“Yale’s Crack Baseball Pitcher”

23 May

Herbert Ovid Bowers followed a legend at Yale.

From 1886 through 1890 pitcher Amos Alonzo Stagg had led the Yale baseball team to the championship of the Ivy League (post graduate students didn’t lose eligibility in the 1800s).  He was a highly sought after pitching prospect, but Stagg, a devout Presbyterian, turned down multiple offers to play professionally; in his 1927 biography, “Touchdown!” he said:

“There was a bar in every ball park, and the whole tone of the game was smelly.”

Amos Alonzo Stagg, right, with Yale catcher Jesse Dann

Amos Alonzo Stagg, right, with Yale catcher Jesse Dann

Bowers was born June 2, 1867, in Manchester, Connecticut and entered Yale in 1889 as a sophomore after teaching school for two years in Hartford—he also played for a semi-pro team in Plainville, Massachusetts.

He joined the baseball team in 1890—Stagg’s final season–as an outfielder and pitched on a limited basis during the early part of 1891 when pitcher William Dalzell was tapped as Stagg’s replacement.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“Dalzell promised much, but failed.”

The Pittsburgh Dispatch said Dalzell became ill during the 1891 season and “Bowers was literally forced into the box,” where he “demonstrated that he was the best pitcher in college.”

The New York Herald said:

“Yale would not be a factor in baseball this year, they said.  But when Bowers popped up in the box and began pitching ball (Yale fans) changed their wail to a hurrah…He puts up a great game and is as cool in the box as the famous Stagg himself.”

The 5’ 9” righthander led Yale to a 24-9 season.  The Tribune said:

“Bowers is strategic and cool but not very fast, and weighs but 150 pounds.  He is a good general ball-player, can run bases fast, and has extra good command of the ball.  With twenty-five pounds more weight and the extra strength that goes with it Bowers would be a phenomenal pitcher.  As it is he is a good and valuable one.”

Herbert Ovid Bowers

Herbert Ovid Bowers

On June 13 Bowers and Yale lost 5 to 2 to Princeton at the Manhattan Athletic Club in New York, losing the league championship.

Yale was just 18-16 in 1892.  Bowers took a no-hitter into the ninth inning during a victory over Princeton, but he gave up a walk and a two-out hit, losing the no-hitter and shutout, but winning the game 3 to 1.  Yale met Harvard for a three-game series in June which was to decide the 1892 championship.

Harvard took the first game in Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 23, beating Bowers 5 to 0.  Five days later in New Haven, Connecticut Bowers beat Harvard 4 to 3, setting up a final game to decide the championship.

The Associated Press said:

“The result of to-day’s game leaves the championship undecided.  Yale tried to arrange for a game on neutral grounds July 4, but Harvard refused, and as both colleges have closed, the championship will remain unsettled.  The Yale alumni are celebrating on a grand scale.”

Some members of the press anointed Bowers the next great pitching star.  The New York Herald called him:

“Yale’s crack baseball pitcher, who by many is counted the superior of even the famous Stagg.”

Sam C. Austin, the sporting editor of “The Police Gazette” said Bowers lacked the size to throw hard, but:

“He relies mainly upon his ability to deliver puzzling curves that disconcert the batsman…He has great command over a ball, and can use drops, in and out shoots, and curves that would puzzle a professional to hit.”

The New York Evening World said, “It is said that the New Yorks are after Bowers, the famous Yale pitcher.”

Bowers at Yale

Bowers at Yale

After his  graduation, and despite the accolades, Bowers, who played in a semi-pro league in Vermont after the 1891 and ’92 seasons, chose to enroll in law school at Yale.  He played for the law school team in 1893, and in June pitched the greatest game of his life.  The New York Sun said:

“Pitcher Bowers of the Yale Law School team further added to the excellent record he has made by pitching great ball against the Cuban Giants last Monday at Brattleboro, VT.  He did not allow the colored players a single safe hit, and only twice did they knock the ball outside the diamond.  Both times the balls were flies.  This is the first time that the Cuban Giants have been so retired.  Bowers was obliged to pitch part of the time with a wet ball as it rained during a portion of the game.”

Bowers also had two doubles, scored two runs and drove in two more.  Yale won 4-2–the Cubans scored two runs in the seventh after a walk to Cubans’ second baseman Frank Grant, followed by a three-base error on a throw from Yale’s third baseman on a ground ball hit by Abe Harrison, the Cubans shortstop.  Harrison scored a ground out.

Frank Grant, Cuban Giants

Frank Grant, Cuban Giants


Bowers also pitched, played outfield, and captained the 1893 Yale club that won the eight-team “World’s Fair Intercollegiate Baseball Tournament,” which was organized, in part, by Bowers’ former teammate Stagg the University of Chicago’s football and baseball coach.   Yale was 4-1, including a 9 to 0 victory over Amherst in the championship game.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“After the game the Yale team was called into the grand stand and there presented with the magnificent cup given by the university Club to the winning team.  The presentation was made by Mayor (Carter) Harrison and at the close of his remarks the Yale University yell was given.”

After graduating from law school, Bowers appeared to be following in Stagg’s footsteps again, when he was hired to coach the baseball team at Oberlin College in Ohio.  After victories over the University of Illinois (13 to 1) and Michigan (17 to 3), The Associated Press said:

“Coach Bowers has done wonders for Oberlin’s batting and team work and the boys are making a fine record.”

Despite his success at Oberlin, Bowers did not return the following season, and just short of his 28th birthday signed his first professional contract—his career lasted just two games.

He started two games for the Hartford Bluebirds in the Connecticut State League, losing both and posting a 5.14 ERA; he gave up 32 hits in just 14 innings.  He appeared to have lost the “curves that would puzzle a professional to hit.”

After his release, Bowers was not out of work for long.

In August The Manchester Herald said Bowers “once the crack twirler of the Yale team,” had been appointed judge of the newly formed Manchester Connecticut Town Court.  With that, Bowers went on a different course than Stagg.  He was a judge and politician—he served two terms in the Connecticut General Assembly—until his death in Manchester on November 30, 1927.

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