Donley, Franklin (2001)
Robert F. Kennedy once said: “The greatest use of life is to live it for something that will outlast you.” Frank Donley’s life gives breath to that RFK belief.
Franklin R. Donley, who had a try-out for the 1946 "Gas House Gang" St. Louis Cardinals, is a man whose name, upon mention always attracts from followers the words "He had such a great impact on my life." Although Frank was not born in Maine, playing his childhood baseball instead as a farm boy in Iowa, he had the good sense to relocate here as a military man in 1960.
Frank served in the Army and later in the Air Force. He played baseball in both branches of the service, according to his son, Charles. Although he is still recalled in service ball for a season in which he was the only player on the team not to strike out all during the entire campaign, it was probably as an umpire, youth baseball coach and American Legion baseball official that he is best remembered.
Donley was an umpire in the late 1950's in the Gulf Coast League in Florida. A member of the Air Force, he was transferred to Maine in 1960. He soon began umpiring games at Bowdoin College and caught the eye of Danny McFayden. With McFayden's endorsement, Donley soon began umpiring many college and semi-pro games in Maine.
It was after this period in history, however, when he had long ago set aside the catcher shin guards, and umpire's face mask, that he made his true mark on Maine baseball.
Frank Donley became a coach and a pioneer for youth baseball.
In 1963, he helped organize the first Little League baseball team at Topsham Air Force Base in Maine, according to his son. In 1965, Frank retired from the Air Force thus freeing himself up to pursue his passionate hobby of baseball. Along the way, he owned and operated Donley Driving School for more than twenty years, teaching some of the same boys about how to parallel park and safely make it through an intersection. In the 1960's, Frank coached three years in the Brunswick Babe Ruth League, winning the championship 1n 1969.
An All Star team he managed that same year won the district championship, according to son Charles.
Early in the decade of the 1970's, Frank found a problem in the Brunswick-Topsham area and he fixed it: There was no American Legion baseball team. Thus, Frank encouraged local kids to join the Lisbon American Legion team, which consisted of players from Lisbon Falls, Brunswick and Topsham. Soon, however, he decided for a more toca! flavor, and enlisted the support of Topsham Post 202 to form a team in 1972. The team was just below .500 that first year but grew into a Zone champion in 1974, 1975 and 1976. Each year, they became a force in the State American Legion play-offs at Togus, finishing 3rd, 2nd and 4th in that three year period.
Following the lead of former-catcher-turned-executive Branch Rickey, Frank kicked himself upstairs in 1979. He became the American Legion Baseball Commissioner for the state of Maine, replacing Sid Schwartz. During his tenure, he increased the number of teams participating statewide and increased the State Championship held at Togus from 4 to 8. “He always said he should get more kids that playoff experience at the State level, his son Charles recalled.
James D. Levesque is a former player of Frank Donley's, and is currently a financial analyst at Bath Iron Works in Bath. He recalls his fortunate years on the roster of a Frank Donley team.
"I played for Frank during my Babe Ruth and American Legion days in the Brunswick/Topsham area Frank had an amazing dedication to the sport of baseball, and more importantly, to kids who wanted to play the game." Levesque remembers Frank's enthusiasm for the game and his positive encouragement of the players.
"When I was on the mound," Levesque said, "I can still hear his words from the sidelines, ‘Bow your back son; Bow your back.’ That was very encouraging to It’s easy to remember the championship games, and the coaches who won every year. Levesque, however, says ‘that a Donley-coached team took lessons from every setting.” Another friend, Gil Ormsby of Harpswell, has kept in touch with Frank and gives him the moniker that many people apply to him. “Frank lives in Springhill, Florida but around here his name is still mentioned as Mr. Baseball,’ Ormsby said.
Another friend, Dana Houston, echoes the words of Robert F Kennedy 1n remembering Frank Donley.
"Though the years have passed quickly, I have found myself coaching at the Babe Ruth and American Legion level. Frank Donley instilled in my life the true meaning for the love of the game of baseball. I hope in some way I have passed this on to the players I have been lucky enough to coach, Houston said. "To me a person elected to the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame is someone who has shown sportsmanship, integrity, longevity and dedication for the love of baseball to his players, community and state. Frank fits all those categories. He will make a wonderful addition to the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.”