“Turkey Mike” Donlin spent his later years trying to earn a living as an actor; his limited success on the stage and screen forced him to accept several baseball jobs as well. In 1922, he was hired as a scout by the Boston Red Sox—it was his most active season in the game since his final game with the New York Giants in 1914.
Like most players of his era, he had a general disdain for the current state of the game. He shared his disgust with a reporter from The Associated Press (AP) when he arrived in San Francisco after a trip through Texas:
“In the Texas League I found a majority of the players ill with a strange disease consisting of absolute refusal to run out flies or ground balls that look like easy outs. That kind of baseball is beyond me.
“I saw Texas League players getting as high as $700 a month loafing on balls hit to the infield and running to the bench on high flies. They couldn’t do it and get away with it in my time.
“When I was starting $300 a month was a big salary and believe me, we earned all we got. We ran out all our hits in those days and, not only that, we had to fight every inch of the way, not alone with spirit, but with our fists.”
The money seemed to bother him as much as the lack of hustle.
While in San Francisco he met Willie Kamm, who the Seals had agreed to sell for the then record amount of $100,000 (and three players) to the Chicago White Sox. Donlin, who said the St. Louis Perfectos purchased him from Santa Cruz in the California League for $500 in 1899.
According to The AP when they were introduced Donlin said:
“I wanted to meet you, young fellow, because you’re the highest priced minor leaguer ever sold, and I’m the cheapest.”
Always short of money and never one to refuse a paycheck, and perhaps encouraged by what he considered to be the lesser quality of current players, Donlin accepted an offer to join the Rock Island Islanders of the Mississippi Valley League for two games while he was scouting in the Midwest during August.
According to The Rock Island Argus, Donlin “one of the most picturesque characters the national pastime has ever produced,” was signed to a one-day contract to “keep within the league rules.” There is no record of what the Islanders paid Donlin for the one-day stunt.
He played in both games as the Islanders dropped a doubleheader to the Ottumwa Cardinals. The Argus said of his performance:
“Even Mike Donlin, once peerless performer for the New York Giants, fizzled as a mascot. Mike donned an Islander uniform as per announcement and was seen in right field in both games. Age is a hard master.”
Donlin “handled two chances cleanly” in the first game, but was 0 for 4 at the plate with two strikeouts, a foul out to third and a fly out which “sent the centerfielder to the scoreboard to haul (it) in.”
He fared slightly better in the second, going 1 for 3 with two ground outs and a single on a “Texas Leaguer into right field territory.” No balls were hit to him in the second game.
He was no more successful as a scout than he was as a player that week in Rock Island.
Two days before he played with the team, Donlin watched the Islanders’ Carl Stimson pitch a 23-inning complete game against Ottumwa. Stimson lost the game 4 to 2—he committed two errors in the 23rd inning—but allowed only 10 hits and struck out 18.
The 27-year-old Stimson was a sub .500 pitcher (10-15) who had come to Rock Island in a trade with the Waterloo Hawks just a month earlier, but Donlin was impressed with the performance and Stimson’s 6’ 5” frame—Stimson also might have benefitted from a minor illness his wife suffered that month, The Argus said he left the team for several days to attend to her and Donlin was not able to stay long enough to watch him pitch a second time.
Despite only seeing him once, The Argus said Donlin was “convinced that Carl is worthy of a trial in the big show,” and recommended that the Red Sox purchase his contract.
Stimson joined the Red Sox the following spring, but was slowed by an ear infection and finally joined the club in June. Donlin’s discovery appeared in just two games over one month in the big leagues, giving up 12 hits, five walks, and 10 earned runs over four innings before being released.
Donlin continued making appearances on the stage, had small acting roles in dozens of movies, occasionally worked as a scout, and struggled to make a living. In 1927, he began to suffer from a heart ailment and remained broke and in poor health and until his death in 1933.