Glancing Back, and Remembering Dick Donovan
Dick Donovan was a pitcher’s pitcher. He was a four-way threat on the mound – fastball, curveball, slider, control – who pitched with his head as much as with his right arm. According to Mickey Vernon, his manager with the Washington Senators, Donovan “has every pitch planned.”
Pitching for the lowly Washington Senators in their inaugural 1961 season, Dick Donovan went 10-10 and led the major leagues with a 2.40 ERA.
Donovan was signed by the Boston Braves in 1947 and spent the next six seasons (minus two years in military service), trying to find himself as a professional pitcher. His break came when he was acquired by the Chicago White Sox prior to the 1955 season. Inserted into the White Sox starting rotation, Donovan responded with a 15-9 record and a 3.32 ERA, tying for the team lead in victories with Billy Pierce. He pitched 11 complete games with five shutouts in 1955.
Donovan was 12-10 in 1956, and then went 16-6 in 1957. His victory total in 1957 was third best in the American League (behind 20-game winners Pierce and Jim Bunning), and his .727 winning percentage led the league. He tied Pierce for the league lead in complete games with 16, and he averaged only 1.84 walks per 9 innings, posting the second lowest average in the league (for the third year in a row). He finished second in the Cy Young voting to Warren Spahn.
Donovan went 15-14 with a 3.01 ERA in 1958, this time leading the league with 1.9 walks per 9 innings. (He would lead the American League in that category two more times in his career.) In 1959, the year the White Sox broke the New York Yankees’ lock on the American League pennant, Donovan suffered from shoulder problems that limited his effectiveness and produced a 9-10 record with a 3.66 ERA. In the 1959 World Series, Donovan made three appearances, losing Game Three but picking up the save in Game Five. The 1959 World Series would be his only post-season appearance.
Lingering concerns about his arm limited Donovan’s workload in 1960, as he made only eight starts in 33 appearances. Donovan finished the season at 6-1 with a 5.38 ERA. The White Sox left him unprotected for the expansion draft, and the fledgling Washington Senators plucked Donovan for their own starting rotation. He responded with a 10-10 record in 1961, leading the majors with a 2.40 ERA.
Donovan was 20-10 for the Cleveland Indians in 1962.
Donovan spent only one season in Washington. Immediately after the 1961 season, he was traded with Gene Green and Jim Mahoney to the Cleveland Indians for Jim Piersall. In his first season with the Tribe, Donovan had the best record of his career: 20-10 with a 3.59 ERA. He pitched a career-high 250.2 innings with 16 complete games and a league-leading five shutouts.
Now 35, Donovan struggled through the 1963 season, going 11-13 with a 4.24 ERA. In 1964, the Indians’ staff was transitioning to younger pitchers like Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant and Sonny Siebert. Donovan’s record slipped to 7-9 in 1964, and he was released by Cleveland after going 1-3 in 1965.
A good hitter, Donovan batted .163 during his career with 15 home runs and 64 RBIs. As a pitcher, Donovan compiled a 122-99 record with a 3.67 ERA. He was a three-time All-Star.
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