John Wesley Donaldson (February 20, 1891 – April 12, 1970) was one of the greatest African-American baseball pitchers in pre-Negro League and Negro League baseball. He was born in Glasgow, Missouri and was barred by the color line from playing organized baseball both in the major and minor leagues.
Researchers have documented only portions of his long career, which includes known games in more than 23 states and in Canada. Published totals from local newspaper accounts of his 30-plus-year career provide a glimpse of his prowess on the segregated diamond. Research amassed thus far reveals one of black baseball’s all-time greats, if not the greatest of all time. Verifiable statistics show 379 pitching victories and 144 losses that have thus far been discovered with over 4,400 strikeouts. Research teams scour the archives as the search continues. Over 150 discovered games pitched by Donaldson include no strikeout total, dramatically underreporting his overall pitching numbers. Donaldson, in his prime years, played for the top teams in the pre-Negro Leagues era---the All Nations barnstorming ballclub from 1912-1917 and for the top black teams in Detroit, Indianapolis, and New York. He played for the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the most successful Negro League teams, in the early 1920s.
Experts estimate that only 60% of games Donaldson played in have been rediscovered.
John Donaldson can be credited with 13 no-hitters, a perfect game, and dozens of one-hitters. He also has two 30-strikeout games; 8 games with more than 25 strikeouts; 32 games with more than 20 strikeouts, 114 games with more than 15 strikeouts; and an astounding total of 209 double-digit strikeout games. Donaldson was also a great hitter, batting .334 in more than 1,800 at bats, as recorded in newspaper box scores.
Donaldson always had a stellar reputation in knowledgeable baseball circles. Former Negro League ballplayers selected him as their first-team left-handed pitcher in the definitive 1952 Pittsburgh Courier poll. Other savvy insiders like Tweed Webb and writers for the Chicago Defender echoed this judgment. In 2006, career statistics and his reputation were good enough to place him amongst the final 39 candidates for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Donaldson's talent even prompted John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants and a Hall of Famer, to say in 1915, “I think he is the greatest I ever have seen and I would give $50,000 for him if it weren’t for the color line in baseball.” Donaldson achievements also included being hired as the first black scout in baseball history – by the Chicago White Sox in 1948.
A photographer named W.T. Oxley used a hand-cranked Kodak 16-mm movie camera to capture historic scenes of pitcher John Donaldson on August 16, 1925, in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. A crowd of over 3,000 fans packed the stadium, located at the Otter Tail County Fairgrounds, to see the game between the town teams of Battle Lake and Bertha. Both ballclubs brought impressive records into the game as each team tried to claim the winner’s prize of $700 from the game’s organizers. The Bertha Fishermen team sent its ace pitcher to the mound that day---John Donaldson. Battle Lake countered Donaldson with Joe Jaeger, the “submarine-style” pitcher who had formerly pitched in the major leagues as a reliever with the Chicago Cubs. Advertisements for the game referred to Donaldson as “The Colored Wonder.” The game would determine the semi-professional championship of west-central Minnesota. Donaldson dominated the game, allowing only one earned run while scattering 5 hits and easily winning 11-2. Donaldson struck out eight of the first eleven batters who faced him, and he fanned a total of eighteen. In the ninth inning, Donaldson gave up singles to the first two batters, but, with runners on first and second base, Donaldson threw just ten more pitches and struck out the next three batters to end the game. The Battlers were, “demoralized at the plate,” by the 34 year-old Donaldson who was asked after the game how a player at his age can continue such dominance, “I leave booze and tobacco alone, diet a little and pay my debts; when I leave Bertha I won’t owe anything to anybody,” he said.
In this lot we are offering 39 seconds of pristine film footage shot by W.T. Oxley which has survived the decades that have passed since 1925. Modern-day baseball fans now have a chance to see the “Greatest Colored Pitcher in the World” in action. The movie camera was one of only approximately 1000 cameras made of its exact type and model. The retail cost of the camera in 1925 would have been around $125.00. The film shows three separate scenes that include Donaldson.
The first scene shows Donaldson preparing to enter the batter’s box. He then connects with the pitch and the camera follows him as he runs to first. The ball, hit to deep center, was reported to have been caught in, “a spectacular running catch,” by the Battle Lake center fielder.
The second clip that includes Donaldson shows the great lefty on the mound. Two pitches can be seen, showing the wind-up delivery of John Donaldson. Experts who have viewed these scenes have likened Donaldson’s throwing style to modern pitchers like Bob Gibson, Dwight Gooden and Satchel Paige. The second pitch shows a batter swinging at a Donaldson pitch and striking out. Major league scouts assert his three-quarters arm angle, along with his outstanding arm speed, made him a power pitcher. The camera reveals Donaldson’s smooth and powerful pitching motion that allowed him to pitch game after game for decades.
The third clip shows Donaldson at the plate again. Game accounts indicate that in this trip he “drove a second one to deep center, but Ramstad got it by a jumping one-handed catch.”
Between clips of Donaldson are images of the enormous crowd listed by various sources as being as many as 3,500 spectators. Some historians have insisted that Shoeless Joe Jackson can be seen in one of the crowd shots; others dispute the assertion.
The existence of film footage of ANY black ballplayers of this era is extremely rare, much less film of a player with Donaldson’s credentials. The heirs of W.T. Oxley have preserved this footage in pristine condition. The film has been examined by experts in the field and is in remarkable condition despite its age. It is the only known original moving-picture footage of black pitcher John Donaldson in existence.
More information on efforts to document and preserve the statistics, legacy and career of John Donaldson can be found, online at www.johndonaldson.bravehost.com.