“Flynn is one of the best natural hitters who ever lived, but booze kept him in the bushes.”1
Don Flinn, the 1915 and 1916 batting champion in the Georgia-Alabama League, was the less famous pitcher-turned-position player on the league’s pennant-winning 1916 Newnan (Georgia) Cowetas. Flinn skyrocketed from the Class D loop to the majors over just four months in 1917, six years before his former Coweta teammate Bill Terry. That September, Flinn experienced a successful month-long tryout for a going-nowhere Pittsburgh Pirates squad before being summoned by Uncle Sam, eventually earning a Purple Heart. Flinn later unleashed a decade of antagonistic terror on Texas minor leagues with his bat, his arm, his fists, and the bottle. The “Wild Irish Rose” eventually served prison time. Don Flinn was wild indeed.
Don Raphael Flinn was born on November 17, 1892, in Bluff Dale, Texas (roughly 100 miles west of Dallas) to John Pinkney Flinn, a Georgia-born farmer and later a dry goods store salesman, and Josie Caroline (Birdwell) Flinn. Don, the second of four children, attended elementary school in nearby Huckabay, then high school at MacHenry Academy in Stephenville.
In a July 1911 game for his local amateur Stephenville squad, Don, listed as “D. Flinn,” started on the mound, with “Big” Flinn, 6’ 4” brother Fred, behind the plate, before the brothers switched battery spots.2 Don started his professional career in 1912 with the Greenville (Texas) Highlanders of the Class D Texas-Oklahoma League, as both a pitcher and outfielder, with Fred also on the roster.3 The team disbanded in early June, so Don transitioned to the McAlester Miners of the Oklahoma State League, but that circuit gave up the ghost in July.4 Returning to play for Stephenville, the brothers battery beat Dallas Foundry 5-3 when Don “parked the ball” for a three-run homer.5 In April 1913, Don, with the Armours Packers in the North Texas Sunday League around Fort Worth, scored the deciding run in winning the October championship against Rogers Hornsby’s Stockyards squad.6
For 1914, Don, a 6’1”, 185-pound right-handed hitter and thrower, signed with the Muskogee (Oklahoma) Mets of the Western Association, again as a two-way player. In late June, Flinn belted a homer well over the left field fence, “the longest hit ever made on the local grounds.”7 Flinn left the team in mid-August, claiming his mother was ill in Texas, although the local paper asserted that his recent slump and temperament were the more likely culprits.8 Within the week, “Swat-em” Flinn, the “league’s heaviest hitter,”9 was jettisoned from first-place Muskogee to the last-place Henryetta Boosters.10 The Muskogee Times-Democrat sent Flinn off proclaiming “we loved Don in spite of his hot headedness.”11 With all that, Flinn ended with a .339 average in 101 games between the two teams, good for third best in the league, and stole 42 bases.12
Flinn was purchased by the Atlanta Crackers of the Class A Southern Association for the 1915 season,13 but was optioned during camp to the Newnan Cowetas of the Class D Georgia-Alabama League. The Texan led the GAAL with a .358 batting average, 15 home runs, 76 hits, and 159 total bases.14 The Sporting News declared that in the GAAL, “the real noise with the stick is Flynn of Newnan.”15 By the end of July, Flinn was promoted to the Norfolk Tars of the Class C Virginia League. On August 28, Flinn’s “great one-handed running catch” preserved Charles Humphrey’s no-hitter against the Orphans (formerly Petersburg) franchise.16 Atlanta, in the middle of the pack in the Southern Association, recalled Flinn in September to finish the season. He appeared in 16 games, but hit just .182.
