While researching the June 20 “This Day in Reds’ History” post, I came across the interesting story of Reds’ pitcher Art Fowler. I remember Art Fowler from my youth. He was Billy Martin’s pitching coach, Martin taking with him to several different major league stops. From baseball-reference.com’s bullpen section:
“Fowler later was a major league coach, primarily on the staff of his close friend, manager Billy Martin. He was a Los Angeles Angels coach in 1964 and a member of the Minnesota Twins staff in 1969. He then had stints with the Detroit Tigers from 1971 to 1973 and the Texas Rangers from 1973 to 1975. He became the New York Yankees pitching coach in 1977 and remained with the team through 1979. He followed Martin to the Oakland Athletics from 1980 to 1982. He returned to the Yankees as pitching coach in 1983 and again in 1988.”
However, I didn’t realize Fowler’s story and was unaware of his career with the Reds. Fowler joined the Reds in 1954 as a 31-year-old rookie. Not too many 31-year-old rookies are successful, but Fowler began a nine year major league career at that point in his life.
Fowler had been signed as an amateur free agent at age 21 by the New York Giants back in 1944. Fowler had almost instant success, posting a 13-6 record with a 2.77 ERA in Class D ball before exploding onto the radar with a 23-6 record with a 2.53 ERA in Class C in 1945. He was promoted all the way to AAA for 1946, but his career stalled when he went 4-8 with a 5.57 ERA. He was sent back to Class A for 1947 and didn’t really impress anyone, going 11-14 with a 3.60 ERA. He dominated Class A as a 25 year old in 1948, as most 25 year olds should; Fowler was 19-10 with a 3.44 ERA.
Fowler then found himself in the Braves’ organization. He won 19 games in his second year of AA, at age 27, but once again, found no success at the AAA level (4-7, 5.31 at at age 28). He eventually landed in the Redlegs’ farm system.
The Redlegs of the early 1950’s were pretty much a dismal team. After winning the 1940 World Series, the Reds began to fade. They remained in the first division through 1944, but from 1945 through 1955, they finished no higher than fifth out of eight teams, and finished sixth or seventh in eight of those 11 seasons. It’s teams like the early 1950’s Redlegs that give 31-year-old career minor leaguers their chance at big league careers.
Fowler made the most of his opportunity. He made the team out of spring training and began the season in the bullpen. He made his debut in the Redlegs’ third game of the season, pitching two innings of no-run baseball against his old organization, the Milwaukee Braves. He made two more relief appearances before getting his first major league start during the second game of a double header on April 25 versus the Chicago Cubs. Fowler responded with a complete game victory, allowing four hits and two runs, walking four and striking out five in a 3-2 Redleg victory. The win allowed the Redlegs to stay within one-half game of first place.
Fowler earned a spot in the rotation and kept that spot for the three seasons. He never lead the league in any category, but gave the Reds three solid years as a regular rotation member. He went 12-10 with a 3.83 ERA his rookie season, following up with 11-10 and a 3.90 and then 11-11 with a 4.05 ERA in 1956.
Losing effectiveness in 1957, Fowler was relegated to the bullpen (3-0, 6.47 ERA) and the Redlegs sent him to the minors for 1958, trading him to the Dodgers in mid-season in the deal that netted Don Newcombe for the Redlegs’ pitching staff. Fowler pitched five more big league seasons, all in relief, for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels, with his last major league season coming in 1964 at the age of 41.
Fowler’s nine year major league career record was 54-51 with a 4.03 ERA. He pitched off and on in the minors through age 47 in 1970. Fowler won more than 200 minor league games; his minor league record was 205-137 with an estimted 3.39 ERA (some years have incomplete information). He hurled nearly 3000 minor league innings pitched.
Fowler has another claim to fame. His older brother, Jesse Fowler, pitched for the 1924 St. Louis Cardinals. The Fowler brothers hold the record for greatest gap of major league debuts by brothers–29 years in this case. Their closest competitors are brothers who debuted 23 years apart. There are two sets tied for second: Gus Williams (pitched for the Brooklyn Gladiators in 1890) and Harry Williams (1st base for the New York Yankees in 1913); and John Paciorek (outfielder for the Houston Colt .45s in 1963) and Jim Paciorek (IF-OF for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987). The Pacioreks had another brother to play in the majors with greater success, Tom Paciorek, an outfielder who debuted with the Dodgers in 1970.