Right-handed pitcher Bob Trowbridge was one of those players who came into the majors with amazing potential, but, for a variety of reasons, was never able to capitalize on it. After he was signed by the Boston Braves in 1950, he played only one season in the minors before he had to enter the military. While his record at Nellis Air Force Base was amazing, he missed out on three years of big-league competition and skillful coaching. When he finally joined the Braves (by then relocated to Milwaukee) in April 1956, he was part of a high-powered staff that featured Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, and Bob Buhl, and was used mostly in relief. So although he signed straight out of high school, and appeared in a World Series only seven seasons later, his career was far from outstanding.
Robert “Bob” Trowbridge was born in Hudson, New York, on June 27, 1930. His parents were William (a foreman at a match company, according to the 1940 US Census, most probably Universal Match) and Julia (a machine operator in a sweater mill). He had an older brother, William, 21 at the time of the census and a finisher in a cloth factory.
Trowbridge played high-school baseball, and averaged 15 strikeouts per game. He was soon attracting major-league scouts. Early on, a scout for the New York Giants took him to the Polo Grounds for a tryout. Afterward, the scout tried to persuade him to play Class D baseball, but Bob declined the offer. Trowbridge was also being pursued by scouts from the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boston Red Sox, and the Cleveland Indians, but it was Dewey Griggs, a veteran scout for the Boston Braves, who eventually signed him as a free agent in 1950.
Trowbridge was assigned to the Eau Claire Bears of the Class C Northern League, where he appeared in 36 games, half of which he started. He compiled a record of 16-8 and a 2.97 earned-run average. He spent the next three years in the military, and pitched for the team at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevbada. There he compiled a three-year record of 60-6 and struck out more than 1,200 batters. Trowbridge refused to kid himself about all those strikeouts, however. In 1955 he told the Toledo Blade that “they were mostly against pickups and high school players. … They don’t really count.”
In 1954, his first year out of the military, Trowbridge did go to spring training with the Braves. Although he “gave Braves’ officials quite an eyeful,” he did not have a wide enough variety of pitches. He was sent to the minors and pitched in 32 games for the Jacksonville Braves of the Class A South Atlantic League and two games for the Atlanta Crackers of the Double-A Southern Association. Trowbridge struck out 195 batters for Jacksonville and pitched the Braves to the championship in the last game of the season, giving up only five hits and striking out 13. His combined record with the Braves and the Crackers was 18-9, with a 2.90 ERA. In late September, the Braves, who had moved to Milwaukee, got the rights to Trowbridge, Paul Cave, and Bob Giggie, from the Crackers in exchange for catcher Bill Casey.
By January 20, 1955, Trowbridge and Bobby Buhl had signed their contracts. Fans were beginning to learn more about the rookie right-hander. During the offseason he enjoyed bowling, and had an average of around 175. He had cut down on this hobby, however, lest he injure his pitching arm. He was also planning to marry his high-school sweetheart, secretary Frances Leck, in May. Trowbridge was at spring training with the Braves in 1955, and was described as a “rookie fireball pitcher.” He had worked on his curve while he was in the minors, and had planned to play winter ball in Puerto Rico, but quickly developed a sore arm and returned home. According to sportswriter Lou Chapman, this sore arm turned out to be a “blessing in disguise,” because it limited Trowbridge’s ability to throw the fastball and gave him a chance to perfect his curve and learn to pitch a slider from Braves pitching coach Bucky Walters.
Trowbridge spent most of the 1955 season with the Toledo Sox of the Triple-A American Association. On May 27 he pitched a one-hitter, and the Toledo Blade called him “one of the Milwaukee Braves’ most valuable minor league pitchers,” adding, “Bob has one of the fanciest strikeout marks in the minors.” Although, as mentioned before, Trowbridge discounted his many strikeouts while he was in the service, the Blade declared, “He’s chalking up some that do count in his first Triple-A season. He had 10 more last night for a total of 52 in 58 innings. In his last 18 innings he has been hit for only five singles.” On July 28 he pitched a two-hitter against Omaha.  He pitched 182 innings in 28 starts and one relief appearance for Toledo that year, had a record of 13-8 and an ERA of 3.66, and struck out 135. In late September the Braves sent four players to the minors and called up Trowbridge and Carleton Willey “to bolster their shaken mound staff.
