Long before shortstops were expected to bat .300 and hit for power, the Detroit Tigers fielded a miniature fielding machine named Donie Bush.
His career with the Tigers began in 1908 and blossomed the next year as Bush became the team’s full-time shortstop for the 1909 American League champions. Bush, 22 at the time, stood at 5′ 6″ and weighed a mere 140 lbs. Over the course of his 14-year major league career, the switch-hitting Bush accumulated 1,804 hits, , 1,158 walks, and scored 1,280 runs, often batting in the leadoff spot. He also had an impressive .937 fielding percentage. His lifetime batting average was .250.
During his rookie season, Bush led the American League in games played (157), plate appearances (676), sacrifice hits (52), and walks (88).
Bush is often overlooked by Tigers fans because he played in the shadows of Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Harry Heilmann. But during the 1909 World Series, Cobb and Crawford slumped, and Bush was the star of the show as he played the role of counterpart to Pittsburgh Pirates’ shortstop Honus Wagner.
In the ’09 World Series, Bush batted .318 with seven hits, five walks, five runs and three RBIs. At short, Bush had nine putouts, 18 assists and took part in three double plays. The Series went seven games, but Detroit lost the deciding game at Bennett Park. It was their third consecutive World Series appearance to end in disappointment.
Bush also stole lots of bases, swiping more than 30 eight times in his career. Additionally he scored at least 90 runs eight times, leading the AL with 112 in 1917. In 1914, he tied a major league record that still stands with 425 putouts at shortstop. He was consistently among the league leaders in all fielding categories, showing tremendous range. Still, he was underappreciated because, for all his times on base and runs scored, his best weapon was drawing walks, a skill that was not held in high regard, and his forte was scoring and not driving in runs.
After Bush’s big league playing days ended, he returned to his hometown and managed the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association from 1924 to 1926. He returned to the majors as skipper of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1927 to 1929, reaching the World Series that first season, when the team was swept by the New York Yankees, considered by many to be the greatest team in baseball history. Later, Bush manged the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. He spent several seasons in the minor leagues as well, where he served as manager for a young Ted Williams. He passed away at the age of 84 in 1972.
In his day, Donie Bush was in many ways the pride of Detroit baseball. He may have been small, but he left a large impression on the Tigers faithful. It is with great pride that we remember Tigers great Donie Bush.