Wednesday, April 6, 2016

215. Al Fowler: The New York Knights Ace

After spending all that time researching and then illustrating real life Chicago Cubs Hall of Famers, I thought it would be a nice change of pace to pick a fictitious character from literature or movies. Because this is The Infinite Baseball Card Set and there are no set rules, guys like Mayday Sam Malone of "Cheers", Henry Wiggen from "Bang The Drum Slowly" and J.D. Salinger's Chief Gedsudski all take their place beside Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle.

Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural” has always been my favorite baseball novel, and over the years I've created cards and back stories for two of the main characters, Roy Hobbs and Bump Baily. I thought today I’d create a card and biography for the New York Knights’ ace, Al Fowler.

Detroit Tigers scouts signed the 17 year-old Al Fowler right off the Rochester sandlots where he was regularly striking-out 15 batters per game. Rated one of the best pitchers in the minors, the New York Knights traded a handful of proven veterans to get the services of the young left-hander.Fowler debuted in the majors just before his twentieth birthday and he finished with a 3-1 record and what looked to be a promising future.

Fowler’s detractors say he tried to strike out every single batter he faced, there-by tiring himself out before the ninth inning. While this criticism may be true, it was something Fowler felt necessary due to the poor offence and defence provided by his Knights teammates. Contemporary sportswriters liked to quip that besides being among the leaders in strike-outs, Fowler also led the league in suspensions for breaking training rules. His late night cavorting with teammate Bump Baily was often cited as the only thing that stood in his way of becoming the best southpaw in the National League. Syndicated columnist Max Mercy famously described Fowler as “the 23 year-old who looks 30”.

Fowler’s luck turned around completely in 1939 when the 35 year-old rookie Roy Hobbs joined the Knights. With a potent offence finally behind him, the right-hander won a career high 15 games. He also picked up the win in the one-game playoff against Pittsburgh, though he pitched poorly. Rumors persist to this day about Fowler’s role in a plot by gamblers to “fix” the pennant, though he was never formally accused or prosecuted. Fowler tried to dispel any suspicions by pitching magnificently in the World Series, and his 3-hit shutout in Game 2 was the only Knights victory in the 5 game loss the Yankees.

Fowler suffered an arm injury warming up before the 1940 All-Star Game and never pitched effectively again. He was traded to the Cubs in 1942 and retired a year later. He worked as a salesman for the Ballentine Brewery and later owned a successful chain of liquor stores in the Rochester area.

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