In 1956 Trowbridge was back at spring training once again. According to sportswriter Bob Wolf, he had been transformed from a thrower to a pitcher largely because of the influence of two men and his own determination to be a major-league ball player: “Whitlow Wyatt, who managed Trowbridge briefly at Atlanta two years ago and now is a Philadelphia Philly coach, was one. Charlie Root, coach at Toledo last season and of the Braves now, was the other. ‘Wyatt discovered that I wasn’t even holding the ball right,’ Trowbridge recalled Tuesday. ‘When I got that corrected he started teaching me how to throw a slider … didn’t use it much until last year at Toledo. Now it’s my best clutch pitch, especially against left handers.’” Root “‘found that I was standing on the mound wrong,’ Trowbridge said. ‘He told me to point my right foot straight ahead instead of off to the right. That helped my control a lot.’” Trowbridge felt that he had lost a little speed in order to pick up his new control, but Wolf still felt he was “faster than most of the pitchers around. … If Trowbridge fails to stick this time it probably will be because of the heavy traffic on the Braves’ well stocked pitching staff.” With a staff that sported Spahn, Burdette, and Buhl, it was an uphill battle for sure.
Trowbridge appeared in his first major-league game on April 22, 1956. He came in during the seventh inning of a losing effort against St. Louis. He gave up a run-scoring single and struck out one in the seventh, held the Cardinals hitless and got one strikeout in the eighth, and then was taken out for a pinch-hitter in the ninth. By mid-May the Braves had optioned him to Wichita subject to a 24-hour recall. He pitched in eight games for Wichita, compiling a record of 3-3. The Braves recalled him in mid-June, but because of their already heavy pitching staff, they switched him from a starter to a long reliever. Although he was hit just below the elbow by a line drive hit by Lee Walls of the Pirates in mid-July, he recovered in time to pitch a one-hit shutout in a 3-0 exhibition victory over the International League all-star team in Toronto a week later.
On August 4 Trowbridge picked up his first major-league win with 4½ innings of relief in Pittsburgh. Four days later he pitched his first complete game, giving up six hits and striking out eight in a 10-1 victory over the Cardinals. He ended the season having appeared in 19 games, only four of which he started. His record was 3-2, he had an ERA of 2.66, and he struck out 40 in 50⅔ innings.
Trowbridge started the 1957 season with the Braves, but after having pitched only three innings, in mid-May he was once again optioned to Wichita on a 24-hour recall basis. He appeared in three games for Wichita, and had a record of 2-0. By June 1 he was back in Milwaukee. Trowbridge started on June 9 and emerged with a victory in game one of a doubleheader against the Pirates, pitching ten of 11 innings during the contest. According to the United Press, the doubleheader split “proved a couple of things about the Braves’ pitching staff: Bob Trowbridge looks like he can hold his own in the majors, but maybe Juan Pizarro is overmatched.” (Ironically, Pizarro, who started and lost the second game, eventually ended up with 13 more major-league seasons than Trowbridge.) Trowbridge himself said that his stint in Wichita was “a blessing in disguise. … I got some steady work down there and it helped my control a lot. That was just about what I needed.”
Trowbridge seemed to hit his stride during the last month of the season. On September 2, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs, he pitched a three-hit shutout. In his first major-league shutout, and his first victory since July 29, he struck out nine and did not allow a runner to reach third base. Ten days later, in a victory over the Dodgers, Trowbridge took over from Bob Buhl in the fourth inning and allowed only four hits in the next 5½ innings. On September 17 he pitched a five-hitter against New York; he had allowed only five earned runs during the previous 35 innings he’d pitched. The Braves clinched the NL pennant on September 23.
