Mike Donlin


Mike Donlin

A Rough and Rowdy Life from New York Baseball Idol to Stage and Screen

Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz

368 pages
34 photographs, 3 illustrations, index


May 2024


$39.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2024


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eBook (PDF)
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May 2024


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About the Book

Mike Donlin was a brash, colorful, and complicated personality. He was the most popular athlete in New York and was a star on the powerful New York Giants teams of 1905 and 1908. Though haunted by tragedy, including the deaths of both of his parents as a boy, Donlin was a charming, engaging, and kind-hearted man who also had successful careers on the stage and in film.

One of the early “bad boys” among professional athletes, Donlin’s temper and combativeness—compounded by alcoholism—led to battles with umpires and fans, numerous suspensions from the game, and even jail time. In 1906, when Donlin married vaudeville actress Mabel Hite, his life changed for the better, and their love story captivated the nation. Donlin left baseball after his sensational comeback for the dramatic 1908 season and joined Mabel on the stage, likely losing a Hall of Fame career. Then in 1912, at the age of twenty-nine, Mabel died of intestinal cancer.

After making a final comeback as a player in 1914, Donlin starred in baseball’s first feature film. He became a drinking buddy of actors John Barrymore and Buster Keaton and married actress Rita Ross. The couple moved to Hollywood, where Donlin became a beloved figure and appeared in roughly one hundred movies, mostly in minor roles. Despite his Hollywood career, Donlin stayed connected to the game he loved and was seeking a coaching job with the Giants when he died of a heart attack in 1933. At the dawn of the celebrity era of sports, Donlin was one of the nation’s first athletes to capture the public’s attention. This biography by Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz shows why.

Author Bio

Steve Steinberg is a baseball historian and author of Urban Shocker: Silent Hero of Baseball’s Golden Age (Nebraska, 2017), winner of the SABR Baseball Research Award, and The World Series in the Deadball Era. Lyle Spatz is the author of many baseball books and the coauthor (with Steve Steinberg) of The Colonel and Hug: The Partnership that Transformed the New York Yankees (Nebraska, 2015), winner of the SABR Baseball Research Award, and 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York (Nebraska, 2010), winner of the Seymour Medal.


"This biography of early 20th century outfielder Mike Donlin is a captivating account of one of the sport's early celebrity athletes, who parlayed his baseball wizardry into a subsequent theatrical career on stage and screen. Steinberg and Spatz brilliantly examine Donlin's life beyond the ballpark to illuminate his heretofore little known, unusual contribution to baseball history."—Bevis Baseball Research blog

“‘Turkey Mike’ was the most picturesque, colorful baseball player I ever saw. He had more pure color than that mighty man, George Herman Babe Ruth.”—Damon Runyon, journalist and short-story writer (1880–1946)

“Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz have always dug deeper than most baseball biographers into the inner characters of their subjects. In Mike Donlin their digging has struck rich gold. Their crisp narrative takes Donlin from his tragic youth through his wild baseball career to his redemption by the wife who took him away from baseball and led him to a second life as an actor.”—Gabriel Schechter, author of Victory Faust: The Rube Who Saved McGraw’s Giants

“Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz have written an engrossing story: the tale of a real-life baseball legend and the vaudeville star he loved that is as incredible as any fiction. . . . Steinberg and Spatz have captured not only the poignancy of [Donlin’s romance with Mabel Hite] but the color, the joy—and the brutality—of the raw, young America.”—Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland and Paradise Alley

“This is a grand slam of a baseball book. One of the game’s first great competitors, Mike Donlin, was also the owner of an oversized, irrepressible personality that captivated the nation before Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth. . . . I tip my ancient New York Giants cap to the authors, Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz, for telling a fascinating uniquely American story in meticulously documented detail and a brisk readable style.”—Noel Hynd, author of The Giants of the Polo Grounds and The Sputnik Season: 1957

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Historical Notes
Part 1. Mike before Mabel
1. Growing Up with Tragedy
2. “I’m Going to Be a Sensation in Baseball”
3. The Making of Mike Donlin
4. “Provided He Takes Care of Himself”
5. Donlin and McGraw Battle with American League Umpires
6. A Brutal Assault
7. A Return to the National League
8. “A Manager Who Can’t Control Himself”
9. “I Am Through with Donlin!”
10. Goodbye to Cincinnati; Hello to Broadway
11. “I Guess I Have Had My Share of Trouble”
12. Mathewson Pitches the Giants to a World Series Title
13. The New York Hoodlums
Part 2. Mabel
14. Vaudeville, America’s Other National Pastime
15. A Star Is Born
16. Mabel Meets Mike
Part 3. Mike and Mabel
17. A Season Interrupted
18. Chicago, Their Kind of Town
19. Mabel Tells Mike: Become a Changed Man—or Else
20. The Prodigal Returns
21. The Most Popular Ballplayer in New York
22. A Pennant Race Like No Other
23. Stealing Home
24. Will He or Won’t He?
25. I Play for the Money
26. Despite Health Concerns, Mabel’s Star Continues to Rise
27. A Return to Baseball
28. A Trade to Pittsburgh
29. Tragic End of a Loving Partnership
Part 4. Mike after Mabel
30. Life Goes On
31. Remarriage and a Final Return to the Major Leagues
32. Mike Enters the New World of Motion Pictures
33. Memphis Blues
34. Back on Broadway and Hollywood Calls
35. “The Very Breath of Life”
36. Acting Success and a Mysterious Illness
37. “Lights, Camera, Action” Continues to the End
38. A Life Well Lived

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