SABR

Dave Dowling

This article was written by Rory Costello.

Caught up in the numbers and derailed by injuries, this promising southpaw appeared in just two games in the majors. “I didn’t get a cup of coffee,” he joked in 2010. “I got a demitasse!” Yet the bright and scholarly man had mapped out his direction. After his final pro season in 1968, he turned his hand to dentistry, which he had begun to study in 1967. Dave Dowling, DDS, became a practicing orthodontist in 1973.

David Barclay Dowling was born on August 23, 1942 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When he was very small, his mother, Regina Moffett, divorced Dave’s father (a man named Gill, the boy’s surname at birth). She remarried a man named Clarence “Tad” Dowling, a salesman whose family came from Washington state. The Dowlings moved northwest when Dave was about two years old. There were two other children in the family, an older brother named Robert and a sister named Molly. Their new home was Chehalis, about 80 miles southwest of Seattle.

Tad Dowling (who also owned and flew several small planes) had been a catcher in high school. He played catch with young Dave every day. “From when I was a little kid,” said Dowling in 2010, “his big thing was control. He started me off throwing from 30 feet and got me to hit the mitt, then he moved me back to 45 feet.” The lad displayed great ability in Little League, Babe Ruth, and American Legion ball.

At Chehalis High School, Dave was a three-sport star. In basketball, the sharpshooting forward led the Bearcats to the 1960 Class A state championship and was a unanimous choice for the state all-star team. In football, he was the quarterback and punter. “I enjoyed all the sports,” said Dowling, “but I was better at baseball.” Dave was also the student body president and an academic standout. In May 1960, the Centralia Chronicle wrote that he and two other young men had “already laid a foundation for success in future life. . .[with] almost identical scholastic and athletic records.” Reading and chess remained his hobbies off the field as a pro.

The New York Yankees had hoped to sign Dowling out of high school, as had the Red Sox, but he decided on college instead. Several schools recruited him, and he chose the University of California over Stanford, in part because Cal had won the NCAA basketball title in 1959. Dave played baseball and basketball for the freshman teams in 1961. That summer, he played for Lethbridge, Alberta in the independent Western Canada League. Several other future big-leaguers were there, including Tim Cullen and John Boccabella. Dowling recorded 18 strikeouts twice and 17 in another game.1

Dowling had a strong first season on the varsity with the University of California Golden Bears in 1962. He struck out 92 men in 57 innings. By that time he had focused on his primary sport. “Baseball season started in February and basketball didn’t end until mid-March. I stuck with baseball. The basketball players were also too good.”

One of his classmates and fellow hurlers at Berkeley, Larry Colton, described Dave in his 1993 book Goat Brothers as “a wacky lefthander. . .whose curveball fell off the earth.” Colton (who pitched one game for the 1968 Phillies) added that Dowling had already turned down a $25,000 bonus offer from St. Louis.2 The San Francisco Giants also made Dave an offer in September 1961, but he stayed in school. “I threw BP for the Tacoma Giants, and they offered X, but my dad said no -- if we don’t get this amount, close to six figures, we won’t sign.” Indeed, newspaper accounts show that by 1962, his value was reportedly $100,000.

The Western Canada League was no more in 1962, so instead Dowling played summer ball with a local semipro team in Washington, the Lewis County Pavers. He struck out 20 in one game against the Santa Maria Indians, a strong semipro squad from California. As a junior for the Golden Bears in 1963, though, “it was not a not a very good year. I spent a lot of time in different labs [his major was chemical engineering]. I was concerned about my grades.”

In the summer of 1963, Dave acted on a tip from a high-school friend who lived in Fairbanks. He went to play baseball with the Alaska Goldpanners.3 Since it began play in 1960, this team has sent nearly 200 men to the majors as of 2010 -- including such notables as Tom Seaver, Dave Winfield, and Barry Bonds. Dowling became the first alumnus on this long list -- and it wasn’t surprising, based on his performance (11-3, 217 strikeouts in 116 innings, and an ERA of 0.85). “It was a real good summer up there. Everything fell into place, I felt like I was in a groove.”

