SABR

Bill Clowers

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Johnny Clowers’ arrival in Boston in 1926 was heralded by a few sentences in the Boston Globe: “A new southpaw pitcher will be seen at Fenway Park Monday in the person of P.W. Clowers from the Ardmore, Okla., club. Clowers has been cutting quite a swath in the minors, winning 17 games, while losing only two contests.  This season is the lad’s first in organized ball, having signed with Ardmore this year, after dazzling ’em in the independent ranks. He comes highly recommended by George Whiteman, hero of the 1918 world’s series, who is managing Ardmore this season.”[1]

SABR’s Minor League database reflects a 14-7 record with Ardmore and a 2.99 earned-run average, which led the Class C Western Association. Clowers hit .176 in 85 at-bats. The timing of his purchase was interesting; the Ardmore Boomers moved the franchise to Joplin, Missouri, on July 14 and played their first home game as the Joplin Ozarks on July 22 – the day of Clowers’ final appearance in the major leagues.

His initials were transposed in the newspaper; this lefty was William Perry Clowers, born in San Marcos, Texas, on August 14, 1898, to William P. and Virginia E. (Walker) Clowers. Bill grew up north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, in Denison, Texas, where he attended elementary school and graduated from high school. Most sources render his name as Bill Clowers, but he was known as Johnny, perhaps to distinguish him from his father. The nickname Johnny was one he himself reported on his National Baseball Hall of Fame questionnaire.

Clowers was a married man by the time he signed with the Boomers, having gotten hitched to Cleo Pat Byrum on July 16, 1923. The couple never had children. Before going pro, he’d done some work around Denison. His draft registration form had him doing millwork.

Clowers was 5-feet-11 in height, with a playing weight of 175 pounds. Manager Whiteman’s recommendation got him to the Boston Red Sox, a team desperately in need of any help it could get.  The winningest pitcher on the 1926 team was Ted Wingfield, with 11 wins. Otherwise, only Hal Wiltse had more than six wins. Readers of the July 10 Globe could glance at the standings and see the Red Sox already 28 games out of first place with a 23-55 record. (The team finished 44½ games behind the first-place Yankees.)

On July 20 the Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox played the last of a four-game series at Fenway Park. Boston had won the first two games, but the 5-4 loss the day before had put an end to their longest winning streak of the season to date (three games). Starting for the Red Sox was Red Ruffing, a future Hall of Famer but with a record of 3-8 going into this game. He didn’t last long, giving up two runs in the first inning and five more runs in the top of the second, before manager Lee Fohl gave him the hook. Seven runs (five earned) in 1 2/3 innings. Del Lundgren relieved Ruffing and he was maybe even a little worse; Del gave up six runs in his 1 2/3 innings but all six were earned. In came Clowers, who faced three batters and got two of them out. The single he permitted plated two inherited runners. Jack Russell pitched the last five innings without letting in a run. Final score, 13-2. And Ruffing was 3-9.

The very next day, with the St. Louis Browns in town, there was another blowout. Starting for the Red Sox was Paul Zahniser and he already had a 3-8 record (soon to become 3-9, as he surrendered five earned runs in the first five innings. Tony Welzer gave up five more runs in the next three innings. By the time the ninth inning began, St. Louis held a 10-1 lead. Clowers came into the game, and allowed one more hit (as well as throwing a wild pitch).

It wasn’t as though the cellar-dwelling Red Sox were overloaded with pitching talent, but despite his 0.00 ERA, Clowers never appeared in another major-league game and was sold to the Mobile Bears on August 9. Clowers never appeared for the Bears, but played the next four seasons for Pensacola (the Pilots in 1927 and the Flyers from 1928 through 1930). Pensacola was in the Class B Southeastern League, and Clowers pretty much picked up where he’d left off with Ardmore: He was 18-12 his first season (his 172 strikeouts led the league) and 19-12 in 1928. Pensacola won the pennant in 1928

Something happened in 1929 – we’re not sure what – and Clowers spent some of the season in South Carolina with the Greenville Spinners in the South Atlantic League (he was 3-5) and was 6-12 with Pensacola, though with a good 3.02 ERA. The team that had won the title in 1928 finished dead last in 1929, one of the reasons Clowers was tagged with so many losses. In 1930 he was exclusively with Pensacola and had a 9-19 record and an elevated 4.46 ERA. Pensacola finished last again.

SABR’s database shows a John Clowers pitching in the Piedmont League (Class C) in 1931. We believe it to be the same man. He started the year with the Asheville Tourists and finished with the High Point Pointers. Clowers was 9-9 in 168 innings of work. And in 1932, a Clowers lacking a first name pitched for the Wilmington Pirates, a third Piedmont League team. Wilmington was a Red Sox affiliate hat year. He threw only 11 innings and ended up 0-1.

After baseball, Clowers operated a station that was involved with the flow of oil and gas into pipe lines and storage. He had retired by the time of his death on January 13, 1978, at the age of 79 in Sweeny, Texas.

Sources

In addition to the sources cited within this biography, the author consulted the subject’s player file and questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball.




[1] Boston Globe, July 10, 1926

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