Introducing… Patsy Donovan

Almost everything in life has a face, spokesman or voice that can make identification easy.  When you think of oatmeal, the bust of a fella in full Quaker get-up comes to mind.  When patriotism is the focus, Uncle Sam pointing his finger in your direction is an easy image to conjure.  When you hear that husky, thick voice speaking of explosions and non-stop action, you know that you are hearing an ad for a movie trailer.  If The Deadball Era needed a face, perhaps a mugshot of Patsy Donovan would suffice.  He was a slap-hitting speedster who liked swinging the bat.

Born in Ireland in the mid 1800s, Donovan gravitated toward baseball and began playing semi-pro ball in New England in his early 20s.  Discovered by the big boys in 1890, Patsy joined Hall of Fame skipper Frank Selee’s Boston Beaneaters but ended the year with the Champion Brooklyn Bridegrooms.  The Bridegrooms had a fine outer garden and Patsy rarely played, which led to him joining the Louisville Colonels in 1891.  He played regularly in Kentucky, leading the Colonels with a .321 batting average (the only .300 hitter in the everyday lineup) but he ended the year with a brief trial under the watch of the American Association’s Washington Statesmen.

Donovan remained nomadic in 1892.  With three years in the Major Leagues, Donovan played with six different clubs, but found solid footing in 1893 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Pirates offense was devastating but their pitching staff wasn’t anything to write home about.  Teaming with Patsy in the 1893 Pirates lineup were Hall of Famer Jake Beckley, and great forgotten stars like Lou Bierbauer and Jack Glasscock up the middle, Denny Lyons at third and teaming with Patsy in the outfield (a trio that with no one hitting below .315) were George Van Haltren and Elmer Smith.  Donovan was one of five players on the roster to score 100 runs.

Patsy averaged over a run scored per game in 1894 when he crossed the plate 145 times in 132 games for a powerful offensive club, but the Pirates poor pitching kept them low in the standings.  Frank Killen was their only regular hurler with an ERA below 5.00.  The slap-hitting Donovan had a higher on-base percentage than slugging percentage in 1895 when he posted his highwater mark for bases on balls. 

For five straight years, Patsy scored 100 or more runs in 1896 when he crossed the plate 113 times for skipper Connie Mack’s Pirates.  Donovan swiped 48 bases during the year while leading the team with 183 hits.  When Mack was let go as the skipper in 1897, the job was handed to Donovan and he asserted himself as one of the finest player/managers of all-time.  The double duty, which usually hinders the playing ability of the man in question, didn’t bother Donovan’s production.  He hit .322 while piloting the Pirates.

Retaining his right field post but losing his managerial job in 1898, Patsy responded by leading the Pirates in runs scored, base hits and stolen bases.  The following year, Patsy replaced his managerial replacement taking a Pirates club that started 7-15 under Bill Watkins and finishing above .500.  After the season Donovan was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals and promptly led the league in stolen bases while hitting .316. 

Named the Cardinals player/manager in 1901, Donovan led his charges to a fourth place finish while scoring 91 runs as a 36 year old.  The old man still had plenty of gas, evidenced by finishing second in the stolen base department in 1902.  The 38 year old Patsy was the top hitter on his last place Cardinals team in 1903.  In fact, he was the top hitting right fielder in the senior circuit.  He hit .327 while his Cardinals team hit for a combined average of .251.

Disenfranchised with the losing in St. Louis, Patsy jumped the Redbirds and cast his lot with the Washington Senators.  After player/manager Malachi Kittredge led the Senators to a 1-16 start, the managerial post was given to Patsy.  His roster in St. Louis may have been bad but they weren’t as familiar with failure as the Senators of 1904.  Donovan’s Senators finished the season dead last with an unflattering record of 38-113.  1904 would be Donovan’s last year as a regular player.

Sticking in the Major League ranks, Patsy managed Brooklyn for three years and never had a winning season.  In 1910 he was handed the reins to the Boston Red Sox and managed them for two years, finishing above .500 both years.  1911 was his last year at the Major League level.  He managed for a number of years in the bushes, piloting Buffalo for four years among other clubs.


G 1,817/R 1,324/H 2,266/2B 213/3B 72/HR 16/RBI 737/SB 528/BA .304/SA .359


W 684/L 879/PCT .438


  1. brettkiser said:

    A hit machine in the Deadball Era, the highly respected Donovan was basically a singles hitter with wheels. That type of player was more easily found in Patsy’s era than the slugger, which is why guys like Roger Connor and Dan Brouthers are Hall of Famers and guys like Patsy are left wanting the honor. Although Patsy tallied a lot of hits and runs in his career, he never led the league in either category. His HOF chances are weak.

  2. Bill Knowles said:

    Patsy never broke into the major leagues until his late twenties, Interestingly, his best years as a player came during his mid to late thirties. How often does that ever occur? Let/s not overlook the fact that he also served as a player coach during these same years,,,Patsy bore alot of responsibility and stress during this time in his career and still he managed to play exceptionally well, Finally it is indeed worth mentioning that Patsy Donovan was the man some years later who successfully signed Babe Ruth for the Boston Redsox. Surely this Irish born gentlemen who was on the origional hall of fame ballot, should have been inducted into the hall years ago!

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