Back at Newnan for 1916, Flinn hit .365, again pacing the league, and also snagged the stolen base crown with 42 thefts in just 68 games.17 Flinn’s 17-year-old teammate, pitcher Bill Terry, notched 11 wins. In July, Newnan manager Harry Matthews sold Flinn to the Waco Navigators and Terry to the Shreveport Gassers, both of the Texas League.18 Flinn was returned less than two weeks later by first place Waco, who wished not to disrupt their lineup. Newnan immediately shuffled Flinn to the San Antonio Bronchos, also in the TL, on a fifteen-day trial.19 Unfortunately, Flinn hit only .198 over 33 games in the Texas League.20
Flinn returned to San Antonio for 1917, but was returned to the GAL, now to the Griffin (Georgia) Griffs.21 A GAL season preview stated that “Flynn led the league in hitting last season, but was let out of the Texas League this year, because of his inability to hit, so Matty (manager Matthews) has made a pitcher out of his outfielder.”22 Griffin moved Flinn back to the Texas League in May, to the Shreveport Gassers, reuniting with his Newnan teammate Terry. Flinn was suspended in July by Texas League President J. Walter Morris for throwing a baseball at an umpire.23 Still, Shreveport sold the “big righthand outfielder, who occasionally goes into the box and can pitch a credible game” and who had 24 steals and a .300 batting average to the Pittsburgh Pirates in early August with the agreement that he would report at end of Texas League season.24 Flinn was chased after “jawing” with umpire Paul Sentell on August 20, when “a blue coat was called upon to escort the obstreperous one from the park.”25 After his final Shreveport start on the mound in late August, Flinn traveled to Cincinnati to meet the Pirates.26
Hugo Bezdek immediately utilized Flinn in his first game, pinch-hitting and popping out for leadoff man Carson Bigbee in the eighth inning on September 2 in an 8-7 victory over Cincinnati. The local Pittsburgh Press questioned the move as Bigbee had two hits on the day, but noted that “Flynn has an athletic look, and he batted and ran bases well in the Texas League.”27 With rosters allowed to expand to 35 players, Flinn received an extended look. “Recruit Flinn dented the leftfield fence” when he collected his only triple and RBI two days later against Fred Toney of Cincinnati.28 The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette labeled Flinn “a corking hitter and good fielder.”29 Flinn batted a respectable .297 in 14 games over the final month with the last-place Pirates, who finished 47 games to the rear of the New York Giants. “Huckleberry Flynn” missed the final week of games with Pittsburgh after being called back to Texas for his physical examination for the war effort.
In the off-season, Pittsburgh returned Flinn to Shreveport.30 He participated in spring training and eight games with the Gassers, hitting .393, then enlisted, one of six Shreveport players who would serve his country.31 On his Baseball Hall of Fame file questionnaire, Flinn disclosed that he served with the 315th Engineering Corps in France.32 Flinn earned a Purple Heart for his service.
Don’s father John mailed his son’s contract back to Shreveport, stating Flinn was in the 90th Division in the army of occupation.33 Upon Flinn’s return from the Great War, Shreveport traded him to the Dallas Marines in the Texas League for catcher Johnny Vann.34 Flinn hit .341 in 79 games for Dallas, which would have put him third in the league in batting had he enough at-bats to qualify. Flinn was ejected against Houston on August 2, when “players and more bluecoats restrained him and Don was chased…but not until he had invited the arbiter to set in at a little personal party after the game…his language was a trifle too graphic to set well with the lady patrons of the game.”35 Flinn pitched an 11-0 shutout and slammed two home runs against Beaumont on August 15.36 Flinn, as cleanup hitter, also pulled off “ironman” duty, pitching both ends of a doubleheader for Dallas against his former Shreveport squad in September, winning the opener and tying the second, all while belting a home run.37 Two days later, and dressed in civilian clothing, Flinn was escorted from the field by police “for improper conduct. He was discovered in the locals’ clubhouse after the first game and was driven out by manager (Billy) Smith after the latter had armed himself with a bat. Several hundred fans swarmed on the field to jeer Flynn.”38
