Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wild Bill

Wild Bill Donovan was a turn of the century fastballer who mainly pitched for the Tigers. He was also fast with his legs, not unlike teammate Ty Cobb. Over his career, he had 36 stolen bases. That's a record for any hurler who started his career after 1893. Why did I say 1893? That's when they moved the mound to the modern distance of 60'6".

After his career with Detroit wound down, Donovan managed the Yankees for three years. Like many managers of the day, he occasionally took to the field of combat. Among his charges and teammmates were a pitcher named Dazzy Vance and a shortstop named Roger Peckinpagh. Donovan later coached the Tigers for a season then managed the Phillies for part of 1921. He was set to manage Washington in 1924, when he was killed in one of the most famous train wrecks of the time.

Vance only played a handful of games for the Yanks. In fact, he wouldn't win his first big league game until seven years later. He was a late bloomer; the most Famous late bloomer in baseball history. Made his name with the Brooklyn Robins. In 1923, they had a young Ivy League shortstop who made his big league debut.

Roger Peckinpagh was traded by the Yankees right around when they started getting good, but he did get a World Series ring with the Senators in 1924 and also won the MVP award the following year. He wound up his career with the White Sox in 1927. A teammate that year was a weak-hitting utility player who donned the tools of ignorance for the first time that year. Ray Schalk and the other Chicago catchers were hurt, so they needed someone to fill in.

That player was the same Ivy League shortstop who played four Brooklyn a few years ago. He was a hanger-on in the majors, but he was probably best known as a multilingual polymath who dabbled in spycraft. I'm talking about, of course, Moe Berg. During World War II, Berg worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was a precursor to the CIA. (Julia Child was a fellow agent.) The Director of the OSS? Wild Bill Donovan. A different one. The old hurler didn't work from beyond the grave.

Thanks to Bob Dernier Cri at BTF for inspiring this tale.

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