As World War II neared its conclusion in the summer of 1945, an increasing number of major leaguers who had served in the military returned to civilian life and resumed their baseball careers. Hank Greenberg thrilled Tigers fans on July 1 with a home run in his first game back. Bob Feller made a triumphant return to the mound in Cleveland on August 24. And a little-known pitcher from Toronto by the name of Dick Fowler made history in his first big-league start in almost three years.
Fowler had become the youngest Canadian to ever pitch in the major leagues when he made his debut with the Philadelphia Athletics on September 13, 1941, at the tender age of 20 years, 167 days.1 He went the distance in a 3-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox. On the final day of the 1941 season, Fowler drew the starting assignment in the first game of a historic doubleheader against the Red Sox. Ted Williams, batting .39955 coming into the game, singled and homered in his two at-bats against Fowler. By the end of the afternoon, Williams had gone 6-for-8 against Philadelphia pitching to finish with a .406 batting average.2
Fowler’s 1942 season was unremarkable, except for a marathon June 5 outing at Shibe Park against the St. Louis Browns. The young right-hander blanked the Browns for 15 innings before giving up a run in the top of the 16th and suffering a heartbreaking 1-0 loss. He finished the season with a disappointing 4.95 ERA in 140 innings pitched.
In January 1943 Fowler was inducted into the Canadian Army. He served with the 48th Highlanders regiment and remained in Canada for the duration of the war.3 Thanks to the army policy that allowed its athletes to participate in civilian leagues, he was able to play once a week for the Hamilton club in the Niagara League.4 “It was only about Class C ball and my job didn’t depend on winning,” Fowler explained. “I practiced my change of pace and curve ball until I was figuratively blue in the face and the catchers were exhausted.”5
Fowler was discharged from the military on August 15, 1945, the day after the announcement of Japan’s surrender.6 He spent a few days in Oneonta, New York, with his family before rejoining the Athletics.7 Fowler made three relief appearances in early September, posting an 8.49 ERA. That was good enough for 82-year-old manager Connie Mack to name him the starter for the second game of a September 9 doubleheader against the Browns. Expectations were modest. Not only did Fowler have a career record of 0-5 against the Browns, but he was still playing himself into shape. “I came out of the Canadian army and I was hog fat, at least 35 pounds overweight,” admitted Fowler in 1947. “I can honestly say I was never in worse shape in my life.”8
Philadelphia took the first game of the doubleheader, 6-2, to extend its modest winning streak to four games and raise its dismal record to 45-88. The hapless A’s, in the second division for the 12th consecutive season, had been mired in last place since May 23. Their feeble offense was the worst in the major leagues.
Unlike the A’s, the Browns were no longer pushovers. With most of the major leagues’ stars serving in the military, St. Louis had managed to win its first pennant in 1944, and remained a solid club in 1945.9 The Browns’ 70-64 record had them on the periphery of the pennant race.
Ox Miller, making his first major-league start, took to the hill for the Browns in the nightcap. The 30-year-old right-hander had been riding the pine since being recalled from the Toledo Mud Hens on August 23. Dating back to 1943, Miller had no decisions and a 10.13 ERA in six relief appearances at the big-league level.
Fowler completely dominated the Browns from the game’s first pitch. He faced only one batter over the minimum through the first six innings, and he retired the side in order in five of those frames. Don Gutteridge, who walked in the top of the third, was the only Browns player to reach base through six innings.
Miller nearly matched Fowler pitch-for-pitch. He surrendered a double to Fowler in the third and a single to Dick Siebert in the fifth. No other Athletics player reached base, and the game remained scoreless through six innings.
“In the fifth I realized I had not allowed a hit and from then on I had this constantly in my mind,” Fowler recalled. “I made up my mind to make the hitter swing at what I wanted to — even if I walked him.”10 That approach paid off the next time Fowler faced the two most dangerous hitters in the Browns lineup, Lou Finney and Vern Stephens.11 He walked Finney to start the seventh and Stephens to open the eighth before bearing down and escaping both innings unscathed.
In the top of the ninth, the Shibe Park crowd went quiet when Fowler walked Milt Byrnes with one out.12 The left-handed-hitting Finney strode to the plate looking to extend his 10-game hitting streak. On a 1-and-1 pitch, the former Athletic drove a ball deep down the right-field line, only to watch it drift foul. On the very next pitch, Finney grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. With the game still scoreless in the middle of the ninth, Fowler surely must have been thinking back to his 16-inning loss to the Browns three years earlier.
The Philadelphia offense kicked into gear in the bottom of the ninth. Right fielder Hal Peck opened the inning by hitting the ball to the left-field fence and legging out a triple. The next batter, second baseman Irv Hall, singled into center field to score Peck with the winning run. It was the first walk-off no-hitter in the majors since 1908.13 After being mobbed by his teammates, Fowler went over to the Browns dugout to shake hands with the hard-luck Miller, who had held Philadelphia to only five hits.14 A jubilant crowd carried the A’s hurler from the field on their shoulders.
Fowler had kept the Browns off balance with his much-improved changeup and curveball. Just five balls were hit past the Philadelphia infielders all game, and only one baserunner reached as far as second base. “He had plenty and if ever a guy deserved a no-hit game, he did,” said St. Louis slugger George McQuinn. “We didn’t even hit one hard.”15
It was the first no-hitter in the American League since Feller threw one on Opening Day in 1940. Fowler’s no-no was the fourth in franchise history and the first since Bullet Joe Bush turned the trick against the Cleveland Indians on August 26, 1916.
