October 13 – Happy Birthday Wild Bill Donovan
When Jacob Rupert and a man named Tillinghast L’Hommidieu Huston purchased the New York City American Baseball League franchise in 1915 for $1.25 million, the team they bought was a pretty horrible one. At the time, the Yankees were coming off their fourth consecutive losing season and had no home stadium. They were sharing the Polo Grounds with the mighty New York Giants of John McGraw and of course the struggling Yankees’ public image suffered even more by the close proximity comparison.
Huston and especially Rupert were determined to turn the franchise’s perilous situation around and one of the very first things they did as owners was look for a new Manager. They found their man in Rhode Island, skippering the International League’s Providence Grays. His name was Bill Donovan and in just his second year as Manager of the Grays, he had turned a losing squad into a Pennant winner. Donovan had been a very good big league pitcher with Brooklyn and the Tigers during the first decade of the 20th century. He had put together 25-victory seasons with each franchise and helped Detroit reach three World Series (all of which the Tigers lost.) The only thing that prevented him from becoming a great pitcher was his propensity to not throw strikes. It was this lack of control on the mound, along with a pretty hot temper off of it that earned Donovan the nickname of “Wild Bill.”
Detroit finally released him in 1912 and Donovan signed on to pitch with Providence that same year and was named the team’s player manager the following season. In his first season as Yankee skipper, New York finished 69-83. Wild Bill even took to the mound that year and earned three of those losses himself. By 1916, the investments in new talent made by Rupert and Huston began paying dividends. With Wally Pipp now at first, Frank “Home Run” Baker at third and Bob Shawkey in the starting rotation, Donovan’s Yankees improved to an 80-74 record and more importantly, almost doubled the attendance at the team’s home games.
Expectations were sky high as the 1917 season approached but the Yankees regressed. Injuries and off years by Shawkey and Pipp helped New york finish in sixth place with a 71-82 record and in the process end Wild Bill’s career as a Yankee Manager. Rupert, who had become much more actively involved in the team’s operations than his co-owner, liked Donovan personally but he was convinced his team needed a new skipper. When Miller Huggins was fired as Manager of the Cardinals, the Colonel snapped him up and fired Wild Bill.
Donovan’s second big league managerial position was an even bigger disaster, when he was hired to manage the Phillies in 1921 and was fired that same year after the team got off to a horrid 25-62 start. Instead of giving up, Donovan returned to managing in the minors. That proved to be a great decision on his part, when after a couple of successful seasons managing in the Eastern League, he was about to become the Washington Senators’ new skipper. That’s when tragedy struck. He was on his way to Baseball’s 1924 Winter Meetings being held in Chicago, when his train crashed and Donovan, along with nine others were killed.