John Albert Rowan was born in New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1886. After compiling an 18-10 record for Leavenworth in the Western Association, the twenty-year-old earned a one-game audition with the 1906 Detroit Tigers. Rowan gave up eleven earned runs on fifteen hits and five walks in a 13-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox. He made it back to the big leagues with Cincinnati in 1908 and pitched parts of 7 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Reds, Phillies, and Cubs.
Rowan was more or less forgotten by July of 1958 when a small Associated Press item announcing his death in his room at a Detroit hotel appeared in newspapers.
For the previous 20 years Rowan had spent his summer days at Briggs Stadium, the site of his Tiger debut in 1906 (Bennett Park, the Tigers’ stadium from 1895 to 1911 was on the same site. Replaced by Navin Field in 1912, renamed Briggs after the 1935 expansion). The Tigers were planning on honoring the former pitcher at an upcoming game.
The day after the announcement of Rowan’s death a man in Dayton, Ohio told reporters he was the real Jack Rowan.
The Detroit Rowan had his supporters. One of his pallbearers swore he saw him pitch that game for the Tigers, although he remembered it as “1907 or 8.” Bishop John Donovan of the Detroit Catholic Diocese was certain the man whose funeral he presided over was Rowan; the bishop had interceded on the Detroit Rowan’s behalf years earlier to help him get a baseball pension.
Win Clark, secretary-treasurer of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America, was also sure the Detroit Rowan was the real Rowan; after all, they had been sending him pension checks for years.
But many said his stories were inconsistent and that he gave his age at 85 years old, 13 years older than Rowan’s listed age.
The Dayton Rowan insisted he was the real Rowan and had his own supporters. Dayton sports writers were sure the local man was the former pitcher, who had finished his career in Dayton in 1917—but the Dayton Rowan gave his age as 68, four years younger than Rowan should have been.
Neither man had any living family to back up their claim.
Ultimately, the living Rowan, the one in Dayton, prevailed. It was generally determined that he was the former Major League pitcher, the Detroit Rowan deemed an imposter.
The Dayton Rowan died in 1966 and is buried in Dayton—although one of his arguments for his legitimacy after the Detroit Rowan’s death in 1958 was “If he is the real man why isn’t he being buried in New Castle along with the rest of his family?”