Introducing… Mike Donlin

Men have many pursuits.  A man may work during the day, earning his pay, and use that pay to chase his off work pursuits.  The greatest ballplayers, think Cobb, Williams and Hornsby, had little pursuits beyond excelling on the diamond.  Donlin was a man of vast pursuits.  One of the pursuits that rank rather low on his list was coming to the ballpark.

A gifted natural hitter, Turkey Mike (who earned his nickname due to his exaggerated cocky strut) was a subpar fielder who rotated around the pasture.  Although he could wake up and give you a base hit before exiting his pajamas, he had little desire to do so.  Baseball was a diversion from vaudeville, where Donlin earned his coin.  Married to Broadway actress Mabel Hite, Turkey Mike would often opt to stay in the theater while the boys of summer took to the diamond.

Originally a pitcher/outfielder, Donlin began his career with Patsy Tebeau’s St. Louis Perfectos in 1899.  As a rookie, Donlin showed his knack for hitting, posting a .323 batting average with a healthy .470 slugging average.  He raised his slugging average to .507 in 1900 but when the American League attained Major League status, Turkey Mike jumped the St. Louis club and cast his lot with the Baltimore Orioles.  Playing predominately in left field, Donlin led all AL left fielders in runs scored, hits, triples, RBI, batting average and slugging average for John McGraw’s birds.

Although Donlin was a rough and unreliable character, he struck up a friendship with the equally fiery McGraw.  It was a strained firendship at best since Donlin gave Little Napoleon constant fits with his wayward lifestyle.  Donlin left Baltimore after the season and returned to the NL, signing on with the Reds of Cincinnati.  Limited to just 34 games – due to off the field issues (drinking, rowdyism and a charge for assault) the Turkey offered Cincy fans little during the 1902 season. 

He cleaned himself up enough to play 123 games in 1903.  It was a phenomenal year for Donlin – hitting .351, slugging .516 and posting an amazing on-base percentage of .420 (numbers that were in the Top Five in the league).  Donlin tied for second in the league in the long ball department and finished four points shy of batting title winner Honus Wagner. 

After half a season with the Reds in 1904, Donlin was out of favor in Cincy and was dealt back to McGraw, who had shifted to the New York Giants.  Turkey Mike gave McGraw a couple of amazing seasons.  In 1905 he led the senior circuit in runs scored, was third in slugging average and was one of only two Major Leaguers to reach the 200 hit plateau.  Playing center field regularly for McGraw, Donlin led the Giants to the World Series and topped all Fall Classic participants in runs scored for the champs.

Donlin suffered a broken leg in 1906 but bounced back nicely in 1908 after holding out the entire 1907 season.  Despite missing most of 1906 to injury, Turkey Mike asked McGraw for a raise and the Giant captain refused, so Turkey Mike gravitated toward the theater, spending time with the high society types that gathered around his wife’s troupe.  But he returned to the diamond in 1908 and had a terrific year.  Only Wagner, Ty Cobb and Donlin reached 100 RBI during the season.  Donlin finished second to Honus in batting average and base hits and he and The Flying Dutchman were the only two NL regulars to slug over .450.

After the season, Donlin embarked on his acting career, joining his wife in a one-act vaudeville play titled Stealing Home.  Although a capable actor, many critics felt that his wife carried him, but he discarded the negative critiques of his acting talent and became more enamored with acting than playing ball.  He never again played regularly at the Major League level.

After missing the 1909 and 1910 season to acting, Donlin returned to McGraw and didn’t miss a beat, hitting the apple at a .313 clip.  But by this time McGraw had grown tired of Turkey Mike’s strut and sold him to the Boston Nationals during the season.  Just before the beginning of the 1912 season, he was dealt to the Pirates and hit .316 in limited play.  The Phillies acquired him after the close of the season but rather than play in Philadelphia Donlin quit the game.  He returned briefly to play for McGraw’s Giants in 1914 but was well passed his usefulness.

Mike moved out west and appeared in some of the first motion pictures made in Hollywood.  He had over 60 films to his credit including the film The Sea Beast based off Moby Dick and The Tip-Off co-starring Ginger Rogers.


G 1,050/R 670/H 1,287/2B 174/3B 98/HR 51/RBI 543/SB 210/BA .334/SA .469


  1. Kris said:

    This post reminds me of an article I read recently by Gary North.

    Everybody has their occupation (what you do to put bread on the table) and their calling. Usually your calling and occupation don’t overlap, but that’s okay as long as you use your occupation to fund your calling. Unfortunately, most people always subordinate their calling to their occupation.

    “When people understand the distinction between occupation and calling, they are far less likely to make serious mistakes in the allocation of their time. They won’t confuse money with the most important thing that they can do in life. But not all people understand this.”

    Anyway, it sounds like Donlin considered baseball his occupation, but acting was his calling. Maybe I’m reading too much into it?

  2. brettkiser said:

    Donlin would be a lock for the HOF had he taken baseball a little more seriously. One of the best hitters of the Deadball Era, Turkey Mike had the bat for the HOF but the acting bug got a hold of him and he quit the game. His HOF chances are weak.

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