Top Tigers Countdown #37: Donie Bush

Ronald Martinez

Known as one of the best defensive shortstops and run scorers of the dead ball era, Bush finally checks in at #37 on our countdown.

Overall, I think that this countdown has been very accurate in determining approximately where players should rank in the franchise's hierarchy. There have been the occasional over- or underrated names, but if I have a bone to pick, it's with Donie Bush. An excellent defensive shortstop, Bush scored at least 90 runs in eight different seasons for the Tigers during the dead ball era. He ranks 12th in franchise history with 36 WAR and is second only to Ty Cobb with 402 stolen bases.

Year PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
1908 79 0 4 2 .294 .360 .338 .343 122 0.5
1909 676 0 33 53 .273 .380 .314 .350 119 6.4
1910 606 3 34 49 .262 .365 .323 .345 115 5.4
1911 692 1 36 40 .232 .349 .287 .322 82 1.8
1912 643 2 38 35 .231 .377 .301 .345 102 4.0
1913 694 1 40 44 .251 .344 .322 .328 95 3.2
1914 721 0 32 35 .252 .373 .295 .337 105 5.0
1915 703 1 44 35 .228 .364 .283 .330 98 3.6
1916 653 0 34 19 .225 .319 .267 .294 78 1.5
1917 673 0 24 34 .281 .370 .322 .343 112 3.9
1918 593 0 22 9 .234 .340 .266 .309 88 -0.2
1919 602 0 26 22 .244 .343 .289 .313 84 0.8
1920 628 1 33 15 .263 .357 .324 .332 86 0.6
1921* 585 0 29 10 .270 .347 .305 .316 74 -0.5
1922* 159 0 7 1 .239 .342 .284 .308 74 0.5
1923* 27 0 0 1 .409 .409 .409 .386 121 0.2
Career 8734 9 436 404 .250 .356 .300 .328 96 36.6

*Played for the Washington Senators from August 1921 to 1923.

Owen Joseph Bush was born on October 8th, 1887 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Listed at just five-foot-six and weighing 140 pounds, he started his professional career in Sault Ste. Marie in 1905. After splitting time between three teams in 1906, he landed in South Bend for the 1907 season. Tigers owner Frank Navin had a small stake in the South Bend club at the time, and made sure to retain Bush's services.

Bush made his big league debut in September of 1908, hitting .294/.360/.338 with 13 runs scored in 79 plate appearances. The Tigers went 12-7-1 after Bush joined the team, finishing with a 90-63 record to win the AL pennant. He was not eligible to play in the World Series due to his late call-up, and the Tigers lost in five games.

The 1909 season brought more of the same for Bush and the Tigers. Now known as "Donie," he hit .273/.380/.314 with 114 runs scored, 53 stolen bases, and a league leading 88 walks. His 6.4 WAR -- a career best -- ranked third in the league. The Tigers went 98-54, winning their third consecutive AL pennant. Unfortunately, Bush's stellar World Series -- he hit .318 with a .483 on-base percentage -- was not enough for the Tigers to get over the hump. They lost their third World Series in a row, this time to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Now known as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, Bush's stellar play continued in 1910. He racked up 5.4 WAR and led the league in walks for the second consecutive year, hitting .262/.365/.323 with 49 stolen bases and 90 runs scored. This would be his lowest run total in a seven year stretch from 1909 to 1915, where he crossed home plate a combined 731 times thanks to a .364 on-base percentage.

As was the style at the time, Bush's offensive contributions were underrated by many throughout the game. He hit for a .269 batting average through his first two full seasons, but would not hit above .252 again until 1917. From 1911 to 1916, Bush's batting average was a lowly .237, but a 14.6% walk rate led to a stellar .355 on-base percentage. Baseball Magazine finally detailed Bush's efforts in a positive light in 1915 (via the SABR Biography Project).

"Just why fans have relegated Bush to the 'poor-hitting class' is beyond me. Donie gets on base, and scores more often than any of his slugging mates on the Detroit club."

While this wasn't entirely true -- Ty Cobb scored more runs than Bush during Donie's tenure in Detroit -- Bush's ability to draw walks and get on base was second to none. He ranked seventh among all players with a 13.6% walk rate from 1909 to 1920, and first among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances. While he displayed almost no power with a career .050 ISO, he only struck out in 7.2% of his plate appearances dating back to 1913. The 1910 season is the only full season in which Bush struck out more often than he walked.

Though Bush had almost no power to speak of -- he had nine (!) career home runs in 16 seasons -- he was a threat to turn any single or walk into a double thanks to his excellent speed. He stole 406 bases in his career, 402 of which came in Detroit. This figure is second only to teammate Ty Cobb in franchise history, and well ahead of Sam Crawford in third. Bush stole at least 30 bases in eight different seasons, and swiped 35 or more bags in every year from 1909 to 1915.

Bush's career in Detroit ended abruptly. In 1921, the club was unimpressed with his performance -- though his .355 on-base percentage and .676 OPS that year were in line with his career numbers -- and waived him in August. He was picked up by the Washington Senators, where he spent the last two seasons of his career. After retirement, Bush served as the manager for four different clubs, making a World Series appearance with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1927.

After managing in the big leagues for seven years, he managed a few minor league clubs, including a Minneapolis Millers team with a young outfielder named Ted Williams. Bush later worked closely with the Indianapolis Indians as manager and then team president, and their stadium was renamed after Bush from 1967 to its closing in 2001.

Mr. Bush passed away on March 28th, 1972 at the age of 84.

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