The Greatest Player You’ve Never Heard of Played in St. Cloud
UNDATED -- He may be the best baseball player you've never heard of, and he played right here in central Minnesota. There is a film being made right now featuring the long career of John Wesley Donaldson. His career stretched from 1908 to 1940, with a stop here in St. Cloud for one year in 1930.
Peter Gorton is one of the men working on the movie about Donaldson's life.
In 1930 in the Pittsburgh Courier, an African-American newspaper, John Donaldson was rated in the top three black pitchers of all-time in February of that year. Two months later the St. Cloud Saints hired John Donaldson to play for them and he spent the 1930 season playing in St. Cloud.
He says Donaldson spent years playing in the Negro League before being recruited to play here in central Minnesota.
He was playing in the Negro Leagues for the most famous franchise -- the Kansas City Monarchs -- when he was asked by the Bertha management in 1925 to please come play for Bertha, where they paid him $325 a month, almost double what he was making for the Monarchs.
Besides St. Cloud and Bertha, Donaldson had stops in towns like Melrose and Crookston.
Gorton says he was a black player recruited to come to Minnesota because of his talent, and his ability to attract huge crowds.
One of the reasons that John Donaldson was hired in 1930 to play in St. Cloud, was in 1925 he played with the Bertha franchise in Todd County. They came down to play in St. Cloud and had the largest crowd ever documented in St. Cloud baseball history.
Gorton says Major League Baseball's color barrier is the only thing that prevented him from playing in the big leagues. He retired in 1940, seven years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
Donaldson did go on to become the first black scout in Major League Baseball. The film is called "39 Seconds" and is scheduled to be released in movie theaters later this summer. The movie is called "39 seconds" because the only known film footage of Donaldson is 39 seconds of him pitching in a game in Fergus Falls.