John Wesley Donaldson was born in Glasgow Missouri, February 20th 1891. This we know for certain the rest we know because of the exhaustive research of Peter Gorton who has spent 17 years going from town to town visiting museums, looking at newspaper micro film libraries mailing countless handwritten letters to anyone and everyone who may remember anything about this lost legend of baseball.
Donaldson did not fit the times, and no-one wanted to have to pretend to not notice a 6’1” left handed pitcher with such skill and talent that barely a man could hit him. For John Donaldson the game was backwards, he was not concerned with batters getting hits off him, he was concerned about letting the occasional batter get a hit off him. His livelihood depended on it. You see, John Donaldson was forced to play his game away, to make his fame and money in the most remote parts of the mid-west, entertaining farmers, and small town residents who had never seen a city, or a ballpark with lights. Often times never having seen a black man much less a black man commanding the pitchers mound with such skill and grace that the fans stood in awe. Newspapers wrote glowing accounts of his abilities and the posters announcing a baseball game was coming to town featured his name at the very top in the largest letters: “ John Donaldson, Greatest Colored Pitcher in the World”
Modern day skeptics will argue that he could not have been that good; he was out in the sticks playing nobodies. They fail to consider how grueling the road was for these black ball players to travel the rails and back roads of America without protection, sleeping on the ground, washing clothes in the river and always hoping for a community of African Americans across the tracks that might put them up and feed them for the night. Traveling carefully with heads down only being truly free when on the field. For an hour or two when they were in charge and being paid.
John Donaldson played ball all the way up to 1949 when he became the first black baseball scout for the Chicago White Sox. Then he disappears. Only to be buried in a unmarked grave in Alsip, Illinois. This documentary film will tell the incredible story of his life as a ball player and consider the hardships a black man at that time had to overcome and why such a great man, such a legendary ball player just disappeared from the American story. The documentary will highlight career of John Wesley Donaldson a left-handed pitcher known as “The Greatest Colored Pitcher in the World.” The Donaldson Network has documented and reassembled one of the most under appreciated careers in the history of baseball. This research effort includes piecing together games from Donaldson’s 33- year career from 1908 to 1940. The research techniques have been labeled by The Center for Negro Leagues Baseball Research, “The most extensive research project that has ever been undertaken related to black baseball,” and Donaldson’s legacy required more than 500 researchers from around the world to make it happen. John Donaldson is known to have won 403 games the most of any segregated pitcher in history. Combined with 5034 documented strikeouts from over 550 different cities the numbers are impressive.
John Donaldson is the next great Negro Leagues player who until now has been passed over by history. We have 39 seconds of footage to work from, we are racing after interviews from the few remaining people that have a connection to this period, we are working with and asking so much from great young actors to bring to life this amazing story... time is of the essence. The crucial funds raised by this Kickstarter will go directly to production costs. We have begun production and need financing to help pay our actors, crew, travel costs as we continue to film and travel around the US gathering these essential interviews and create this film. We need your help to partner with us in this effort. If you love Baseball, American history or a good “grass-roots” effort please help us to bring John Donaldson to the big screen so everyone will know this man, and all the amazing accomplishments that have been brushed aside and ignored for to long.
For more Info visit the films website: 39secondsfilm.com
Meet our supporters like you
These organizations and many more support our efforts and believe in the restoration of John Donaldson's legacy like you. When you visit any of these places make sure to mention you are on team Donaldson and backed 39 Seconds. They like us, will thank you. Together we will make this happen, we will bring this American icon back to the life. Thank you.
Your film makers
Paul Irmiter - director
A native of Queens NY, grew up in Minneapolis. Paul has worked in advertising for 20+ years. Self taught photographer and director working in advertising he has now committed his efforts to directing feature films. His feature documentary "Closer Than You Think - The Cuban Artist Project" premiered at MSPIFF and brought him to the rarely seen parts of Cuba. Now Paul travels the back roads of America to find the birthplaces of Baseball. "it's a honor be able to help tell this story of one of Americas greatest ball players, John Donaldson".
