Nevada residents may be surprised to know about a historical moment in the community that ties to Black History Month.
Peter Gorton, who compiles data for the legacy restoration efforts of The Donaldson Network, reached out to the Nevada Journal this month to share a discovery he’s made that ties John Wesley Donaldson — one of the greatest black baseball pitchers ever to play the game — to Nevada.
“I have been working on this project every day for the past 19 years and just this morning,” he wrote on Feb. 6, “I substantiated an instance of ‘The Greatest Colored Pitcher in the World’ playing a game in Nevada, Iowa, on Sept. 12, 1913.”
Gorton, who writes mostly for readers in Minnesota where Donaldson played in over 130 cities, said the discovery is significant because it adds to Donaldson’s known win total, placing him at 407 verified wins, more than any segregated pitcher in the history of baseball. “It also marks the 480th different city that our group has documented Donaldson playing in,” he added.
From the Nevada Republican’s Sept. 12, 1913, issue, Gorton quoted, “Donaldson, the colored pitcher for the visitors struck out three Nevada men in succession inning after inning.”
Gorton said he is driven to do the research for The Donaldson Network — which has a mission of telling the story of John Donaldson to as many people as it can — because Donaldson is someone “we should know. His sacrifice and contribution to baseball and society are significant beyond what history has thus far recognized.”
Gorton explained that Donaldson’s career behind baseball’s color barrier forced him to play anywhere but on a major league field. But that barrier didn’t diminish people’s love of watching him play. The Donaldson Network seeks to tell the story of how the people of Minnesota loved him, came to watch him in droves and tells about how he won so many games in every little corner of Minnesota, and in places outside of his home state, like Nevada, Iowa.
The work of researching Donaldson has evolved for Gorton. “At first I was compelled to just define his career,” Gordon said, but what has happened since that career, he added, “is simply a reconstruction of one of the greatest baseball careers in the history of the sport. If you want to go beyond the undeniable numbers he posted, you can see that he was shining example of how to be a leader, and his sheer ability to travel and represent himself, his family and his race is a model for people today.”
Gorton said he admires Donaldson and believes he can make a difference in how history looks upon Donaldson’s legacy. “I am attempting to make him better known to people today so everyone will be able to see for themselves his tremendous contribution to our society. We must make sure he will not be forgotten.”
At the time he came to play in Nevada, Donaldson was a member of the All Nations team, which was based out of Des Moines from 1912-1914, before rel0cating to Kansas City in 1915. Gorton said more reading of the Nevada newspaper showed that Donaldson returned to Nevada the following year to play, as well.
According to Gorton, the All Nations were a baseball team comprised of players representing different nationalities. They existed in their original form from 1912-1917, and their star black players would later form the nucleus of the Kansas City Monarchs in the first organized Negro League in 1920. Donaldson was a founding member of the club and is known to have suggested the name Monarchs. Both teams were organized by Iowan J.L. Wilkinson, who was inducted into The National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
“The All Nations perfected a lucrative barnstorming route across the upper Midwest,” Gordon said. “They were a spectacle to see. These were ‘Major League’ players banned by baseball’s color line and John Donaldson was their star.”
When asked if Donaldson may have crossed paths with Nevada’s own baseball great, Billy Sunday (who was born 29 years earlier than Donaldson and would have played baseball in earlier years than he did), Gorton couldn’t say for sure. “We do not have any direct references, but Donaldson and Sunday have many similarities. Their star power attracted people to come and witness something they could only read about,” he said.
“I am by no means an expert on Billy Sunday, but I know [Sunday] spoke at many of the same Chautauqua and fair gatherings where Donaldson applied his trade.”