Home Page Steves Writings Published Books Mikedonlin: Mike Donlin: A Rough and Rowdy Life from New York Baseball Idol to Stage and Screen
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Mike Donlin: A Rough and Rowdy Life from New York Baseball Idol to Stage and Screen

Co-authored with Lyle Spatz
Foreword by Pat Williams
Urban Shocker: Silent Hero of Baseball's Golden Age
 Order from University of Nebraska Press
40% discount from UNP
using code 6AS24
Pub. Date: May 1, 2024
University of Nebraska Press
Hardcover , 368pp
ISBN-10: 1496238966
ISBN-13: 978-1496238962

My latest book, the fourth with coauthor Lyle Spatz, will be published by the University of Nebraska Press in spring 2024. It is the story of Mike Donlin, one of the greatest baseball players ever. With one of the game’s highest career batting averages, .333, he was a star of the great New York Giants’ teams of the early 1900s, led by legendary manager John McGraw.

Mike Donlin

Donlin was one of the first “bad boys” among sports stars, with a violent streak compounded by his alcoholism. His battles with umpires led to numerous suspensions, and one incident outside of baseball resulted in prison time. Haunted by tragedy throughout his life, he was nevertheless a charming and kind-hearted man who went on to successful careers both on the stage and in motion pictures.

At the height of Babe Ruth’s fame in the 1920s, journalist Damon Runyon wrote, “’Turkey Mike’ [nickname for his brash strut] was the most picturesque, colorful baseball player I ever saw. . . . Babe
Ruth may be able to hit more home runs, but Babe never had quite the appeal to me as a showman that Mike did.”

Mike Donlin

After leading the Giants to the 1905 world championship, Donlin married one of the leading vaudeville actresses of the time, Mabel Hite. Hailed as a comic genius, she saved him from alcohol: he ‘went on the wagon’ for the woman he loved. Mike walked away from baseball at the height of his career, joining Mabel on the stage late in 1908, where they earned $2,000 a week. Entertainer Will Rogers recalled the night Mike and Mabel opened on Broadway. “In my thirty years in all branches of show business, I never heard such a reception. It’s always lingered in my memory.” He also noted that their 1906 wedding was“the most popular wedding New York ever had.” A Power Couple of the early 20 th century, theirs was a love story with redemption of a man thought to be incorrigible.

Mike Donlin

Mabel tragically died of cancer in 1912 at the age of 29 in 1912, just as silent films were about to take off. Mike continued to appear on the stage and became a beloved figure on the back lots of Hollywood. He appeared in about 100 films, many of them uncredited, and mostly in small roles. Actors Buster Keaton and John Barrymore became his drinking buddies.

His 1933 New York Times obituary noted he was “one of the first [baseball stars] to grip and captivate the imagination of the public.” Donlin was more popular than teammate Christy Mathewson. Yet he has been forgotten, an larger-than-life athlete who flirted with sports greatness and a rare figure who achieved success in different entertainment realms.