Peter Gorton - Researcher/Story Master
Founder of The Donaldson Network a group of over 500 researchers, authors and historians dedicated to the rediscovery of the lost baseball career of John Wesley Donaldson.
Pete Gorton has devoted 17-years of daily research reassembling Donaldson's career. Pete has written and contributed to many articles about John Donaldson, including Swinging for the Fences: Black Baseball in Minnesota. A SABR/Sporting News research award winner. He cofounded The Donaldson Network to detail the career of “The Greatest Colored Pitcher in the World.” In 2011 The Society of American Baseball Researchers – Negro Leagues Committee recognized Pete with the prestigious Tweed Webb Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes long-term contributions to the field of Negro League and Black baseball research. The Center for Negro Leagues Research says The Donaldson Network is, "The most extensive research project that has ever been undertaken related to black baseball." John Donaldson's legacy is now known and this film will tell his story.
Kevin D. West - Casting Director
A long time Penumbra company member is an actor, director and educator having recently directed A Soldier’s Play, Fences. Select Penumbra credits include By the way meet Vera Stark, Two Trains Running, Radio Golf, Fences, Zooman and the Sign, Some Place Soft to Fall, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Seven Guitars, A Raisin in the Sun, Free fall and I Wish You Love staged at The Kennedy Center and Hartford Stage. Other credits: Of Mice and Men (Park Square Theater) Bud Not Buddy (Children’s Theater company) K2 (Jungle Theater) The Story (Pillsbury House Theater) The Dance on Widows Row, Bill of (W)rights, Cut Flowers (Mixed Blood Theater) A Raisin in the Sun (Alchemy Theater) The Meeting, To Kill a Mockingbird (History Theater) The Death of Bessie Smith (Theater Latte Da) Tommy J and Sally (MN Jewish Theater) other, the Guthrie Theater, Phoenix Theater Indianapolis. West is the artistic director of the Capri after School Theater (CAST) and a resident teaching artist at PYC Arts and Tech high school. Film: Domestics, Sweets Caroline, the Death of Tommy Grimes, Bill’s Gun Shop and Justice. (B.A. Theater Arts Metropolitan State University.)
Shá Cage & E.G. Bailey/Tru Ruts - Executive producers
Tru Ruts is an artistic organization based in Minneapolis with a history of high caliber artistic work ranging from films to theatre performances, a record label, to workshops and residencies, a radio series, a visual art exhibit and others. Tru Ruts projects include Foto Libre, Freestyle Theatre, Foto Speakeasy Records and others. It has been a major innovator + trailblazer in the Twin Cities often producing shows to sold out audiences and critical acclaim.
Why we need your help
We have filmed many interviews with many more to come. Kevin and I are working with our actors and narrator. Tru Ruts is pulling the crew together and Pete is still working everyday uncovering more games. We need your help to pay our actors, crew. Pay our editors and so we can secure our location for the live action part of the film. We need to secure music rights and sound design... the list goes on. A successful Kickstarter will encourage other funding sources to help us make this film. Funding attracts additional funding and we have a ways to go. Thank you for supporting us.
Breakdown of expenses
100% of funds will go directly towards production and post productions costs of this film. If we are succseful with the KS other grants and funding will follow. This is an important first step.
Risks and challenges
Restoring an almost completely forgotten person is a daunting task, but a black baseball player from the early 20th century? Armed with 17 years of research by Pete Gorton and The Donaldson Network we now have a vast amount of historical documentation to work from. We want the audience to fully understand the greatness of this man in a 90 minute film and be entertained at the same time, this is tricky endeavor. My team and I completely understand this and are deeply committed to making the best film ever, we are shooting for the stars we are swinging for the fences. Please come along for the ride. We understand the challenges, we are up for the task, we now need you to become a part of the team. Thank you.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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