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Dakota Midday: Restoring Lost Legacy of Baseball Ace

The Donaldson Network

On June 6, 1915 in an 18-inning game, Sioux Falls defeated the visiting All Nations club from Des Moines 1 to 0. But even though he got the loss, All Nations pitcher John Donaldson mowed down 30 Sioux Falls batters in a game the next day’s edition of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune described as the greatest game ever played at the Sioux Falls park. The paper also noted that it was the first game in four seasons the Sioux Falls club ever won from the great Donaldson.

In his heyday, John Donaldson was acclaimed as one of baseball’s greatest pitchers. During a playing career from 1908-1940, he won more than 350 games and had some 4,500 strikeouts. But as a black player barnstorming from town-to-town in the Midwest in the years before the baseball color barrier was broken, his name is mostly unknown today. Peter Gorton is working to change that. The Minneapolis man established The Donaldson Network of researchers and has been piecing together the pitcher’s life and career.

On Saturday beginning at 2 pm at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre, Peter Gorton gives his talk  "400 Wins But Almost Forgotten: John Donaldson’s Baseball Legacy.”  Gorton joined Dakota Midday and discussed Donaldson's legacy and why it's important to remember.

You can see rare film footage of John Donaldson in action here.

Karl was born to northeastern South Dakota crouton farmers, but was orphaned as a toddler during the Great Salad War (1966-67). Rescued by a flock of chickadees, he grew up in the woodlands of Sica Hollow. Legends of a bird boy living in the trees attracted the interest of renowned ornithologist and amateur bandoneon repairman Dr. Vogel Gehrke. With a handful of suet, Dr. Gehrke coaxed the timid boy down from the trees. He adopted him, named him Karl and taught him not to molt on the carpet. Dr. Gehrke’s book, The Bird Boy of Sica Hollow, was a best seller and Karl became a minor celebrity and teen idol. He appeared as a guest star on numerous television programs, most notably an awkward role on The Love Boat as the boyfriend of Captain Stubing’s daughter, Vicki. After critics panned his 1980 album, Bird Boy Does Disco, Karl retreated from public life and returned to Sica Hollow. Living in an isolated tree house, Karl achieved a reputation as a mystic. Pilgrims and seekers from around the world came to ask him about the meaning of life and for vinaigrette recipes. Growing tired of answering questions, he climbed down from his tree, shaved his massive white beard and took a job as the host of SDPB Radio’s Dakota Midday where he could ask the questions instead. After three years in that position, he ran out of questions and became host of Jazz Nightly instead. Karl makes his home in Vermillion with his charming wife Kari and three delightful children, Kodey, Kasey and Spatula. His hobbies include reciting the alphabet, combing his hair and doing volunteer work with delinquent songbirds.
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