Ed Rowen was a backup catcher and outfielder on the 1883 Philadelphia Athletics squad, which won the American Association pennant. Although Rowen was not a key factor in the championship season – playing in only 49 games – he was 30-game-winner Bobby Mathews’ personal catcher. He fielded poorly that year, possibly due to a hand injury. Like many nineteenth-century backstops who did not enjoy the benefits of gloves or modern protective equipment, Rowen often played banged up. His career was brief: three major-league seasons and only 136 games altogether. There isn’t much more to his story, either, as Rowen died just a decade later while still in his 30s.
Edward Rowen was born on October 22, 1857, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to John and Mary Rowen, immigrants from Ireland. John was identified as a harness maker in the 1860 census and worked in a carriage shop by the time of the 1870 census.1 Edward had an older brother, George, and younger brothers John, Anthony, Joseph, and Peter.
In 1876 Rowen played for the semipro TBFUS or The Bridgeport Friendly United Social Club, alongside future major leaguer John O’Rourke.2 In 1877 he debuted as a professional with the Fall River (Massachusetts) club of the New England League (also called the New England Association). Opening Day was on June 28 against Manchester (New Hampshire), a game that went 14 innings until Fall River prevailed, 1-0. Rowen “received due applause,” according to the Boston Globe.3 The Spalding Guide listed Rowen as having a .216 batting average and an .848 fielding percentage that season. The club was managed by Jim Mutrie, and future manager and Hall of Famer Ned Hanlon was a teammate. Fall River had a decent season, finishing with a record of 51-34, but Lowell (Massachusetts) won the pennant.4
Rowen played the 1878-79 seasons with the Manchester club and batted .206 in 35 games and .218 in 31 games, respectively.5 Manchester belonged to the 13-team International Association in 1878 and the National Association in 1879. These Manchester teams were loaded with future major leaguers, but the 1879 club disbanded in July. Part of the dysfunction on the club was attributed to the conduct of Rowen’s batterymate, Jack Leary. Both Rowen and Leary were expelled by the National Association, Rowen for refusing to play without pay.6 Both expelled players joined a newly created team in Rochester, New York, called the Flour Citys, later known as the Hop Bitters.7 This club had taken over the National Association spot of the Capital City of Albany team, which disbanded earlier in the season. The unique team name came from club owner Asa T. Soule’s patent medicine called Hop Bitters, which promised to cure anything that ailed you.8 Club owners disputed Rochester’s claim to a franchise in the league, so Soule’s team went independent in July, then went on a Western road trip. Rowen and Leary traveled with the club to California.9 “The Rochester nine is said to be one of the strongest in the United States,” hyped the Oakland Tribune, “having defeated all the best clubs wherever they played.”10
Rowen and Leary stayed on the West Coast for the 1880 season, to the delight of the fans.11 They both joined the Bay City club of the California League, made up of four teams in San Francisco that scraped by to survive financially. Rowen moved on to the Californias club when Bay City dissolved.12 In 1881 Rowen played for Oakland, one of the three teams in the New California League. But this Western adventure also was a financial disaster. According to the Oakland Tribune, “Rowen, their best player, it is understood, has refused to play with the Oaklands. He has not received anything this season for his services, and the funds appear to have been directed toward other players. The managers of the club may not see it, but it is perfectly apparent to the spectators that Rowen has won more than one game for Oakland this season. To antagonize him was a most foolish move.”13
Rowen went to work in the mines to make ends meet. One day he was contacted by the superintendent of a mine in Eureka (most likely California, although some later accounts say Rowen played in Nevada) who offered him $4 a day for his services. “Eureka is agitated with baseball fever, there being two rival clubs upon whose merits the miners back their opinions heavily,” wrote the Oakland Tribune. “Rowen, being an ‘honest miner’ now, will undoubtedly pop up as catcher on one of the teams. He is, by all odds, the best general player on the coast, and is a quiet little gentleman of excellent deportment.”14 He is listed as having been 5-feet-6 and 155 pounds. It is not known if he was right-handed or left-handed.
Rowen traveled back east in January of 1882 and signed with the Boston Red Stockings of the National League, serving as captain/manager John Morrill’s change catcher, as backups were called at the time.15 He made his major-league debut on Opening Day, May 1, 1882, playing shortstop for Boston in place of an injured Ezra Sutton. He collected two hits in a 6-5 win.16 Sam Wise eventually took over the shortstop role and Rowen spent most of his 83 games either at catcher or in right field. He batted .248 with 43 RBIs.
On June 9 Jim “Grasshopper” Whitney spun a 4-0 shutout against Cleveland, striking out 13. “Rowen supported him behind the bat in splendid style,” reported the Boston Globe. Rowen went 3-for-5 in a wild 14-13 win over Chicago six days later. He slammed his only career home run off one-time 45-game winner and future Athletics teammate George Bradley in Cleveland on June 22 and went 3-for-4 with a triple in a 13-8 win at Buffalo on June 27. Rowen also had a 3-for-5 game on July 18 in a 9-7 win to keep Boston within four games of first place, but the Red Stockings fell off the pace thereafter and finished 10 games back in third place (45-39).17
By this time, Rowen had built a strong reputation as a solid catcher supporting the masterful pitching of Mathews, who enjoyed a bounce-back year with a record of 19-15 and a 2.87 ERA. “He is perfectly familiar with that pitcher’s delivery and methods,” wrote Sporting Life, “which is a great point in effective battery work. Rowen is particularly adept at catching sharp foul tips, in which respect he achieved a reputation.”18
Both Rowen and Mathews, whom the Globe referred to as “two of the most popular members of the Boston nine in 1882,” jumped to the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association for 1883.19 The Athletics offered Rowen a salary of $1,800 in an attempt to protect their investment in Mathews’ right arm by ensuring that the pitcher “would feel comfortable in Philadelphia.20 However, in October of that year it was reported that Rowen had actually signed contracts with both the St. Louis Browns and the Athletics. The Association awarded Rowen to the Athletics because they filed his contract with the league office before the Browns.21
Rowen caught only 44 games in 1883 because of a split thumb he suffered in May.22 Whether or not the injury was to blame, his 54 errors (third in the league) and 60 passed balls (fifth) were among the league’s worst at the position, and even more glaring considering that they occurred in just 44 games. The pitching of Matthews (30-13, 2.46) helped propel the Athletics to the Association pennant, but Rowen’s defense and limited offense undoubtedly hurt the team, as his -0.6 WAR dictates. He hit only .219 with 21 RBIs.
