Skip to main content

See also:

100 greatest Tigers #41: Donie Bush

Donie Bush anchored Detroit's infield during the Dead Ball Era
Donie Bush anchored Detroit's infield during the Dead Ball Era
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b1/Donie_Bush,_Detroit_AL,_at_Polo_Grounds,_NY.jpg

Donie Bush anchored Detroit's infield for 14 years. Unfortunately, Detroit only won a single pennant in Bush's tenure. Bush was one of the best defensive shortstops of his era. He only hit .250, but walked a lot and could handle the bat. Interestingly, Bush was considered one of the best players of his era, but is pretty much forgotten today.

Owen Bush joined the Tigers for 20 games in 1908. He batted .294 in 20 games and joined the club full time in 1909. Ed Killian renamed Owen "Donie" in 1909 after striking out. Killian claimed Bush missed a "donie ball," but never explained what that meant. Afterward, his teammates began calling him Donie.

The Tigers won the pennant with their rookie shortstop in 1909. He batted .273 for the season, but led the league in games (157), plate appearances (676), walks (88), and sacrifice hits (52). His .380 OBP placed third in the league behind Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins. He also scored 114 runs and set the AL rookie record for stolen bases with 53. The record stood until 1992. Detroit lost the World Series in seven games, but Bush hit .318 with a .846 OPS.

Bush held out for more money prior to the 1910 season. He eventually settled with the Tigers and returned to the field. Between 1909 and 1914, the shortstop led the league in walks on five occasions. Over his career he topped 100 base on balls three times. Bush had an excellent eye and could handle the stick. He led the league in sacrifice hits twice in his career and topped 30 five times. Three times he garnered MVP votes, finishing 14th in 1911, 12th in 1913, and 3rd in 1914.

Bush's best overall season came in 1914. He hit .252, with no home runs, 32 RBI, 35 steals, 97 runs, 22 extra base hits, 112 walks, .373 OPS, and .668 OPS. In 157 games, he had 1,027 chances and .944 fielding percentage. Reporters and players praised Bush's intelligence, range in the field, and ability with the bat. Detroit's shortstop finished third in the MVP vote.

The infielder's average dipped to .228 in 1915, but Detroit won 100 games. The Tiger outfield dominated the offense, so Bush just needed to field his position as normal. By this point, he was considered the best shortstop in the game. Tiger fans kicked in to buy Bush a car in appreciation for his efforts. Despite the magic season and fan love, Detroit missed winning the pennant.

The rest of Bush's Tiger career copied his earlier efforts. He continued to play outstanding defense and provide enough offense. He led the league in runs with 112 in 1917 and plate appearances with 594 in 1918. The shortstop's best offensive campaign came in 1917. He hit .281, with 21 extra base hits, 24 RBI, 34 steals, 80 walks, .370 OBP, and .691 OPS. Hughie Jennings influence deeply impacted Bush as a young player and continued until 1920. Jennings left Detroit after the 1920 season. Bush lost his manager and mentor. Ty Cobb replaced Jennings and moved Bush to second. The infielder did not get along well with the Cobb regime. Despite hitting .281, the Tigers released Bush in August 1921. He appeared in 74 more games and retired after the 1923 season. He managed for seven years between 1923 and 1933.

In 1920, Baseball Magazine listed Donie Bush among the top 10 best players in baseball in the teens. They measured his ability to get on base, produce runs, and steal bases. Additionally, Bush was the best at his position in the field. He remained affiliated with the game until his death in 1972. During the 1963 winter meetings, he was dubbed the "King of Baseball" for his service.

Donie Bush might be the most underrated Tiger in history. His contemporaries laud his abilities in the field and at bat. By all accounts, Bush was the greatest defensive shortstop of his era. On top of this, he could get on base, steal bases, and move along runners. The shortstop anchored Detroit for over a decade, moved to management, and stayed in the game for over 60 years.