Back with Dallas (now dubbed the Submarines) for 1920, Flinn, as the opening day starting pitcher, was “chased to the showers” by umpire Sentell in the fourth inning of a loss to Wichita Falls.39 Flinn took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Shreveport, and scored the only run, in a 1-0 decision in late April over Buddy Napier.40 In his next start, against Fort Worth, Flynn was tossed “for rough repartee.”41 In May, pitcher Flinn, batting cleanup, roped a triple and struck out four in a complete-game 3-2 victory over Houston. In the same game, he had a verbal blowout with the home plate umpire, in which the “cussing was done for the most part by Don Flynn (sic).” This was built up from the prior week on May 11 when the same umpire Doyle has tossed Flinn.42 A story shared years later by former Dallas traveling secretary Roy Meehan told about a road trip with Flinn: “Don Flynn (sic) of the Dallas ball club didn’t get ice water as quick as he wanted it and pulled the telephone off the wall and threw it out of the window of his hotel room…Ball clubs were barred from the good hotels of Galveston from then on. All had to stop at the bowl and pitcher down the beach.”43
By early June, the tempestuous Flinn became the sixth player to “jump” the Submarines, electing to play semipro ball in Scottsbluff, Nebraska for Slats Ginther. Dallas president Jess Hassell responded: “Flynn (sic) is a wonderful player, but he is not a team man, and I think a majority of fans will be glad to see him go.”44 Submarine manager Ham Patterson wanted Flinn blacklisted from organized baseball.45 Flinn left Dallas with a 3-7 record over 88 innings, yet posted a tremendous 1.74 ERA, the best of any pitcher recording more than 50 innings in the Texas League.46 Flinn was soon placed on the restricted list by the National Association.
For 1921, Flinn started back with Scottsbluff, then went to Ogden, Utah, before moving to a Casper, Wyoming, team of the outlaw Midwest League, playing with Roy Hartzell and Dave Davenport. The next year, he pastimed with an independent Glenrose team back near Fort Worth.47 Flinn was reinstated by the National Association in April 1923, and sold by Dallas, who still owned his rights, to the Oklahoma City Indians of the Class A Western League, with The Sporting News opining that “Flynn looked good enough for the big show five years ago, but his disposition and habits handicapped him.”48 Oklahoma City released Flinn in early May and he landed with the Austin Rangers in the Class D Texas Association. A quip in the Waco News-Tribune upon Flinn’s return asked: “Carl Mays threatens to quit baseball to take up fighting. If Mays is so hell-bent on fighting, why not follow the example set by Don Flinn (sic) and do both?”49
On July 3, Flinn, “Austin’s wild Irishman, went on one of his well-known batting sprees,” hitting for the cycle against Waco.50 However, by mid-July, the mercurial star was suspended for three games by Austin manager Rankin Johnson for insubordination.51 Austin was forced to trade Flinn to Waco by month’s end, with manager Johnson resigning as a fallout. Austin American writer Blondy Cross wasn’t sad to see the “Wild Irish Rose” leave, labeling Flinn “a sort of an agitator, a ‘red,’ a radical, and this is not in the least conducive toward turning out a pennant winning ball club. The management made a good bargain when they traded him. He has caused more trouble on the Ranger squad than the remainder of the team put together could do.”52 Upon Flinn’s return to Austin for a series in August, he challenged Cross to a fistfight, with each fined $20 by the city court.53 Flinn led the league with 22 home runs,54 seven more than the next closest competitor. He also had a combined average of .354. Was that good enough to win the TA batting title? The Sporting News said no, asserting that Tom Pyle took the crown with a .359 mark.55 However, Baseball-Reference.com later amended Pyle’s average to .347, which would anoint Flinn as the champion.
