Detroit’s workhorse during the early days of the Ty Cobb Era, Donovan earned the nickname Wild Bill for his fiery temper and suspect accuracy. The fine hurler was a friend of Cobb who informed the Georgia Peach that the Detroit squad was going too far in their hazing rituals with him. Donovan died young, the victim of a train wreck.
Donovan began his career with the old Washington Senators, splitting time between pitching chores and the outfield. He caught on with Ned Hanlon’s NL Champion Superbas in 1899 but played infrequently until the two league platform was adopted in 1901. Enjoying his breakout year in ’01, Wild Bill led the NL with 25 wins, 45 games and three saves (saves weren’t acknowledged as a stat back then). Donovan also fanned 226 batters–third in the league while posting a 2.77 ERA.
Wild Bill won 17 games for Brooklyn in 1902 while finishing fourth in the senior circuit in the strikeout department. After the year Donovan jumped the Brooklyn squad and signed on with the American League’s Detroit Tigers. Jumping was common practice at this time but soon after Wild Bill’s shift in locales, peace was agreed between the two leagues and contracts were respected across enemy lines.
In his first year in the American League, Wild Bill tied Hall of Famers Cy Young and Rube Waddell with 34 complete games. Donovan’s 187 strikeouts were second to Waddell in the circuit. In 1904, Donovan had his third straight year of 17 wins but then won 18 in 1905. That year, Wild Bill averaged 0.48 strikeouts per inning–quite a feat in The Deadball Era when men like Mark Reynolds and Ryan Howard would have been run out of town.
After an off year in 1906, Donovan rebounded nicely in 1907 by leading Detroit to an AL pennant. He went 25-4 with a league leading .862 winning percentage. He had a nifty 2.19 ERA and averaged just 0.819 hits per inning. Wild Bill exceeded 100 strikeouts as usual and tacked on another 16 whiffs in the World Series. Despite Donovan’s masterful pitching (he had a 1.71 World Series ERA) the Tigers dormant offense couldn’t give him any support and he lost his lone decision.
The Tigers repeated as AL Champs in 1908 with Wild Bill pitching in an 18-win season. His six shutouts topped Detroit hurlers and his 2.08 ERA was the best mark of his career. But the Tigers dropped the World Series to the Cubs (who haven’t won another since) with Donovan losing both his starts. He would get another go at Fall Classic ball in 1909 when Detroit copped its third straight AL pennant. Wild Bill won Game 2 of the World Series but the Tigers dropped their third straight Fall Classic, falling prey to the Pirates of Honus Wagner.
Donovan was the only Detroit pitcher to eclipse 100 strikeouts in 1910 as the Tigers fell to third place. He won ten games in 1911, his last decent year at the Major League level. He went back to the minors to begin a career in coaching in 1912 and made his way back to the Majors in 1915 as player/manager with the New York Yankees. As a player, Wild Bill was passed his usefulness, but the old man saw sporadic pitching action as late as 1918 when he coached with the Tigers.
W 187/L 138/PCT .575/G 378/CG 289/IP 2,968/H 2,631/BB 1,059/SO 1,552/SHO 35/ERA 2.69