Although he’d already received much attention, Dowling got a bigger showcase when the Goldpanners went to Wichita, Kansas to play in the 1963 National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series. Dave won his first three games, and though he lost in the semifinals, he struck out 55 in 32 innings while allowing just 10 hits and two earned runs. The NBC honored him as “Sandlotter of the Year.”4

A little over a week later, Cardinals scout Bill Sayles, a former Boston Red Sox pitcher, signed Dowling and Nelson Briles of Santa Clara University “for what a club spokesman termed a sizable bonus.”5 “I was offered some pretty good money, and this time I decided to take it. St. Louis also offered to help pay my tuition. I wanted to continue with school because I’d left after my junior year.”

When Dowling and the other minor leaguers reported to camp in the spring of 1964, they found that Eddie Stanky, the director of player development, also sought to build their character. “Everybody had to go to church with Eddie Stanky!” Dave recalled.

Dowling started the 1964 season with the Cards’ Double-A club, Tulsa. He was 7-1, 2.59 in 14 games for the Oilers, starting 13 times and displaying “unusual poise and polish as well as good stuff.” Clyde King, then a pitching coach in the St. Louis farm system, called him “the finest prospect I’ve seen in 21 years of baseball.” King was impressed with the young pitcher’s use of a change-up to complement his fastball and curve.6 Dowling said of King in 2010, “He could really build you up, give you confidence. I really liked him.”

Dave himself offered various insights in the same Sporting News feature that quoted King. He reaffirmed his decision to get higher education, saying that he didn’t think he’d have been any further along if he had signed out of high school. He found the difference between semipro and Organized Baseball to be “the business-like attitude. . .there just isn’t any margin for error.” He also described retiring the great Al Kaline on a 3-1 curveball in an exhibition game between the Cardinals and Tigers at Detroit on June 1.7

Dowling won promotion to Triple-A Jacksonville on June 24. At the higher level of play, he was 3-3, 4.69 in 15 games (12 starts). “Harry Walker was the manager. He wasn’t a big person for rookies, and I was one of the youngest guys there. One time I made a mistake and gave up a homer to Jake Gibbs, a lefty batter, and you should have heard the expletives coming out of the dugout!” Dave also remembered veteran Joe Morgan, the future Red Sox manager, swearing a blue streak. “He was getting dunning letters meant for the other Joe Morgan, the one who’s a broadcaster now.”

On August 10, with the Cardinals in fifth place, 7 1/2 games out, Branch Rickey issued his so-called “Memo of Surrender.” If it had carried any weight, Dave might have been called up as part of a sweeping change.8 Instead, the Cards stood pat and went 34-17 the rest of the way. Dowling pitched the game that clinched the International League pennant for the Jacksonville Suns.

On September 19, the Cardinals brought up Dave along with another lefty who became a 300-game winner in the majors: Steve Carlton. Carlton would not make his big-league debut until the following April -- but Dave did appear in the second-to-last game of the season on October 3. The Mets were ahead 15-5 when the rookie replaced Ray Washburn for the top of the ninth inning. He got the first two outs and retired the side after Joe Christopher and Jim Hickman singled.

Dave recalled, “I was throwing batting practice every day. I looked at Steve Carlton and said, ‘Who’s it going to be?’ Howie Pollet, the pitching coach, said, ‘Dowling, get loose.’ It was a Saturday Game of the Week, so my folks were watching back in Washington.” If Dave hadn’t been able to finish the mop-up job, Carlton was next. In 1968 (he was still talking to the media then), Steve recalled, “I was the last man left in the bullpen and I couldn’t even see Dave Ricketts, who was warming me up, because I was so nervous.”9

Dowling added his recollection of Carlton. “He was a really introspective guy. He was ambidextrous and could throw nearly as well right-handed. He was also one whale of a pool player. Be careful of guys who have their own cue!”

Shortly after the Cards won the ’64 World Series, Dave came in for praise from Sheldon “Chief” Bender, director of player development. “For a first-year pitcher, Dowling showed extreme poise and pitching know-how. He could help the Cardinals next year. He has a good curve, which he can get over the plate when he is behind. His fast ball is good enough. If his control continues to get better, he’s got a good chance.”10

Dowling started the 1965 season with the Cardinals but did not get into a game. On May 11, facing the requirement to cut the big-league roster down from 28 men to 25, St. Louis waived him. The Cubs claimed him for $8,000. Under a rule then in effect, “Dowling was a first-year player who could not be farmed out without asking waivers which, in this case, were irrevocable.”11 St. Louis chose among Carlton, Briles, and Dowling -- and Dave was odd man out. In 1968, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said, “Dowling actually was further ahead at the time because he knew more about pitching and his control was better than Carlton’s. But we felt that Carlton could throw harder and could become consistent with his fast ball.”12

Dowling played in the Texas League in 1965, going 14-7 with a 2.77 ERA for the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs. He went to the Triple-A Tacoma Cubs in the Pacific Coast League in 1966. His record (10-8 with a 3.42 ERA) was deceptive; Dave said, “That was a last-place club, and there were at least three blown saves. I was a second-team All-Star.”

