Stewart Bowers was a right-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in the middle 1930s who compiled a winning record (though the record was simply 2-1) over the course of three seasons. In the last of the three seasons, his lone appearance was as a pinch-runner. (He scored.) He played in 105 minor-league games, with a good earned-run average but without a single winning team-season.
Stewart Cole Bowers Sr. was a medical doctor in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. On February 26, 1915, he and his wife, Jessie (Price) Bowers, welcomed Stewart Jr. to the world. Their first-born was Elizabeth. About four years later, Lucille and then Nannie joined the family as the youngest two. They had a servant, Annie Kline, at the time of the 1920 census.
Stewart went through the New Freedom public schools, and then on to Gettysburg College for two years.
On July 29, 1935, Red Sox manager Joe Cronin announced that the team had signed Bowers. He was only 20 years old and still at Gettysburg at the time, but had “long been sought by Connie Mack and Clark Griffith, but the Red Sox made him such an attractive offer that he turned down the others."1 He'd worked out for Mack at Shibe Park and Mack reportedly said he was "the best-looking prospect that's come into his park in years." This was during the Depression and Mack was having a difficult time financially, forced to sell off a fair number of his better players to other teams, often the Red Sox, who had more money, thanks to Tom Yawkey's fortune.
Bowers himself reported that he'd been signed to the Red Sox by Herb Pennock.2
Hall of Famer Eddie Plank had attended Gettysburg College. The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote that Bowers "is being watched as a second Eddie Plank" but added, "It is not because he has done anything worth mentioning, but due to the fact that he is a product of Gettysburg College, from which came the famous old Athletic pitcher."3
Bowers’s play had earned him a little publicity in the papers. Opening Day for the Gettysburg College Bullets pitted them against the US Naval Academy's nine in Annapolis on April 27, 1935. Doc Bowers struck out 15 midshipmen and hit a home run to boot.4
Bowers was still a sophomore when he signed with the Red Sox. He'd played two seasons of semipro ball in the York-Adams League in Pennsylvania and was the league's leading pitcher.5
Bowers joined the Sox and debuted on August 5, 1935, at Fenway Park against the visiting New York Yankees. It was a rain-shortened game that featured five Red Sox pitchers in five innings. Fritz Ostermueller started and went 3?, walking six and hitting a batter and giving up six runs (five earned). Part of the reason the Red Sox used so many pitchers was to stall and prolong the game, hoping it would get rained out before becoming a legal game. The score was 4-2 Yankees after three, and there was a 17-minute rain delay while the Yankees were still batting in the top of the fourth inning; play resumed and it was 8-2 after four full. With more rain threatening, both teams made it a farce in the fifth. The Yankees tried to make outs, and the Red Sox tried not to record outs. Bowers was brought on with two outs in the top of the fifth and immediately saw New York's Myril Hoag break for the plate. In no hurry to retire him, Bowers watched Hoag go down in history with an easy steal of home. Bowers gave up one hit but also got the out when George Selkirk, leisurely advancing around the bases, "simply had to be thrown out."6 Umpire George Moriarty had to step in and admonish both teams.
Bowers had an at-bat in the bottom of the fifth but struck out; one wonders, of course, how hard he tried to make contact. He started the sixth – it was now an official game – but another downpour ensued and field conditions prevented further play.
After another relief appearance on August 17 (one inning, two earned runs), Bowers collected his first decision, a win, on August 22 in relief in Detroit. He pitched two innings and gave up one run.
His first start was on September 14, in Boston against the St. Louis Browns. He walked eight batters and yielded eight hits, but the Browns left 12 men on base and only two runs scored. Bowers pitched 8? innings and earned the 5-2 win. Reliever Jack Wilson threw two pitches and got a double play to end the game. Bowers had earned himself a good clipping for any scrapbook he may have kept: "BOWERS PUTS RED SOX IN THIRD PLACE TIE."7
The Red Sox rookie was thinking things over, explained Gerry Moore of the Boston Globe: "Bowers has been undecided whether to choose baseball or medicine for his life's profession, but he showed enough stuff and courage yesterday to warrant remaining in baseball for a long time." The game was "real baptism under fire" and he "deserved every bit of the tumultuous ovation accorded him by the overcoat-clad gathering of 5000 when he walked from the mound in the ninth."8
He appeared in 10 games in 1935, throwing 23? innings. His record was 2-1, the loss coming in his last appearance, against the Yankees in New York on September 29, a 4-0 defeat (though only one of the four runs was earned). It was the last game of the year, and Bowers worked only four innings for the complete game, because New York held the lead after 4½ when the game was called due to darkness. He also pinch-ran in one game in 1935.
Unlike a number of players who seem to have been "assigned" nicknames years later, Bowers said, "They called me Doc." And the nickname was occasionally used in contemporary newspaper stories.