Fowler also became first Canadian to throw a no-hitter in the big leagues, although others had come close. Win Kellum of the Indianapolis Hoosiers threw a no-hitter on June 16, 1900, against the Chicago White Sox a few months before the American League declared itself a major league. Russ Ford, in the middle of one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history, would have thrown a no-hitter for the New York Highlanders on July 19, 1910, were it not for a Texas Leaguer that barely eluded the grasp of shortstop Roxey Roach with one out in the ninth inning.16 Ford settled for a one-hitter.
After Fowler’s masterpiece, it was almost 73 years before another Canuck threw a no-hitter in the big leagues. Canadian pitchers threw eight one-hitters in the interim, with three of those near-misses from Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins.17 Finally, on May 8, 2018, James Paxton of the Seattle Mariners tossed a no-hitter against the Blue Jays — on Canadian soil, no less.
Fowler went on to have a good career with the Athletics. His best season was in 1947, when he went 12-11 with a sparkling 2.81 ERA in 227⅓ innings pitched. Despite pitching for mediocre teams and dealing with bursitis pain in his shoulder, he won 15 games in 1948 and 1949, and he finished in the league’s Top 10 in shutouts three times (1947-49).18
Fowler’s bursitis issues flared up dramatically early in the 1950 season, yet he attempted to pitch through excruciating pain. His ERA ballooned to 6.48. Finally, in late July, Mack sent him home for the season.19 Fowler was never the same on the mound, and the Athletics released him in October 1952. He finished his 10-year career with a 66-79 record and a 4.11 ERA.
After retiring from the game, Fowler worked as a night deskman at the Oneonta Community Hotel. He died in 1972 at the age of 51 after battling liver and kidney disease. Fowler’s obituary in the Oneonta Star included an old quote from a former A’s teammate, Carl Scheib, that summed up his career. “If you put a pennant contender behind Dick Fowler, he’d be a 20-game winner in a breeze,” Scheib declared.20
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 As of the end of the 2019 season, Dick Fowler was still the youngest Canadian to ever pitch in the major leagues. Mike Soroka, at age 20 years, 270 days, became the second-youngest Canadian pitcher in the big leagues when he made his debut with the Atlanta Braves on May 1, 2018.
2 As of the end of the 2019 season, no major leaguer had batted .400 or better since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.
3 Ed Barkowitz, “Dick Fowler’s No-Hitter for the Philadelphia A’s Comes Back to Life (Sort Of),” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 24, 2018, inquirer.com/philly/sports/phillies/dick-fowler-philadelphia-as-athletics-connie-mack-first-canadian-no-hitter-shibe-park-james-paxton-20180524.html, accessed March 30, 2020.
4 J.G.T. Spink, “Looping the Loops,” The Sporting News, September 20, 1945: 2.
6 Gary Bedingfield, “Dick Fowler,” Baseball in Wartime, baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/fowler_dick.htm, accessed March 30, 2020.
7 Oneonta was the hometown of Fowler’s wife, Joyce. They met in 1940 when Fowler was pitching for the Oneonta Indians of the Class C Canadian-American League. They were married in March 1941.
8 Kevin Glew, “September 9, 1945 — Toronto Native Dick Fowler Becomes the First — and Still Only — Canadian to Throw a Big League No-Hitter,” Cooperstowners in Canada, September 18, 2015, cooperstownersincanada.com/2015/09/18/great-canadian-baseball-moments-september-9-1945-toronto-native-dick-fowler-becomes-the-first-and-still-only-canadian-to-throw-a-big-league-no-hitter/, accessed March 30, 2020.
9 The 1944 pennant was the only league championship for the Browns in their 52 years in St. Louis.
10 Spink, “Looping the Loops.”
11 At the start of the game, Lou Finney had a .320 batting average and Vern Stephens led the American League with 20 home runs.
12 “Fowler Pitches 1-0 No-Hit Game,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 10, 1945: 18.
13 From the start of the twentieth century to the end of the 2019 season, there were six walk-off no-hitters in the major leagues. They were thrown by Hooks Wiltse of the New York Giants against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 4, 1908 (10 innings); Frank Smith of the Chicago White Sox against the Philadelphia Athletics on September 20, 1908; Dick Fowler of the Philadelphia Athletics against the St. Louis Browns in the second game of the doubleheader on September 9, 1945; Virgil Trucks of the Detroit Tigers against the Washington Senators on May 15, 1952; Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon of the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Houston Astros on July 12, 1997 (10 innings); and Henderson Alvarez III of the Miami Marlins against the Detroit Tigers on September 29, 2013.
14 Associated Press, “Dick Fowler Pitches No-Hit Game for A’s,” Montreal Gazette, September 10, 1945: 16.
15 Spink, “Looping the Loops.”
16 “Ford for New York Beats Browns Who Get Only One Hit,” Boston Globe, July 20, 1910: 4. Russ Ford amassed a Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement (bWAR) of 11.4 in 1910, the highest mark for a rookie between 1900 and 2019. Mike Trout had the second-best rookie season in that period with a bWAR of 10.5 in 2012.
17 According to the Baseball Reference Play Index, between 1904 and 2019, six Canadians threw a total of nine one-hitters in the major leagues: Russ Ford (July 19, 1910), John Hiller (first game of the doubleheader on August 20, 1968), Ferguson Jenkins (first game of the doubleheader on July 27, 1972, April 6, 1974, and July 3, 1979), Reggie Cleveland (September 27, 1973), Kirk McCaskill (June 25, 1986, and April 28, 1989), and Ryan Dempster (May 7, 2000).
18 Norman L. Macht, The Grand Old Man of Baseball: Connie Mack in His Final Years, 1932-1956, (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2015).
19 Art Morrow, “A’s Staggering Staff Suffers New Blow,” The Sporting News, August 9, 1950: 18.
20 “Dick Fowler, Big Leaguer, Succumbs at Fox Hospital,” Oneonta Star, May 23, 1972: 11.