As Flinn returned to Waco for 1924, the reports were that the “Wild Irishman” was “wild no longer; that he has been meek and mild since Christmas that he is off all poison substances, including umpires and booze for the balance of his existence. And Flynn looks the part. Never did he look better.” It was also reported that he had led a California winter league with a .456 batting average.56 Unfortunately, Flinn was cut in camp, signed with the Texarkana Twins of the East Texas League, then was quickly jettisoned to Marshall in the ETL, hitting .320 in 22 games. He returned to Austin in mid-May, although “to say the least his presence will not be welcomed by the T.A. umpires or pitchers.”57 After hitting .344 in 25 games, he was soon gone from Austin, signing with Ardmore. However, after roughly 10 games, Flinn “simply could not get along with the Ardmore management,” and was moved to the Springfield (Missouri) Midgets of the Western Association, posting a .330 average in 22 games.58
Flinn’s old Newnan manager, Harry Matthews, now a Detroit Tiger bullpen coach, stated in the spring of 1925 that the “great big fence-busting outfielder” Flinn “no doubt would have developed into a wonderful ball player had it not been almost impossible to manage him. Flynn was as rough as they make them.”59 The “Wild Irishman” Flinn spent the summer of 1925 managing and playing for the Harlingen, Texas, semipro ball team in the Rio Grande Valley.60
In 1926, Flinn played with the Gulfport (Mississippi) Tarpons of the Class D Cotton States League until mid-May, hitting .360 in 19 games. By June, and now with the Jonesboro (Arkansas) Buffaloes, he paced the Tri-State League with a .413 average in 126 at-bats.61 Flinn’s contract was later sold by Jonesboro to its feeder team, the Montgomery Lions of the Southeastern League.62 “Uncle Don” hit .431 going 56-for-130 for Montgomery, but was released in late July.63 Montgomery president Harry Thompson cut Flinn for a “violation of the training rules,” and declared: “I am sure that this action will not meet with the approval of some Montgomery fans upon first notice, but I feel as if the local club management has taken a wise step, which will benefit both the city of Montgomery and organized baseball.”64 A day later, the Savannah Indians bought Flinn.65 In less than two weeks, “Red” Flinn was released by Savannah, the second time the league’s leading hitter was sent packing.66 Flinn finished up 65-for-162 (.401) in the SEAL,67 the best in the league, although he didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for title.
In 1927, “Uncle Don” landed in April with the Selma (Alabama) Selmians, new entrants into the SEAL but was cut as the team reached their 14-player limit.68 The nomad’s final professional stop was at Lafayette, part of a non-affiliated Southwest Louisiana league.69 When Flinn visited a Waco game in September 1927, it was stated that “Flynn (sic) is one of the best natural hitters who ever lived, but booze kept him in the bushes.”70
In May 1928, Flinn played for the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company team back in Fort Worth. He asked to be a Texas League umpire in 1931.71 On the 1940 census, Don R. Flinn, single and age 48, was listed as incarcerated at the McLennan, Texas, prison. When Don’s mother died in January 1957, her obituary stated that son Don lived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Don Flinn died of pneumonia on March 8, 1959 at Veterans Hospital in Waco, Texas, and is buried at the Huckabay (Texas) Cemetery.72 Don was survived by his sister Laurie. Former Texas League President J. Alvin Gardner remembered Flinn as “a fine ball player who was always looking for a fight – and had plenty of them.”73
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Jake Bell and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources shown in the Notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com, StatsCrew.com, and MyHeritage.com
1 Moulton Cobb, “Sporting News,” (Bryan, Texas) Eagle, September 19, 1927: 3. Most newspaper references spelled the last name as “Flynn,” as opposed to his family surname spelling of Flinn. The player himself signed his 1917 war draft registration with the surname as “Flynn.”
2 “Moose Team Loses in Close Contest,” Fort Worth Record and Register, July 20, 1911: 8.
3 “Bonham Wins at Greenville,” Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore, Oklahoma), April 28, 1912: 12.
4 “Miners Play Elks Tomorrow,” McAlester (Oklahoma) News Capital, June 19, 1912: 6.
5 “Stephenville Wins,” Fort Worth Record and Register, August 6, 1912: 10.
