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This item could have been placed on the "Please, Don't Call Me That" list because Mike Donlin, one of the best hitters in the first decade of the 20th century, really hated his nickname, "Turkey Mike,"reportedly given him because of his strut and his red neck.

Donlin was called lots of names during a career interrupted several times because of his drinking, his violent nature, and his interest in showgirls. He began playing professional baseball in St. Louis in 1899 with a National League team nicknamed the Perfectos. It was in St. Louis he was badly injured in a barroom brawl. One of his St. Louis teammates was John McGraw, who recognized Donlin's skill and appreciated his combativeness, even though it often got the player thrown out of games (something that also marked McGraw's career).

So when McGraw managed the Baltimore Orioles in 1901 when the American League became a major league, Donlin was in the outfield, batting .340 (a figure topped only by McGraw's .349, though the player-manager didn't put himself into the line-p every day).

On March 13, 1902, Donlin got drunk and went to a theater in Baltimore to see a musical production of "Ben Hur." He was fascinated by an actress named Mamie Fields, but his behavior got him kicked out of the theater. He went back the next night, drunk again, but hung around outside the theater, waiting for Miss Fields to leave. When she did, accompanied by a man and a woman, Donlin approached her, made a crude remark, and was confronted by the man. Donlin knocked the man down, and when Miss Field interfered, he punched her, too. Donlin fled, but was later arrested. The upshot was the player was sentenced to six months in jail (of which he'd serve five).

This behavior got Donlin banned from the American League. The Chicago Tribune (March 6, 1902) referred to Donlin as "an extremely undesirable player." But even while Donlin sat in jail, he signed a contract to play in the rowdier National League for the Cincinnati Reds upon his release. Efforts to get Donlin pardoned were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Donlin became ill and lost about 40 pounds while spending much of his sentence in a prison hospital. Released in August, he joined the Cincinnati team for 34 games, batting .257. A year later, he hit .351, best on the team. He was hitting ever better in 1904 when he was traded to New York because the Giants' manager, his old pal John McGraw, wanted him.

Donlin's six seasons with the Giants were not consecutive. He continued to make news, such as the time, in February, 1906, he was arrested for his drunken behavior on a train ride from New York to Albany, when he pointed a loaded revolver at a porter.

Apparently. this did not result in more jail time, because by a month later he was training for another season with the Giants, taking time off to get married in Chicago to Mabel Hite, a vaudeville performer. He also got into trouble with McGraw the same month, in Memphis, where the team was training. Donlin blamed his behavior on teammate Billy Gilbert's cold medication, which Donlin couldn't resist sampling. The medication, said Donlin, made him drunk, causing him to insult McGraw, who had recently suspended him for being out of shape.

The player submitted a written apology, which McGraw accepted, and Donlin began the season with the Giants, and was leading the league in batting when he broke his ankle in May. The result was he played just 37 games before the season ended. He and his wife became a performing team in the off-season, but they proved so popular that Donlin occasionally had no time for baseball.

Sporting Life, March 22, 1909
BOSTON, March 22 — Mike Donlin and his wife, Mabel Hite, showed here all of last week. Of course, he was interviewed on his intentions regarding baseball. Donlin said that he had heard from (National League) President Brush and that the latter had agreed with him (Donlin) that he is right in quitting the game for the year.

“They have got me quitting the game for keeps,” said Mike, on his way to Keith’s to appear in the sketch, “Stealing Home.”

“But just say that I am not out of the game for keeps.”

“No,” chirped in Little Mabel. “I would not let Mike quit the game. Baseball is too fine a sport for Mike to quit forever, and while the fans might criticize us this year, it is only a question of our theatrical contracts that keeps us booked up for the next twenty weeks. And Mike will be back again, stronger than ever next year.”

Mike thoroughly agreed with Mabel’s statement, and as further evidence that he would not be with the Giants the coming season, he produced a letter from President John T. Brush which stated that he greatly regretted Donlin’s temporary retirement, but as vaudeville offered a more profitable engagement than baseball, he was right in his decision.

Donlin and Mabel Hite (right) married in 1906. He was her second husband. In 1901, when she was 18, she married Edward Ellis Hamlin, son of a Marshall Field's executive. She began performing when she was 14, and specialized in vaudeville comedy sketches and musical comedy. Tragically, in 1912, she died of intestinal cancer, at 29.

Her death sent Donlin into retirement from baseball, though he changed his mind — briefly — in 1914. But then the Peoria, Illinois, native settled in Hollywood, and became an actor. Seldom more than a bit player in films, he has a long list of credits, which undoubtedly would have been much longer had he not died in 1933 when he was only 55.

Had he concentrated on baseball, and spent less time drinking, arguing and performing on stage, Mike Donlin almost certainly would have put up batting numbers worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. There were only five seasons in which he played more than 100 games, and in those years his batting averages were .340, .351, .329, .356 and .334. His career batting average was .333.

 
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