Career Year: Dick Donovan – 1962
Dick Donovan made a career of pitching better than the teams behind him. And he seemed to have the knack of pitching especially well for teams that were especially bad.
His two best seasons came with the 1961 Washington Senators (who finished ninth) and the 1962 Cleveland Indians (who finished sixth). He was particularly outstanding throughout 1962, turning in the finest season-long performance of his distinguished career.
The best teams behind Donovan were the Chicago White Sox in the second half of the 1950s. From 1955-1958, the White Sox finished in third place twice and second twice. During those four seasons, Donovan was 58-39 with a 3.18 ERA, averaging 223 innings and 14 complete games per season.
When the White Sox captured the American League pennant in 1959, a sore shoulder cost Donovan nearly a month out of that season. He finished the year at 9-10 with a 3.66 ERA. He spent the 1960 season mostly in the White Sox bullpen, going 6-1 and making only eight starts in 33 appearances. The White Sox left the 32-year-old Donovan unprotected for the expansion draft, and the “new” Washington Senators took a chance on the veteran, selecting him with the 54th pick.
Donovan was solid for the Senators all season long. His record was only 10-10, but his 2.40 ERA was the lowest in the American League. Immediately following the 1961 season, the Senators dealt Donovan with Gene Green and Jim Mahoney to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Jim Piersall.
Donovan’s performance in spring training earned him the Opening Day assignment, and he delivered a five-hit shutout, beating the Red Sox 4-0 in Boston. His second start came a week later in Cleveland, and he shut out the Red Sox again on five hits. After beating the Yankees 7-5 (with relief help from Bob Allen, Barry Latman and Frank Funk), Donovan beat the Twins 7-2 four days later with his third complete game in four April starts.
Donovan won his first four decisions in May before losing 2-0 to the White Sox. He was 3-2 with a 3.12 ERA in June and went to the July 10 All-Star game with a record of 12-3 and a 2.77 ERA. He pitched two innings in that All-Star game, allowing one run with no decision. The league played a second All-Star game on July 30, but Donovan did not pitch. He closed out July at 14-4 with a 2.93 ERA.
Meanwhile, the team around him was fading out of the pennant race, something the Indians were prone to do for most of the 1960s. The Indians held first place for most of May and June, but by the end of July the team was in fourth place, 10 games behind the league-leading New York Yankees.
Donovan, however, remained consistent despite the Indians’ slide. He was 4-3 in August, completing three of his seven starts. But he was also beginning to wear down. He made five starts in September, completing three games while posting a 2-3 record for the month.
Donovan finished the 1962 season at 20-10 with a 3.59 ERA. His 20 victories tied him for second most in the league with Ray Herbert (20-9) and Camilo Pascual (20-11) behind league leader Ralph Terry (23-12). He led the league with five shutouts. His 16 complete games tied him for second in the league with Jim Kaat behind Pascual’s 18. He pitched 250.2 innings, the most in any season of his 15-year career.
At age 34, the 1962 season was Donovan’s last hurrah, and his last winning campaign. He was 18-22 with a 4.37 ERA over the next two seasons and was released by the Indians in June of 1965. He retired with a career record of 122-99 and a 3.67 earned run average.