Wild Bill Donovan was not an elite pitcher for his day, but he won consistently. Donovan joined the Tigers in 1903 and won 16 or more games six times in eight full seasons. Injuries eventually limited his effectiveness, but he demonstrated flashes of greatness. Donovan’s arrival signaled the beginning of the Tiger turnaround. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, he helped the Tigers to three consecutive World Series appearances.
Bill Donovan earned his nickname one day in Hartford. He walked nine straight batters in a minor league contest. In response, his teammates dubbed him “Wild Bill” and his manager fined him. He made his big league debut in 1898 and spent three seasons as a reliever. He appeared in a total of 27 games from 1898-1900. In 1901, he was given a chance and led the league with 25 victories, 45 game starts, and a ridiculous 152 walks.
Donovan remained with the Dodgers until 1903 when he jumped to the American League’s Detroit Tigers. The Tigers desperately needed pitching and hoped Donovan could help. The Tigers also acquired outfielder Sam Crawford that offseason. They had added pitcher George Mullin the year before. Ty Cobb joined the club a couple years later. The Tigers had collected the talent needed to win.
The team did not win a pennant until 1907. Between 1903 and 1906, Donovan won 17, 16, 18, and 9 games. However, he lost as many as he had won during that stretch. Things changed in 1907. Mullin had a career year for the Tigers. He went 25-4, with a 2.19 ERA and 1.122 WHIP in 28 starts. He only walked 82 in 271 innings and led the league with an.862 win percentage. The righty started two games in the World Series and finished 0-1 with a 1.71 ERA.
The Cubs walloped the Tigers in the World Series, but that set up a rematch in 1908. Donovan pitched slightly better than the prior year, but finished 18-7. He tossed 242.2 innings, had a 2.08 ERA, and 1.084 WHIP. The American League champs lost to the Cubs again in the World Series. The Chicago club shelled Donovan in his two starts.
The 1906-08 Cubs were one of history’s great squads. However, they lost the National League pennant to the 110-win Pirates in 1909. Detroit hoped to break through for a title on the third try. Donovan experienced arm problems during the regular season and finished 8-7. He split a pair of decisions in the Fall Classic. The two teams battled to a seventh game where Pittsburgh creamed the Tigers 8-0. Donovan started Game 7 and became the first man to lose back-to-back clinchers.
Wild Bill bounced back from his Game 7 debacle and won 17 and 10 games the next two seasons. His career essentially ended in 1912 due to injury. Afterward, he managed the Yankees and appeared in 10 games over two seasons. Donovan returned to Detroit as a coach in 1918 and made a spot start on the season’s final day. He won the game and never pitched again. He died in a train crash five years later.
Bill Donovan won 25 games for the 1907 pennant winning Tiger team. His presence helped Detroit to three straight pennants. Unfortunately, they lost all three World Series. Donovan won 140 of his 185 big league victories with the Tigers. He won nearly 60% of his starts over 11 seasons with Detroit and held the team record for winning percentage in a single season for over a century. Max Scherzer bested Donovan’s mark with a .875 win percentage in 2013.