After three years of acting in the production of "Stealing Home," Donlin returned to the National League for the 1911, '12 and '14 seasons. Indeed, baseball was his home.
"There are a legion of individuals in baseball who have tried to leave Major League Baseball but could not stay away," said John Thorn, MLB official historian. "In some cases, they misgauged their popularity. Donlin was an extremely popular vaudeville actor in part because he was a baseball star, and he misgauged his stature thinking people were coming to the theater for his singing talents. They were coming to see him because he was a ballplayer. Eventually he made a career in Hollywood, but he was a mediocre vaudeville performer.
"When players have retired from baseball, they do it for any number of reasons. And when the itch comes back, it is sometimes emotional and sometimes financial."
The Yankees announced on Friday that Andy Pettitte, one of the greatest postseason pitchers in MLB history, is coming out of retirement with a one-year Minor League contract. He joins a long list of players some great and some not-so-great, who just could not stay away.
In 1993, Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg became an All-Star for the 10th consecutive season. He struggled early in the next season, not an unusual slow start for him, but he decided to hang up the spikes that year.
"The reason I retired is simple: I lost the desire that got me ready to play on an everyday basis for so many years," Sandberg said in his book, "Second to Home." "Without it, I didn't think I could perform at the same level I had in the past, and I didn't want to play at a level less than what was expected of me by my teammates, coaches, ownership, and most of all, myself."
Of course, he was not the only marquee sports figure in the Chicago market that dealt with the retirement question in the '90s. Michael Jordan is arguably the most prominent case in U.S. sports history of a player coming out of retirement, leading the Bulls to the title before and after a retirement. So Sandberg had some obvious local evidence that it could work, and he returned to the Cubs for the 1996 and '97 seasons, going on to a Hall of Fame induction.
For the most similar example to what Pettitte is attempting, look no further than Dave Stieb. Just as Pettitte dominated the American League for the Yankees in the 1990s, Stieb had done the same for Toronto the previous decade, winning more games in the 1980s than any AL pitcher except Jack Morris.
A string of shoulder and back injuries early in the 1991 season stole Stieb's mastery, and during the course of Toronto's first title season in 1992 he was released -- ending his run of 14 seasons as a Blue Jays fixture. The club gave him a World Series ring, and he returned the following season with the White Sox.
After only four starts, Stieb was apparently done. He was gone from 1994-97, spending time at home with his wife and kids, and then came back at first just to throw batting practice at Spring Training. Then he was back at the age of 40 with the Blue Jays, appearing in 19 games and starting three.
"I'm taking it in more so than I did before," Stieb said during his brief comeback. "It's just fun to be playing again competitively. You take it for granted when you've been doing it for a while."
Consider Johnny Kling, who helped the Cubs to their last world championship in 1908. His NL career spanned from 1900-13, and you will notice that 1909 is empty. That's because he followed up that last Cubs title with a stint on the pro billiards circuit. Kling went from winning the World Series to the World's Pool Championship, playing semi-pro ball during that year as well. It was a big issue for the Cubs, who agreed to let him come back to baseball in early 1910, as long as he would pay a penalty of $700 for having not honored his '09 contract.
Today, Kling's line of billiards tables are still highly prized by collectors. For him, deciding on baseball and billiards was a matter of conflict that ultimately was won by baseball.
The irony of Pettitte's decision to unretire is that he was part of the story when Roger Clemens famously unretired after the 2003 World Series and then both joined Houston in 2004.
Early in 2003, Clemens announced that his retirement would be effective at season's end. He started against Florida during that 2003 World Series, and Marlins and Yankees players came out of the dugout to cheer him as he exited that game. But alas, Clemens came back, choosing to join his close friend and former teammate, Pettitte, on the Astros staff the following spring -- and leading them to the 2005 World Series.
No one ever came back more than Minnie Minoso. In 1976, after several years playing in Mexico, he returned to play three games with the White Sox. At age 50 he became the second-oldest player to get a hit in the Majors. Fast-forward to 1980, when he appeared in two more games for the White Sox, making it five stints with Chicago.
Minoso had received six Hall of Fame votes in 1969, so when he appeared in 1980, that made him the last player to come back after having received Cooperstown support. Until Jose Rijo, anyway. Rijo, who led the Reds to the 1990 World Series sweep, suffered a serious elbow injury in 1995. Comeback attempts failed, keeping him off the MLB mound for five consecutive seasons. He made an unexpected return to the game in 2001, relieving for the Reds, and thus becoming the first player since Minoso to play after getting Hall votes.
In 1995, Hideo Nomo exploited a loophole to get around the Japanese ban on retiring and then came out of his retirement to play for the Dodgers. He became the first Japanese-born Japanese Major leaguer to permanently relocate to MLB in the U.S., paving the road for subsequent MLB players from Japan.
Manny Ramirez just came out of retirement to join the Oakland A's for this Spring Training. If he makes the parent roster for Opening Day, he will begin the season by serving the 50-game suspension remaining for previously testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance banned by MLB.
And then there is Yogi Berra, who was hired as Yankees manager after his career ended in 1963. He was fired after they lost in seven games to the Cardinals in the 1964 World Series, but he made a brief return to the field in 1965 as a player-coach for the crosstown Mets -- playing in just four games. Berra would stay with the Mets as a coach for the next eight seasons, including their 1969 title run, and then managing them starting in 1972.
Midway through their World Series season of 1973, when the Mets were in last place but in a close NL East race, Berra was asked if the season was finished.
"It ain't over," he said, "till it's over."