The first time Pete Gorton met Rich Oxley, Oxley told him not to say a word.
“Just watch,” Oxley said as he turned on a film projector at his house in White Bear Lake.
The grainy 39-second black-and-white film that followed showed a loose and limber fireballer hurling a fastball in 1925.
...Oxley realized he had a key piece of Donaldson’s story in his basement. Those 39 seconds of film - the only known reel ever shot of Donaldson - were carefully preserved in a dark-green metal film canister.
Oxley’s grandfather, W.T. Oxley, a professional photographer in Fergus Falls, Minn., in the early 1900s, shot the footage with a hand-cranked 16mm movie camera.
It is believed to have been shot during an Aug. 16, 1925, game at the Fergus Falls Fairgrounds. Donaldson pitched for the Bertha, Minn., semi-pro baseball team. Donaldson and the Bertha Fishermen beat the Battle Lake Rattlers 11-2. Donaldson had 18 strikeouts in the game; the film footage shows nine seconds of his pitching.
“Finding this film is the sports world’s equal to finding the Zapruder film,” Gorton said, referring to the reel of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. “It is cinema verite.”