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Fri, 02.20.1891

John Donaldson, Baseball Pioneer born

John Westley Donaldson

*John Donaldson was born on this date in 1891.  He was an African American baseball pitcher in Pre-Negro league and Negro league baseball.  John Wesley Donaldson was born in Glasgow, Missouri; very little is known about his parents, siblings or childhood.  

Donaldson's early career was spent playing for the Missouri Black Tigers of nearby Higbee, Missouri, in 1908, and subsequently for the Hannaca Blues, an all-black contingent from Glasgow during the 1909-10 seasons. He pitched for Brown's Tennessee Rats, which traveled with a complement called "Brown's Tennessee Minstrels". Together, the group of about 20 players crisscrossed the upper Midwest, playing ball during the day and providing an evening minstrel program for their mostly white ticket buyers.  Donaldson established himself as a stellar pitcher, posting a reported record of 44-3. Known highlights of that season include an 18-inning 31 strikeout game, a 27-strikeout performance and on at least four separate occasions, he struck out 19.  

He contracted to pitch for the World's All Nations team based in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1912, for a reported sum of $150 per month. Donaldson went on to star for the team, which included a female player named Carrie Nation, as well as players of several different races. The efforts of an interracial ball club were effective as the All Nations thrived traveling throughout the Midwest and Upper Midwest from 1912 to 1917.  During Donaldson's 1915 season, he struck out an average of 18 batters a game and fanned 30 in a marathon 18-inning contest. Donaldson not only struck out more than 500 batters that season but did it three years straight. Most of his accomplishments were against semi-professional competition, but Donaldson also did very well in his relatively few contests against highest level professional baseball teams, and there were a number of first-person reports of his talent from such opposing managers and players.  

Donaldson and his ball-clubs prior to the organization of the Negro National League in 1920 played ball all year round, both in the Midwest and venues as far west as Los Angeles as far east as Palm Beach, Florida.  In an interview in the Kansas City Call in 1948, J. L. Wilkinson said Donaldson was "one of the greatest pitchers that ever lived, white or black."  He also said Donaldson suggested the name "Monarchs" when Wilkinson was preparing a team for the Negro National League in 1920.  After more than 30 years as a player, Donaldson retired in 1941. Settling in Chicago, some historians believe he worked for the U.S. Postal Service.  

In 1949, he made history by becoming the first full-time black talent scout in the big leagues, for the Chicago White Sox.  He pursued Willie Mays and Ernie Banks for the team and is credited with the signing of several prominent Negro leaguers of the time, including Bob Boyd and Sam Hairston.  At age 60, Donaldson was voted a first-team member of the 1952 Pittsburgh Courier player-voted poll of the Negro leagues best players ever.  In a career that spanned over 30 years, he played for many different Negro league and semi-professional teams, including the All Nations team and the Kansas City Monarchs. Researchers so far have discovered 667 games in which Donaldson is known to have pitched.  Out of those games, Donaldson had over 400 wins and 5,002 strikeouts as a pitcher. According to some sources, he was the greatest pitcher of his era.  

Researchers have documented most of his career, which stretched from 1908 to 1940. Published totals from local newspaper accounts covering his 30-plus year career provide a glimpse at his prowess on the diamond. Despite what has been found regarding Donaldson's career, over 150 games that Donaldson pitched in state no strikeout game totals, consequently his overall totals are under-reported.  Archived box scores reveal 378 wins and 135 losses and a winning percentage of .737. He also notched 4,409 strikeouts, an ERA of 1.37, and 86 shutouts against all levels of competition. He completed 296 of 322 starts (92%).  Heis credited with 13 no-hitters, a perfect game, and dozens of one-hitters. He also has two 30 strikeout games, 11 games with more than 25 strikeouts (including two back-to-back 25 strikeout games), 30 games with more than 20 strikeouts, 109 games with more than 15 strikeouts, and a total of 203 double digit strikeout games. Donaldson could also hit well, batting .334 in over 1,800 at bats.  

John Westley Donaldson died on April 14, 1970 of bronchial pneumonia at age 79, in Chicago.  Research also suggests that Satchel Paige owes much of his style and acumen to Donaldson, whose barnstorming efforts pre-dated Paige's by two decades.  In 2006, Elden LeRoy "Submarine" Auker a former major league pitcher, who had played against Donaldson, related this anecdote when he was 95 years old: "I played against Donaldson in 1929. I was in college and we played at an Arapaho Indian reservation in Kansas. I pitched against Paige and I won, 2-1. Donaldson played center field. Donaldson got out in center field and squatted like a catcher", Auker related. "The Monarchs had a catcher named Young, and he squatted behind home plate and they played catch from 300 feet. They threw the ball on a line. If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it."   

In a vote in February 2006, Donaldson was nominated for a special ballot of pre-Negro leagues candidates for inclusion in baseball's Hall of Fame. A 12-member voting committee, appointed by the Board of Directors and chaired by former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent, however, did not choose Donaldson for membership in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Donaldson was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois in an unmarked grave at the cemetery. In 2011, Jeremy Krock, of Peoria, Illinois, raised enough money for a proper headstone via the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project. He started the project with Jimmie Crutchfield and lead to Donaldson marker and has continued to more than 20 other unmarked graves.  

As of 2016, researchers working as a networking team calling themselves "The Donaldson Network", living and working in several states around the United States, have located Donaldson's 4,942 career strikeouts and 399 career wins as a pitcher.  

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