in 1888. At the time of the 1910 census, the family lived on Cabot Street in Roxbury Crossing and John worked as a "street laborer." The couple had three children: John and two daughters, Mary and Frances.
John Donahue was a switch-hitter who threw right-handed; he is listed at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds. His first days in professional baseball were with the New Bedford Whalers in 1914. He's shown as playing in 15 games and batting .234. We're not sure what he did in 1915. Existing records for 1916 show him with the Waterloo (Iowa) Shamrocks. He hit .291 in 116 games. Again, we find no record in 1917, but then the statistics become more regular – until perhaps 1928 and 1929.
In both 1918 and 1919, Donahue played for the Providence Grays in the Eastern League. In 40 games in the war-shortened 1918 season, he hit .311. The Eastern League was upgraded from Class B to Class A in 1919. Donahue played second base for the Grays, appearing in 93 games in 1919, and hitting for a .262 average. Donahue stayed in the Eastern League from 1920 into 1923, but for three different teams. First, the Albany Senators in 1920 (.254 in 135 games) and 1921 (.312 in 146 games), and then the first part of 1922. He transitioned to the Waterbury Brasscos during the 1922 season; his combined stats show him hitting .304 in 142 games.
From 1923 on, Donahue stuck to playing the outfield. In 1923, he hit .351 in 140 games for last-place Waterbury, with 10 home runs. The Boston Globe considered him a "splendid prospect" and the Herald a "ripe prospect for the big show."2
His contract was purchased by the Red Sox on September 5, and debuted in the majors just 20 days later – his name spelled Donaghue in the Boston papers. Manager Chance's first assignment for him was to pinch-hit for Jack Quinn in the third inning of the September 25 game against the visiting St. Louis Browns. He lined a single to right field. Donahue picked up his first run batted in the next day, on the 26th and also against the Browns, with a seventh-inning sacrifice fly that proved to be the game-winner in the 3-2 victory.
His first three times up in the September 27 game he singled, singled, and doubled. On October 4, he hit two doubles helping beat the Senators, 7-6.
Only in his very last game – the October 7 game in Washington – did he fail to get a hit, score a run, or drive in a run.
Although his overall numbers were respectable, they weren’t good enough for him to stick, and he was back in the minors – with Waterbury in 1924 and 1925.
He'd gone to 1924 spring training in San Antonio with the Boston team but apparently not shown well enough. With outfielders Ike Boone, Ira Flagstead, and Bobby Veach handling most of the outfield duties – and Shano Collins and Denny Williams as backups, new Red Sox manager Lee Fohl was likely correct in feeling that Donahue was surplus.
The Waterbury Brasscos had a new manager, too – Kitty Bransfield. Under Bransfield, the Brasscos went from worst to first, winning the Eastern League pennant in 1924. Donahue did his part, batting .310 and hitting seven home runs. The Brasscos retained the flag the next year, too, in 1925. Donahue only hit one homer in 1925, but he hit for a .332 average with 155 hits (including 29 doubles) in 125 games.
Donahue was often given the nickname "Jiggs" in the newspapers in these years, one of those somewhat thoughtless adoptions of the nickname given a prior player – in this case, first baseman/catcher John Augustus "Jiggs" Donahue, who had played nine major-league seasons from 1900-1909.
Donahue played for Waterbury again in 1926, and we know he appeared as an outfielder in 108 games, though we lack batting statistics for that season.
He held out for a better salary before his final season with Waterbury, 1927, but he came around in time. He was apparently not hitting well and on June 15, the Brasscos gave him his unconditional release.3 Apparently he also spent time with both Hartford and Bridgeport in 1927. The final stats shown in SABR's Minor League Database have him appearing for all three teams, in 106 games, with a combined .240 batting average. Waterbury finished seventh and Hartford finished sixth.
And a note in one of Donahue's obituaries says he was "with Burlington and Brockton in 1929 before he retired."4 There is no mention there of 1928. A "Donohue" of otherwise-indeterminate name was on the Brockton Shoemakers roster in 1929. That "Donohue" hit .244 in 26 games. One would expect that such a notable as John Donahue would have earned some mention in Greater Boston area newspapers had he been the one playing for Brockton at the time.
Donahue worked as a steam fitter, the occupation he held when he died at age 54. He died of cirrhosis of the liver after 11 days at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital on the evening of October 3, 1949.5
In addition to his wife Mary (Daley), he left his two children, John Jr. and Patricia. He is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery in West Roxbury.
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, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 It's possible, however, that he was actually born on April 20, and in 1895. When he registered for the draft, in 1917 at Waterloo, he gave his occupation as "ballplayer" but provided the April 20, 1895 date. Wanting to be a year younger was typically considered a good thing in baseball, so the 1895 date may be a convenient fiction. Thanks to Maurice Bouchard for locating his draft registration records.
2 Boston Globe, September 26, 1923 and Boston Herald, September 6, 1923.
3 Hartford Courant, June 16, 1927.
4 Unattributed obituary in Donahue's Hall of Fame player file.
5 His Commonwealth of Massachusetts death certificate spells his surname as Donohue.