6 John Ashley, “Packers Capture Pennant in North Texas Sunday League,” Fort Worth Star Telegram, October 13, 1913: 8.
7 “Muskogee 11, Twins 4,” Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), June 25, 1914: 10.
8 “D.P.M. Flynn is Gone No One Knows Where,” Muskogee (Oklahoma) Phoenix and Times-Democrat, August 19, 1914: 7.
9 “Hit the Trail Again,” Henryetta (Oklahoma) Standard, August 27, 1914: 1.
10 “Owners of Henryetta Franchise Get Outfielder Flynn, Says (WA President W.P.) Hill,” Muskogee Times-Democrat, January 11, 1915: 11.
11 “Jabs at All ‘Round Sports,” Muskogee Times-Democrat, August 25, 1914: 7.
12 “A Cracker a Day for Fans: 6. Don Flynn,” Atlanta Constitution, March 2, 1915: 9.
13 “Crackers Buy Slugger from Oklahoma,” Chattanooga Times, December 23, 1914: 8.
14 “Don Flynn Led Georgia-Alabama League Batsmen,” Atlanta Constitution, August 2, 1915: 6.
15 “Georgia-Alabama Presents One of Those Rare Four Hundred Hitters,” The Sporting News, September 23, 1915: 5.
16 “Hitless Game Twirled by Humphreys, of Tars,” Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), August 29, 1915: 14.
17 Casey J. Ayers, “Newnan Led G.A.L. in Scoring Runs for Last Season,” Birmingham News, March 18, 1917: 13.
18 “Quartet of Players Sold to Texas Clubs,” Houston Post, July 21, 1916: 10.
19 “Flynn Taken on by San Antonio,” Waco Morning News, August 8, 1916: 6.
20 “Official Batting, Pitching, and Fielding Averages of All Texas League Clubs and Individual Players,” Waco Morning News, September 24, 1916: 19.
21 Listed as Donald Flynn on Baseball-Reference.com.
22 Carey J. Ayers, “Ga.-Ala. League Now in Full Sway,” Anniston (Alabama) Star, May 6, 1917: 7.
23 “Don Flynn Suspended,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, July 31, 1917: 7.
24 “Pittsburg Buys Big Texas Leaguer,” Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, August 18, 1917: 3.
25 “Burke’s Work is Game’s Feature,” Shreveport (Louisiana) Journal, August 21, 1917: 5.
26 Ed. F. Balinger, “Forbes Field Fannings,” Pittsburgh Post, September 2, 1917: 16.
27 Ralph S. Davis, “Reds and Pirates Play Here Today,” Pittsburgh Press, September 3, 1917: 20.
28 Charles J. Doyle, “Carey on a Rampage in Fourth Straight Victory over Matty,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, September 5, 1917: 8.
29 “Huckleberry Flynn Called; Four Kid Pirates Answer,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, September 29, 1917: 8.
30 “Pirates Reject Don Flynn,” Chicago Eagle, November 10, 1917: 9.
31 “Many Minor League Ball Players Doing Bit for the Colors,” Tulsa Democrat, June 29, 1918: 5; “Minor League Stars Now in the Service,” North Adams (Massachusetts) Transcript, June 19, 1918: 9.
32 From Don Flinn’s Baseball Hall of Fame file.
33 “Flynn’s Dad Sends Son’s Contract but Don’s Still Missing,” Shreveport Journal, June 20, 1919: 7.
34 “Notes,” Austin American, July 6, 1919: 4.
35 “Police, Players and Umpire Miller Furnish Excitement in Reinhart’s Bright Win,” Houston Post, August 3, 1919: 16.
36 “Flynn Features Dallas Victory,” Times (Shreveport, Louisiana), August 16, 1919: 5.
37 “Dallas 8-4; Shreveport 2-4,” Fort Worth Star Telegram, September 6, 1919: 6.