Dowling pitched just one more game in the majors, a complete game for the Cubs on September 22, 1966, a little short of two years after his debut. He pitched well, beating Cincinnati 7-2 at Wrigley Field. His lifetime marks remained at 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA, though. Earlier that summer, while serving two weeks in the Army Reserves, he had hurt his shoulder in a freak accident while moving wall lockers upstairs. Dave’s torn rotator cuff led him to retire a couple of years later, after he had been traded back to the Cardinals organization. In 2010, he joked, “I threw my hardest, and the umpire called me for delay of game.”

Inspired and encouraged by NFL quarterback Gary Cuozzo, who also went to dental school during his playing career, Dave had already begun his transition. After earning his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Tennessee in 1971, he then got his masters in orthodontics from Northwestern University in 1973. For over 20 years, he practiced in Longview, Washington, on the border with Oregon between Chehalis and Portland.

Dowling and his wife Linda (née Summers) were married on December 12, 1970. They raised three daughters: Jennifer, Rebecca, and Mollie. All became successful professionals, but Rebecca inherited the family’s aeronautic gene, becoming the Navy’s first female Top Gun pilot.

In 1996, Dave and Linda moved to Arizona. Over the next decade, he established and sold group practices in the Tucson and Phoenix areas. The Dowlings then moved again, to Manteca, California. “I took about two years off, but I got really bored. I went back to work. I enjoy working with kids, watching them flower.”

For a while during the ’70s, Dave gave a hand to the pitching coach at Lower Columbia College (located in Longview). “Bud Black went to school there for a couple of years.” He also coached some girls’ fast-pitch softball as his daughters were growing up. Dowling remains a baseball fan today; his background in chess and on the mound show through. “The mental aspect, trying to outguess the managers -- that’s the part of the game I really enjoy.”

 

Author's note

Grateful acknowledgment to Dave Dowling for his memories (telephone interview, July 18, 2010).

This biography is included in the book "Drama and Pride in the Gateway City: The 1964 St. Louis Cardinals" (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), edited by John Harry Stahl and Bill Nowlin. For more information, or to purchase the book from University of Nebraska Press, click here.

 

Sources

www.newspaperarchive.com (in particular, the Centralia Chronicle)

www.retrosheet.org

www.baseball-reference.com

www.goldpanners.com

www.virtualwall.org (Bob Dowling memorial)

 

Notes

1 Mah, Jay-Dell. Western Canada Baseball website, 1961 season recap (http://www.attheplate.com/wcbl/1961_1.htm)

2 Colton, Larry. Goat Brothers. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1993: 9.

3 Martin, Danny. “Road to the Majors Before They Became Big-Leaguers.” Anchorage Daily News, July 11, 1993: K18.

4 “Cardinal Prospect Picked as Sandlot Star of Year.” The Sporting News, December 28, 1963: 18.

5 “Cards Sign UCLA [sic] Hurler.” Los Angeles Times, September 13, 1963: B4.

6 Ferguson, John. “Dowling, Cal Chemistry Student, Concocts Heady Victory Potion.” The Sporting News, July 4, 1964: 35.

7 Ibid.

8 Polner, Murray. Branch Rickey: A Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2007: 247.

9 Russo, Neal. “‘Here Comes the Judge,’ Redbirds Hum When Steve Raps for Order.” The Sporting News, June 15, 1968: 9.

10 Russo, Neal. “Redbirds Mine Pair of Hill Nuggets in Dowling, Briles.” The Sporting News, October 24, 1964: 6.

11 “Big Leaguers Sit Around, Dread News.” Associated Press, May 11, 1965.

12 Russo, “‘Here Comes the Judge,’ Redbirds Hum When Steve Raps for Order”

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