Mike Donlin had more talent than he ended up on this list. His drinking and the acting bug didn’t help his baseball career. His acting career helped him financially after he retired from baseball although he never was a star and probably never became rich from it.
Donlin was a friend of John McGraw and that was probably how he played for him many years. Before he played for McGraw he played 5 seasons from 1899 to 1903. The last two with the Reds. He aged from 21 to 25 years old during those years, so he was building up to his prime. He never played 130 games those 5 seasons, but the two years he played over 120 games he scored over 100 runs.
During his sixth season (1904) he was traded to the Giants and where his friend John McGraw was the manager. McGraw must have done something because Donlin had a great season in 1905. He led the league in runs scored with 124 runs. His on base average was .413 and he slugged .495 in a non-homerun era. In the World Series he scored 4 runs outscoring the opponent team the Philadelphia A’s. This was due more to Christy Mathewson’s great pitching than Donlin’s great hitting. Although he did drive in the lead run and score the second run for the Giants in game 1.
Donlin was hurt and missed the most of the 1906 season. He then missed the 1907 season completely. Nobody knows for sure, but it might have been to pursue an acting career with his new wife Mabel Hite a famous Broadway actress at the time. More about her later.
Donlin came back to the Giants in 1908 and had another great season. Not as great as 1905 but close. This is one of the most famous seasons of all time and Donlin was a big part of it as the Giants lost the pennant by one game, having to play a controversial makeup game, which they lost.
Donlin then went back to acting again for two years. He was decent but not great in 1911 and 1912. He ended up playing for three teams those two years. The year 1912 must have been tough as his wife Mabel Hite died of cancer.
In 1914 Donlin came back to baseball one last time. He didn’t have it anymore. After that he moved to Hollywood and became and actor. He was friends with John Barrymore and appeared in some of his movies. I looked him up on IMDB and he appeared in 71 movies. However, some of them were apparently as an extra as IMDB says he didn’t receive a credit for being in the movie.
I happened to see one of his movies, his most famous one today. It was “The General” starring Buster Keaton. He was one of the Union Generals when Keaton his under the table. He died in 1933 of a heart attack.
Bill James wrote a long article about him in the last Historical Abstract. It was over 2 pages. He said he didn’t know anything about his Donlin’s wife Mabel Hite. Now there is an article about her on Wikipedia. She was probably as famous as Donlin in the New York area in those days. Early in her career she married the son of a wealthy Marshall Fields executive Edward Ellis Hamlin. They divorced and it was rumored she was going to marry track star Arthur Duffy, one time the fastest man alive since he held the record for the 100-yard dash. Duffy was supposedly going to ask the Pope for special disposition to marry Hite as she was divorced. This never happened.
The Wikipedia article indicated two things to me. It mentioned some Broadway plays she was in, but it looks like she was better known for her private life than her acting. Also, she liked to date athletes.