38 “Shreveport 3-1, Dallas 2-2,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 8, 1919: 11.
39 “Spudders 2, Marines 1,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 17, 1920: 8.
40 “Flynn Gallops to Victory,” Austin American, April 27, 1920: 8.
41 “Panthers 2, Marines, 0,” Austin American-Statesman ?, April 30, 1920: 8.
42 “Flynn Holds Buffs Safe While Schulze is Erratic,” Houston Post, May 19, 1920: 12.
43 Ned Record, “Fanatic Fancies,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, July 26, 1929: 15.
44 “Don Flynn Latest to Join Procession from Dallas,” Shreveport Journal, June 16, 1920: 7.
45 Otis Harris, “As We Were Sayin,’” Shreveport Journal, June 21, 1920: 7.
46 “Pitching Records of Texas League for 1920,” The Sporting News, October 7, 1920: 7.
47 Ned Record, “City Major League Contest for Flag Looms as Between Dokeys and White Shoe Line,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 9, 1922: 13.
48 “Caught on the Fly,” The Sporting News, April 19, 1923: 8.
49 Jinx, “Jinx Sport Hotshots,” Waco News-Tribune, May 25, 1923: 8.
50 Jinx, “Don Flynn Bats Perfectly Against Local Tribesman,” Waco News-Tribune, July 4, 1923: 8.
51 “Jinx Sport Hotshots,” Waco News-Tribune, July 16, 1923: 3.
52 “Wild Irish Rose Traded to Waco for Infielder; Bolsters Locals Nicely,” Austin American, July 26, 1923: 7.
53 “Boy, Page Tex Richard!” Waco News-Tribune, August 17, 1923: 8.
54 Baseball-Reference.com shows 23 home runs.
55 “Swatting Counted in League Where Real Hitters Were Few,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1923: 8.
56 “Jinx Sport Hotshots,” Waco News-Tribune, March 4, 1924: 7.
57 “Jinx Sport Hotshots,” Waco News-Tribune, May 19, 1924: 6.
58 “Flynn With Us,” Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader, July 5, 1924: 3.
59 Julian Griffin, “Matty Matthews, Cleveland, Managed Teams in Georgia,” Atlanta Constitution, April 3, 1925: 13.
60 “Lessner, Weacock, Flynn and Arguijo Playing with Rio Grande Valley Clubs,” Austin American, July 5, 1926: 6; “Peck Jones Hurling for Harlingen Team,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, August 5, 1925: 17.
61 “Flynn Heads Tri-State,” Muskogee Press, June 23, 1926: 3.
62 “Secretary Farrell’s Bulletin Carries Fall Contract Business,” The Sporting News, November 11, 1926: 8.
63 “Southeastern Averages,” Montgomery Advertiser, August 1, 1926: 6 (Listed only as “Flynn” on Baseball-Reference.com).
64 “Don Flynn is Given Release by Local Club,” Montgomery Advertiser, July 29, 1926: 7.
65 “Savannah Buys Outfielder Flynn,” Atlanta Constitution, July 30, 1926: 16.
66 “Savannah Loses Leading Slugger,” Atlanta Constitution, August 13, 1926: 7.
67 Listed only as Flynn on Baseball-Reference.com.
68 “Manager Graff Trims Squad to May 1st Limit,” Selma (Alabama) Times-Journal, May 1, 1927: 6.
69 T.R. Mobley, “Local Team Won From Abbeville; 11 Home Runs Feature Contest,” Daily Advertiser (Lafayette, Louisiana), May 7, 1927: 2.
70 Moulton Cobb, “Sporting News,” Eagle, September 19, 1927: 3.
71 LeRoy Mensing, “Fare for Fans,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 26, 1931: 11.
72 “Former Muskogee Baseballer Dies,” Muskogee Times-Democrat, March 10, 1959: 8.
73 “Sports Shorts,” Paris (Texas) News, March 10, 1959: 5.