Lutzke: Wild Bill Donovan and his Windsor bride were Tigers’ first celebrity couple

From SABR member Mitch Lutzke at Tigers History on January 13, 2020:

They were a striking pair around traveling around Detroit: he the famous feisty pitcher and she his younger, beautiful wife. The couple was well known in Detroit and one of the most famous sports couples in America. While that description might fit Justin Verlander and Kate Upton, they weren’t the Tigers’ first famous couple. Over a century ago, Detroit’s glamour couple was William and Nellie Donovan.

William “Wild Bill” Donovan first reached the majors in 1898, leading the National League with 25 wins and 152 walks in 1901 for Brooklyn. He then jumped leagues and joined the Tigers in 1903, when he won 17 games and paced the American League with 34 complete games. “Wild Bill” was a moniker given to him by Connie Mack, apparently not only for control issues but also his personality, as umpires once tossed him five times in one season. A native of Massachusetts, he must have enjoyed his time in Detroit, as in his first offseason in the city, Donovan found a job which kept him here during the winter months.

Seventeen-year old Nellie Stephen was a resident of Windsor, Canada. Nearly ten years younger than Wild Bill, the two met that winter, while he was an instructor at the Princess Roller Rink in Detroit. For the 1904 season, at nearly every home game, the teenaged Nellie occupied a box seat at Detroit’s Bennett Park. About a week before spring training commenced the following year, the couple tied the knot on March 5, 1905, in a quaint and mostly secret ceremony in Windsor. The couple then became wedded baseball royalty around town.

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Originally published: January 13, 2020. Last Updated: January 13, 2020.