Joseph Chester Fowler was known as Boob by some and Gink by others, but the nickname the Waco, Texas, native preferred was simply Chet. He was born on November 11, 1900, to a mother from Texas and a father from Georgia. Census records reveal little about his circumstances growing up, but the 1910 Census finds a Chester Fowler living in the home of blacksmith H.L. Hurd in Weatherford, Texas, with his older brother, Oscar, who was working as a laborer in a cotton gin. It’s possible the two had been orphaned; the 1920 census shows a 19-year-old Chester Fowler living in Parker County, Texas, at the Knights of Pythias Orphans Home. The only Joseph Chester Fowler listed was said to have been born on March 13, 1898, in Calhoun, Florida – an apparently unrelated man.
Chet grew up in Weatherford in Parker County, about 30 miles west of Fort Worth. It’s known as the Cutting Horse Capital of the World, and was also home to Mary Martin of South Pacific and Peter Pan fame. Weatherford was the birthplace of major leaguers Rip Collins and Hippo Vaughn. There Fowler attended the public schools for 12 years and went on to college at Texas Christian University.
Fowler was an infielder, playing shortstop primarily, though putting in some work at both second base and third base, too. He batted left and threw right, reporting his own weight at 190 and his height at an even 6 feet. Other reports have him an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter.
On December 1, 1921, the 21-year-old Fowler signed with the Cincinnati Reds and was assigned to their Newark Bears (International League) affiliate. He enjoyed 42 games there, hitting .240. He needed the work; he’d been deemed too green to join the big-league team in ’22. After just the one season in the minor leagues, and a lookover during spring training in 1923, manager Pat Moran promoted him to the big leagues. Fowler’s debut came at Redland Field on May 6, when he entered the game as a pinch-runner for Ivey Wingo and scored his first major-league run in an 8-7 win over the Pirates. It was his only appearance before he was released on May 22 to Oklahoma City, but he rejoined the Reds in time for a September 19 start and his first at-bat. He played shortstop, batted eighth, went 1-for-4, and again scored a run in another game the Reds won by one, a 6-5 win over the visiting Phillies.
In all, Fowler accumulated 33 major-league at-bats in 1923, hitting safely 11 times. (One triple and one home run were his only extra-base hits. The homer came as part of a four-RBI game, as the Reds beat the Giants, 6-3.) He drove in six runs that year.
In 1924 Fowler hit .333 again, also for the Reds, this time over the course of 129 at-bats in 59 games. He drove in nine more runs. It was a shorter tenure in 1925, just five at-bats in six games, but he singled and doubled, so he shows up as hitting .400. He left the team after the May 24 game, and spent most of the year with the Minneapolis Millers, where he appeared in 100 games, batting .314 with three home runs.
That fall the Boston Red Sox drafted Fowler from Minneapolis. As the team with the worst record in baseball in the season just past, Boston had the first pick and claimed Fowler. Chet appeared in two early-season games for manager Lee Fohl and the Red Sox in 1926, his final game being on May 5. He had one hit in eight at-bats, in back-to-back games on May 4 and 5, driving in one run. Two days later he moved back to the Millers, hitting .304 over 129 games. The Red Sox finished 46-107 that year.
The 1927 season saw Fowler with the Nashville Volunteers (Southern Association), where he hit .302 in Single-A ball. In both 1928 and 1928, Fowler played in Double-A, for the Montreal Royals (International League). He hit .328 and .300.
After the 1929 season Montreal assigned Fowler’s contract to Fort Worth, where he played in 1930 (.328) and 1931 (just .250, his first time under .300 since his brief first season).
In the fall of 1931 the Texas League cut player rosters from 18 to 17, and Fowler may have been the odd man out. The Cats were the best-fielding team in the league, but Fowler’s work at third base saw every tenth ball get the better of him; he is shown with a .901 fielding percentage. Only one player with 100 or more games had a lower percentage.
In 1932 Fowler was back in the International League, playing early in the season for the Reading Keys, who reconstituted themselves with a move to Albany, as the Senators on August 6 (Albany had lost its team, when the Eastern League disbanded on July 17). Fowler was gone by then, setting up shop with the Scranton Miners of the Class B New York-Pennsylvania League and hitting .323 in 114 games.
His final year as a player was in 1933, in the Dixie League, playing a new position – first base – with the Henderson (Texas) Oilers. He hit .309, but this was Class C ball.
Fowler then umpired for many years, starting in the East Dixie League, then moving up to the Texas League in 1936 – and possibly umpiring as late as 1952. On his Hall of Fame player questionnaire, he said his last year in professional baseball had been 1952.
In 1949 Fowler married Faye Dale. She was apparently his second wife, since the 1930 census finds him in Fort Worth, listed as a ballplayer and married to Fillis (perhaps Phyllis) Fowler. As of the time he completed the questionnaire – apparently, 1960 – he said he was working as a salesman for Transcon Lines, a Los Angeles-based trucking company.
Fowler died on October 8, 1988, missed by friends at the Treemont Retirement Community in Dallas, and leaving his nephew Warren Clark.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Fowler’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.