Bowers turned 21 as he headed south to train with the Red Sox at Sarasota, Florida, in the spring of 1936. He stuck with the team right through the City Series in Boston against the National League Boston Bees in April. He pitched very briefly on May 2 and May 8, and in an exhibition game against the Pirates on May 11, but spent most of the season optioned to the Syracuse Chiefs (International League). He didn't get in a lot of work, though, due to a sore arm. He threw just 46 innings in 14 games (2-4, with a 7.24 ERA – not what you want in Double-A ball). Bowers did pitch in a June 15 exhibition game for Syracuse against the Red Sox, before the affliction. He rejoined the Red Sox in mid-July, but saw no service before being sent back at the beginning of August.
Bowers pitched a scoreless inning for Boston on August 28 and twice more in September, for a total of five major-league appearances in 1936, with a 9.53 ERA in 5? innings pitched.
Once again Bowers trained with Boston in the springtime and traveled north with the ballclub, pitching in the City Series. Other than in an exhibition game in May against Hazelton, the only game action he saw with the Red Sox was on May 18, when he ran for Rube Walberg in the seventh inning of a game against the Indians. Was he a pretty good runner? He said, "Well, I could carry the mail, as they say."9 Running for Walberg he scored one of four runs in the inning. It was his last act in the major leagues, though crossing the plate with a run isn't a bad last act. On May 20 he was optioned to Minneapolis.
Bowers had a major-league career 4.60 ERA to go with his 2-1 record. He'd fielded eight chances, with one error (.875), while at the plate (a switch-hitter) he was 1-for-5, a single. He played minor-league ball through 1941. His minor-league batting average was .171. Bowers is shown as 6 feet tall and weighing 170 pounds.
In 1937 Minneapolis shipped Bowers to Rocky Mount, where he was 7-10 in the Class-B Piedmont League. In 1938 Bowers was 2-3 with Little Rock. "I had an infection, actually," he recalled in 2001, "and I wasn't able to pitch. They didn't know how long it was going to be, so I was released. I came back and signed up with Baltimore, in the International League. It was almost at the end of the year. I didn't do anything."10 On March 28, 1938, Bowers married Marian D. Kehr, and played that year for Williamsport and then Class-D Thomasville in Georgia. "My arm was not too good. They didn't really diagnose it," said the doctor's son. "It was in my shoulder. Then I went down to Thomasville, Georgia – to Class D. I wasn't throwing too well, but I had an 11-2 record down there."
In 1940 Bowers was with Thomasville (4-6) and Selma (4-5). His last year in Organized Baseball was 1941, during which he pitched for three teams – Selma (0-1), Jacksonville (0-1), and Quebec (5-7).
Bowers returned home to New Freedom. In March 1944 he enlisted in the US Army at Fort Meade, Maryland. That occasioned his last visit to Boston. "The last time I was in Boston was when I was being shipped overseas. I was at Fort Myles Standish [in Plymouth]. I had a pass so I went in to Boston, to the ballpark."
"I went into the service and was in the service for two years and then I came home and I went to work as a salesman for a local company. I was in sales for quite a few years."11 Bowers later became a golf pro at the Radnor Valley Country Club at Villanova, Pennsylvania.
Bowers also raised a family. "I have two boys," he said in the 2001 interview. "Stew the third. They called him Buck. Bucky. I was right-handed. He was lefty. The other son [Daniel] played for West Chester University, which is close by. He was taking an educational course and became a teacher. He played semipro ball. He's now assistant director of admissions at Widener University [in Chester, Pennsylvania]. He's been down there for 30 years."
Bucky Bowers pitched in the minors for five seasons, 1959-1963, in the Cubs and Pirates systems. He was 30-33, with a 4.24 ERA.
Bucky's son Stewart Cole Bowers III thought about baseball, too, and Stewart V did, too. Stewart IV said, "I got into freshman baseball. I was pretty good in high school but I kind of got into surfing instead. They called me a dope-smoking hippie and all that shit. I just went surfing. My son was a good left-handed pitcher for a while. Actually he got more into soccer. He lives up in Tennessee now with his mom but he's just another one in the same Bowers tradition. We're all good [but not quite good enough.]"12
The former Red Sox pitcher died on December 12, 2005, in Havertown, Pennsylvania. He is buried in the New Freedom Cemetery.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Bowers’ player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 "Sox Get Pitcher Bowers, Sought by A's and Nats," Boston Herald, July 30, 1935: 16.
2 Author interview with Stew Bowers, October 15, 2001 (Bowers interview).
3 Sam Otis, "Big Hank Plays No Favorites," Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 23, 1935: 17.
4 "Gettysburg Nips Navy, 6-3, in Diamond Upset," Richmond Times Dispatch, April 28, 1935: 16.
5 "Bowers Joins Red Sox," Christian Science Monitor, July 30, 1935: 4.
6 James P. Dawson, "Yanks Rout Red Sox, 10 to 2, Rain Halting Game in Sixth," New York Times, August 6, 1935: 21.
7 Boston Globe, September 15, 1935: A26.
9 Bowers interview.
10 Bowers interview.
11 Bowers interview.
12 Author interview with Stewart Bowers IV, October 15, 2001.