Jerry and Tom Donovan: Brothers in Baseball

St. Mary’s Cemetery, Lock Haven

While Mike and I had finished paying our respects to those resting in Highland Cemetery, we were not finished with our visit to Lock Haven. Leaving the historic cemetery grounds, we passed through the grounds of Lock Haven University before turning left onto Lusk Run Road. A short distance up the hillside, we entered through the gates and onto the sacred grounds of St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Entering the cemetery, I pulled to the side of the road and we stepped out into the humidity.

“Who are we looking for?” Mike asked as he scanned the cemetery.

“The family name is Donovan,” I replied as I pulled out the set of directions I had been sent. “They are buried near the tree,” I continued as I pointed at the lone pine growing at the edge of the field. “I was told they’re just past it.”

We walked carefully across the field of stone, scanning the family names closely. In the area just past the tree, I noticed the Donovan name on one of the stones and called Mike over. The two brothers, Jeremiah and Thomas, were known regionally for baseball.

Jeremiah Francis “Jerry” Donovan III was born September 3, 1876 to Jeremiah and Mary Donovan.

Jerry was a right-hander who played both catcher and outfield. Jerry first appeared in the Tri-State League, playing for the Williamsport Millionaires beginning in 1903. After Williamsport won the pennant in 1905, Jerry Donovan was sold to the Philadelphia Nationals.

Donovan would debut with the Philadelphia Nationals on April 12, 1906. He would be the back-up catcher for the team, playing that position for fifty-three of the sixty-one games he appeared in. His Major League career consisted of thirty-three singles, four doubles and fifteen RBIs. Jerry’s Major League career ended in October, 1906.

Note: There is a conflict in the baseball resources as to when Jerry Donovan played his last game. Some sources place his last game on September 21. However, there are statistics for him playing through October 3 of that season, but it does not appear he made any appearances in the Major Leagues after October 3.

With his career in the Majors over, Jerry went to the Providence Greys for the 1907 season. The 1908 season saw Jerry Donovan as a part of the Brockton Tigers of the New England League. At the end of that season, Jerry left professional baseball.                                                                       

Jerry returned to Williamsport where was a partner in Donovan and Bressler with H.S. Bressler in wholesale and retail tobacco. Jerry and his wife would move to St. Petersburg, Florida in early September of 1937, but his time in retirement was short-lived. In June 1938, Jerry suffered a stroke and he died the following week on June 27. His body was returned to his hometown and buried in the family plot in St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Note: Figuring out Thomas Donovan’s career was a challenge and became a “don’t believe everything you read, even if it is in official references”. Much of the information that is presented about Lock Haven’s Tom Donovan is incorrect. There were two different Thomas Joseph Donovans playing baseball at the same time.

This other Tom Donovan was born in West Troy, New York and spent significant time in the minors beginning in 1893 and continuing through 1907. His career was mostly spent in the Minor Leagues, but he did make an appearance in the Major Leagues with the Cleveland Blues in 1901. The Tom Donovan from New York is often erroneously cited as being the brother of Jerry Donovan.

A couple steps from the resting place of Jerry Donovan lies his brother, Thomas. The youngest of the Donovan siblings, Thomas “Tom” Donovan was born July 7, 1879.

The February 21, 1955 edition of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette makes mention of the passing of Thomas J. Donovan. In this death notice, it is mentioned he was a “widely noted baseball player here at the turn of the century.” In the reference The Baseball Necrology (Bee Lee and McFarland) it is mentioned that Tom Donovan played one season of professional baseball.

In the March 24, 1902 edition of the Wilkes-Barre Evening Leader, it is mentioned that Thomas J. Donovan was signed to the Wilkes-Barre team by Manager James McCabe. Donovan is listed as a pitcher for the team. The article mentions that the main reason McCabe signed Tom Donovan was due to him being highly recommended by Ed Dunkle. Unfortunately, Tom Donovan does not appear in any of the roster listings for the 1902 Wilkes-Barre Coal Barons. Note: More about Ed Dunkle can be found here: Ed “Davy” Dunkle.

The April 3, 1905 edition of the Harrisburg Telegraph also mentions Tom Donovan. The 1905 season saw Tom working as an umpire for the Tri-State League. The April 4, 1905 edition of the York Daily (York, Pa) implies that Tom had been umpiring the previous season as he “has seen service in some of the best leagues in the country and has fine recommendations from all officials [where] he worked.”

By 1911, Tom was living in Tyrone. The Gazette and Bulletin (Williamsport) mentions in the August 22, 1911 issue he was visiting his parents in Lock Haven. At the time he was working as an assistant foreman in the Penn Railroad car shops located in Tyrone.

The Clinton County Times mentions in the May 17, 1912 that Tom Donovan had umpired the baseball game between Penn State and Notre Dame. The Penn State Collegian‘s May 16, 1912 edition mentions the umpire as Donovan – it is highly probable that Tom Donovan was the umpire for all the Penn State Games which has “Donovan” listed as being the umpire. The Penn State Collegian mentions an umpire named Donovan throughout the 1912, 1913, and 1914 seasons.

According to the January 3, 1919 edition of the Altoona Times, Tom had resigned from his job at the Pennsylvania Railroad and was moving to Williamsport to work with his brother in a new business opportunity. Tom is described as an “erstwhile umpire and…[a] bowling alley wizard” who was well-liked by all those who knew him. Tom moved to Williamsport where he operated a retail tobacco store and purchased a bottling company with his brother Jerry, B. Frank Dooley, and H.J. Bressler.

Tom died February 20, 1955 at Loyalsock, after a lengthy illness. He was seventy-five years old and left behind a wife and son. His body was returned to Lock Haven and buried within the family plot.

Knowing I did not have the answer about Tom Donovan’s professional career in baseball, Mike and I finished paying our respects to the two brothers before we left them to peacefully slumber within the sacred grounds of St. Mary’s Cemetery.

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