Swimming in money after their pennant-winning season, the Athletics gave Rowen a $400 raise to $2,200. However, he played in only four games with the Athletics in 1884. Despite his limited time behind the plate, he still managed six errors and four passed balls. He was released in June. In his last game he went 4-for-4 on May 12 in a 13-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.23 This raised his season average to an even .400 (6-for-15). The New York Gothams (later Giants) of the National League quickly signed Rowan, but he did not appear in any non-exhibition games.24
After his playing career, Rowan returned to his hometown of Bridgeport. From time to time his name appeared in local papers as an umpire in the Eastern League and also for local games in Bridgeport.25
Rowen experienced an unimaginable tragedy on February 21, 1888, when his wife, Catherine, was killed in a train accident at the age of 29. She had been visiting a sick relative and was returning home. She was walking along the tracks of the New Haven Railroad at the Sterling Street crossing in Bridgeport. She dodged an oncoming train by moving onto another set of tracks, unaware of an approaching freight train. The Post-Star of Glens Falls, New York, described the gruesome detail. “She was struck by the engine and literally torn to pieces by the wheels, portions of her body being scattered along the track for a distance of nearly a mile.”26
Edward Rowen died in Bridgeport nearly four years to the day after his wife’s death, on February 22, 1892, after suffering “general debility and hemorrhages of the lungs.” He was 34. The couple was not mentioned as to having any children. His funeral was “largely attended.”27 He is buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Stratford, Connecticut.
In addition to the sources provided in the notes, the author was aided by the following:
Helander, Brock. “The Western Baseball Tours of 1879,” sabr.org/research/western-baseball-tours-1879. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
Lent, Cassidy. Reference librarian at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center, Cooperstown, New York, provided Rowen’s file.
1 The family’s name appears as Roan in the 1860 census.
2 Michael J. Bielawa, Bridgeport Baseball (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Arcadia Publishing, 2003), 67.
3 “An Extraordinary Game at Fall River,” Boston Globe, June 29, 1877: 5.
4 Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide 1878 (Chicago: A.G. Spalding & Bro., 1878), 27, 35-36.
5 Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide 1879 (Chicago: A.G. Spalding & Bro., 1879), 35; Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide 1880 (Chicago: A.G. Spalding & Bro., 1880), 109.
6 “Sporting News,” Buffalo Commercial, March 3, 1880: 3; “The National Bulletins,” New York Clipper, August 2, 1879: 149.
7 “Baseball Notes,” New York Clipper, July 19, 1879: 13.
8 Samuel Hopkins Adams, “To the Greater Glory of Hop Bitters,” The New Yorker, August 15, 1952.
9 “Notes and Gossip,” Boston Globe, July 14, 1879: 4.
10 “Noted Ball-Tossers,” Oakland Tribune, September 24, 1879: 3.
11 “Base-Ball,” San Francisco Examiner, May 11, 1880: 3.
12 “Baseball,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 1880: 4; “Baseball Notes,” New York Clipper, August 7, 1880: 157.
13 “Base Ball,” Oakland Tribune, July 11, 1881: 3.
14 “Rowen in Luck,” Oakland Tribune, July 16, 1881: 3.
15 “The Boston Base Ball Team for 1882,” Boston Globe, January 7, 1882: 2.
16 “The League Season,” Boston Globe, May 2, 1882: 1.
17 “Sporting Matters,” Boston Globe, June 10, 1882: 2; “Bat and Ball,” Boston Globe, June 16, 1882: 5. “Yesterday’s Sports,” Boston Globe, June 28, 1882: 2; “Stories the Scores Tell,” Boston Globe, July 19, 1882: 4.
18 “The Home Clubs,” Sporting Life, April 15, 1883: 2.
19 “The Athletics,” Boston Globe, October 1, 1883: 1.
20 Edward Achorn, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey (New York: Public Affairs Press, 2006), 74.
21 “Base Ball: Items from the Diamond,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 24, 1882: 8.
22 “Two Good Games,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 30, 1883: 2; “The Athletic Club,” New York Clipper, October 13, 1883: 490.
23 “Base Ball,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 13, 1884: 2.
24 “Diamond Chips,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 10, 1884: 5; Buffalo Commercial, June 19, 1884: 3.
25 “The Eastern,” Sporting Life, April 13, 1887: 1; Hartford Courant, April 28, 1887: 3.
26 “Cut to Pieces on the Rail,” Glens Falls (New York) Post-Star, February 24, 1888: 1; “Along the Sound,” New York Tribune, February 23, 1888: 8; Bridgeport Morning News, February 23, 1888: 4.
27 “Edward Rowen,” New York Clipper, March 5, 1892: 862.
W. Edward Rowen
October 22, 1857 at Bridgeport, CT (USA)
February 22, 1892 at Bridgeport, CT (USA)
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