Trowbridge appeared in 32 games (126 innings) during the season, and had 16 starts. His record was 7-5, his ERA was 3.64, and he struck out 75. With a fielding percentage of 1.000, Trowbridge tied ten other National League hurlers for tops in that defensive category. Trowbridge appeared once during the 1957 World Series, but had a disastrous outing. He entered in the top of the seventh inning of the third game with New York leading 7-3, and gave up two hits (including a home run), three walks, and five earned runs. While the Braves lost that game, they went on to take the series from the Yankees in seven games.
By mid-October Trowbridge, Hank Aaron, and Braves equipment manager Joe Taylor had signed on as sports promotion representatives for a Milwaukee brewery. Trowbridge was slated to travel throughout the country giving talks about baseball. During one of these talks, at the Troy, New York, Kiwanis Club Ladies’ Night, Trowbridge, perhaps sensing that his own career was winding down, combined baseball chatter with more serious advice to the parents in attendance. He told them that “young men looking forward to a professional sports career ‘should pursue an education first. This sequence,’ Mr. Trowbridge said, ‘would give the young man an occupational background to fit him for his life after 35, at which time, most sports figures have reached the end of their careers.’”
In 1958 Trowbridge worked mainly out of the bullpen. On July 9 he struck out seven in 4⅔ innings against the Dodgers. He also gave up five hits, a walk, and three runs, and the Braves lost, 10-3. On August 3 he pitched seven innings of no-hit relief in a 4-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants. With Milwaukee already down 3-0, Trowbridge took over from starter Gene Conley in the third inning with two men on base and no outs. He got Orlando Cepeda to pop out, after which Daryl Spencer hit into a double play. After that, the only two Giant baserunners were on a walk and an error. Trowbridge appeared in 27 games that season, starting four of them. His record was 1-3, his ERA 3.93, and he struck out 31 batters in 55 innings. Milwaukee won the pennant again in 1958, but Trowbridge did not appear during the World Series loss to New York.
Trowbridge’s career was on the decline. He appeared in 16 games for the Braves in 1959, none of which were starts. His record was 1-0, and his ERA 5.93. He struck out 22 batters in 30⅓ innings. His last appearance for Milwaukee came on August 18. After the season, on October 12, Milwaukee sold him to the Kansas City Athletics. The Athletics, by all accounts, were happy to have Trowbridge, praising his fastball and curve, and stating that he had never been “given the opportunity to show his stuff with the Braves.” He appeared in 22 games for the A’s in 1960, only one of which was a start. His record was 1-3, and his ERA 4.61. He had the fewest strikeouts of his professional career, 33 in 68⅓ innings pitched. He appeared in his final major-league game on July 24, 1960, and was then sent to the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers of the American Association to make room for Don Larsen. With the Rangers Trowbridge appeared in nine games, compiling a record of 0-5 and an ERA of 4.78. Over the course of his major-league career, he appeared in 116 games, 25 of which were starts. His record was 13-13, and his ERA was 3.95.
Trowbridge spent the 1961 season with the Rochester Red Wings and the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League. In nine games he had neither wins nor losses with an ERA of 4.50. Amazingly, he batted 1.000 that year, albeit in only two trips to the plate. That season proved to be the end of Trowbridge’s minor-league career. He appeared in 128 games in the minors, 80 of which he started. He won 52 games and lost 33 and an ERA of 3.29. He returned to Hudson, where he eventually began work at the Hudson Correctional Facility. There he and his wife raised three daughters and a son. When, at the age of 49, he died of a blood clot in his heart on April 3, 1980, he was survived by his children, his wife, Frances, his mother, and his brother William. He is buried in the Cedar Park Cemetery in Hudson. His wife died in 2007. In 2011 Bob Trowbridge was named to the inaugural class at the Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame in Albany.
This biography is included in the book Thar’s Joy in Braveland! The 1957 Milwaukee Braves (SABR, 2014), edited by Gregory H. Wolf.
To download the free e-book or purchase the paperback edition, click here.
Ancestry.com (biographical information, local newspapers)
Baseball-Reference.com (stats, biographical information, minor league information)
Retrosheet.org (Stats, biographical information, information on individual appearances)
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