Born in County Cork, Ireland, Donovan joined the National League in 1890, the year the Players’ League incursion created a player shortage. He was with Louisville and Washington of the American Association in that major league’s final season, 1891. After a brief stint with Washington’s NL entry in 1892, he starred with the Pirates for eight seasons, notching six consecutive .300 seasons and serving as player-manager in 1897 and 1899.
Dealt to the Cardinals in 1900, Donovan was their player-manager in 1901-03. A good base stealer, his 45 swipes in 1900 led the NL, and he stole 518 bases lifetime. Being traded to Washington of the American League in 1904 gave him the distinction of playing for three Washington clubs in three major leagues. In 1906-08 he managed the Dodgers, appearing in eight contests in ’06 and ’07. His last years at the helm came with the 1910-11 Boston Red Sox. Donovan was never on a pennant winner, and his best managerial effort was the 1910 Red Sox’ 81 wins, good for fourth place.