John Donaldson

"He'd be worth $50,000 if he were white."
--John McGraw, New York Giants manager

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©Copyright 2004, Kyle McNary, McNary Publishing


Negro Leaguer of the Month
September, 2004

John Wesley Donaldson

Born: February 20, 1892 in Glasgow, Missouri
Died: April 12, 1970 in Chicago.
Ht:6'-1", Wt: 180
Batted left and threw left.
Position: pitcher, outfield
Years: 1912-1934
Teams: Tennessee Rats, All Nations, Gilkerson's Union Giants, Chicago Giants, Indianapolis ABCs, Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Lincoln Giants, Detroit Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, John Donaldson All-Stars, Bertha (MN) Fisherman, Lismore (MN) Gophers, Melrose (MN) Legion All-Stars, Saint Cloud (MN) Saints, Moose Jaw (Canada)

At 6’-3” and 180 pounds, John Donaldson had every pitch known to man: a blazing fastball, a great change-up, and curves coming from several angles. Donaldson is one of the top lefthanders in Negro League history, in the same class as Willie Foster, Slim Jones and Verdell Mathis.

Donaldson started playing in the Midwest with J.L. Wilkinson’s multi-racial All-Nations. Donaldson was the star pitcher on the team, was well as a solid hitter. He was the team’s main attraction from 1912-1917.

Years later, Donaldson would be one of the top pitchers and top centerfielders on the Kansas City Monarchs (much like teammate Joe Rogan). In between, Donaldson thrilled thousands of fans in on horse towns across the Midwest; Donaldson was the top pitcher for such towns as St. Cloud, Bertha, Melrose and Lismore, Minnesota, and Moose Jaw, Canada.

According to researcher Alan Muchlinski, Donaldson had many overpowering performances. In 1912, Donaldson pitched in Sioux Falls and won 2-0 with 14 strikeouts, and also had a 13-inning, 23 strikeout game.

In 1913, Donaldson struck out 27 in a 12 inning game, and in 1914 Donaldson won a 13-inning game and allowed only 1 hit—in fact, he threw no-hit ball through the first 12 innings.

Towns of a few hundred packed in as many as 10,000 fans to see Donaldson at parks all over the Midwest.

Donaldson, unlike many pitchers, was an excellent hitter and great baserunner.

Donaldson was perhaps in his prime with the Bertha (Minnesota) Fisherman and was probably the town’s greatest attraction for several years.

According to Muchlinski, Donaldson was paid $1421 for the ’24 season, plus a roundtrip ticket to his home in Chicago ($57.28), and use of a house for he and his wife. Donaldson remembered that season fondly, as he was treated like a king.

Donaldson was the only “pro” player; the rest of the team being made up of local talent.

Bertha played 27 games and Donaldson pitched in 25 of them. He started 25 games, finished 23, and pitched 212 innings. His record:

No wonder Donaldson remembered Bertha fondly!

Donaldson had two 20-strikeout games, three 19-strikeout games, and a no-hitter versus the Minnesota Braves.

After the Bertha season was over, Donaldson traveled to Kansas City and put together a team to take on a Major League all-star team. Donaldson’s team included catcher Foreman, Newt Joseph and Harold Vaughn. The Major League team was led by pitcher Roy “Lefty “ Meeker of the A’s, Joe Hauser and Al Simmons. On Sunday, Oct. 19th. with the Negro Leaguers trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth, a man singled, the next batter walked, then Donaldson smashed a triple to tie the score. Foreman followed with a hit to end the game 5-4.

Donaldson eventually hooked up with J.L. Wilkinson again, this time with the Kansas City Monarchs and played with them most of the next two decades.

After his playing career was over, Donaldson worked at a post office in Chicago, and as a Major League scout with the Chicago White Sox.

To view a great site about Donaldson's years in Minnesota, click here.

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