Stowe, Hal

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Gastonia

First, Middle Names: Harold Rudolph
Date of Birth:  Aug. 29, 1937             

Current Residence: Belmont, NC

High School: Belmont High School
College: Clemson University, Clemson, SC

Bats: L             Throws: L        Height and Weight: 6-0, 170
Debut Year: 1960       Final Year: 1960          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: N.Y. Yankees, 1960

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
1          0          0          0         9.00   1.0        0          0.0

Hal Stowe had real pedigree when he took the mound at Yankee Stadium for his major-league debut on that balmy September night in 1960. He was a stud, a prep and college star who had lit up the minor leagues. By all baseball forecasts, this was to be the beginning of a long and illustrious career.

As a kid in Gastonia, Stowe had pitched his American Legion Post 23 to runner up in the World Series. Those were heady days. College recruiters filled the stands when he pitched. Young Harold was considering Florida State until one Sunday afternoon when he arrived home and found coaches from Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, sitting around his kitchen table. His mother, Nellie, was dishing out country ham and eggs. No need to go way down to Florida to play ball, Fred Stowe suggested to his son. Within minutes, Hal agreed to head to South Carolina.[I]

Hal Stowe, right, led Bill Wilhelm’s Clemson Tigers to Omaha in the College World Series. Photo: Clemson University

He was one of the best pitchers to come out of Clemson, taking the Tigers to two straight trips to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series for the first times in school history. Stowe was the top collegiate pitcher in the country in 1958, leading his peers in appearances (21), innings pitched (127.0), strikeouts (126) and wins (14). He was named to the College All-Star team that year and the next. To this day, Clemson gives the annual Harold Stowe MVP Award to its outstanding pitcher.

Next to come calling were the storied New York Yankees. They signed Stowe in 1959 and sent him to teams in their low minor leagues, first to Greensboro, North Carolina, and then to Fargo, North Dakota, where Stowe won five games and impressed coaches with his poise and 2.75 earned-run average. He earned a late-season call-up to New York, but he sat on the bench for a month without getting into a game.

Stowe reported for spring training with the Yankees in 1960 and broke camp with the team, rooming with Yogi Berra. The kid and the aging icon would form a lifelong friendship. “My first experience was driving him to the dog track in St. Petersburg, Fla., during spring training,” Stowe told a reporter in 2015. “His favorite dog was named ‘Yellow Rose of Texas.’ That dog never won but Yogi always bet on him.”[II]

Unlike the Yankees, who wouldn’t bet on their young lefty. Stowe again sat for a month without appearing in a game before the he was shipped to Double A Amarillo., Texas. He won 12 games and earned another trip to New York.

Where he sat some more until that night on Sept. 30, when the call to the bullpen finally came.

The Yankees had already clinched yet another pennant, and Manager Casey Stengel was resting his starting pitchers for the World Series, which would begin in four days. He had already used three relievers in this meaningless game against the Boston Red Sox when he decided to bring in the talented kid to start the eighth inning with his team trailing 4-2.

Stowe was only 22 when he nervously toed the pitching rubber that night. Though it meant nothing in the grand scheme of baseball, the game meant everything to Hal Stowe. All his past achievements on baseball diamonds from North Carolina to Nebraska had brought him to this moment, on this grand diamond in New York. All he hoped to achieve hinged on what happened next.

The Red Sox’s first batter, the dangerous Vic Wertz, stepped to the plate. Stowe waked him. Not a good start. Take a deep breath and get the next guy.

That would be catcher Russ Nixon, who already had two hits in the game. Pitching from the stretch, Stowe apparently moved in an odd way that caught the attention of home-plate umpire Larry Napp. He called a balk and waved Wertz to second.

Nixon then laid down a pretty bunt to move him to third.

Back in college, Stowe was famous for his grit and determination. “He had more guts than anybody I ever saw standing on that mound,” Clemson Manager Bill Wilhelm said in 1991 of his star pitcher. “And the more he pitched, the better he got. He was a horse.”[III]

This was a good time to summon those qualities.

Stowe pitched carefully to Sox third baseman Frank Malzone, who lifted a routine fly ball to leftfield. It was just far enough, however, to drive in Wertz.

Stowe induced the next batter to pop to third for the last out.

It wasn’t an inning he would have scripted, but Stowe did bear down, limiting the damage without giving up a hit.

Stengel met his pitcher at the dugout steps. The Old Man puts his arms around the him.

“Were you scared, kid?” Stengel asked.

“Damn right I was,” Stowe replied.

Casey smiled. He told Stowe he was taking him out but assured him he’d do better the next time.[IV]

The thing is, there never was a next time.

Stowe would spend four more years in professional baseball, winning 49 games in the minors, but he never again pitched in the major leagues. The guy who arrived with such promise left with this inglorious career line: one inning pitched, a walk, a balk, a sac fly and a big, fat 9.00 ERA. Had Stengel left him in, Stowe would have least gotten a “W” in that line after the Yankees scored four runs in the ninth to win the game.

All these years later, it’s hard to know exactly what happened, why the Yankees apparently lost faith in such a young, talented lefthanded pitcher. The numbers tell one story. It’s clear that Stowe excelled in the lower minor leagues, winning 34 games, but he lost 22 in a couple of stints at Triple A Richmond with high ERAs.

But he also showed an ability to get major-league hitters out. Stowe trained with the Yankees in Florida in 1961. He pitched 17 innings that exhibition season, giving up only three earned runs – two coming on solo homers by Rocky Colavito.

Ralph Houk, the manager of the N.Y. Yankees, had an old-school outlook when it came to his pitchers. He may have been a roadblock to Hal Stowe’s career. Photo: N.Y. Daily News

Again, he made the team and, again, he sat in the bullpen. Another call never came.

Stowe put some of the blame on Ralph Houk, who replaced Stengel as Yankee manager in 1961. “Houk simply didn’t like me. I hate to say that, but it’s true,” Stowe told a newspaper columnist in 1991. “He’d look the other way when he passed me in the locker room. And I sat on the bench from opening day to the middle of July, and he never gave me a single chance.”[V]

Houk, a former catcher whom players called The General, had an old-school outlook when it came to pitchers. He liked those who threw hard. Houk called one of them up that July, the fireballer Al Downing, and sent the nibbler Stowe to Richmond.1

Stowe didn’t do well there and was demoted to Amarillo where he won 14 straight.

 You guessed it. Another call to New York and more sitting around. At least this time he had a front seat to history. “It’s hard to accept rejection, but life must go on,” Stowe said philosophically in that 1991 interview. “I can say that I did pitch batting practice to Roger Maris on the night he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, and that’s the highlight of my career with the Yankees.”[VI]

Stowe retired in 1964 and returned to Gastonia where he worked for a time at Burlington Industries while helping his father, Fred, run the family restaurant. Fred had opened Stowe’s Fish Camp in the early 1950s. Several like it flourished in Gaston County for decades, serving fresh, fried catfish from the nearby Catawba River.2

Stowe and his wife, Betty, bought the fish camp when Fred retired in 1973. He put his signed pictures of Berra and Maris and Yogi and Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford on wall and would become a fixture behind the counter filleting and frying fish for the next 30 years.

Hal and Betty finally retired in 2001 to their comfortable brick home just up Union New Hope Road from the fish camp, where they still live. None of the kids were interested in taking over. They sold the restaurant that April. It burned to the ground 10 months later. Luckily, Stowe took the pictures with him.

Footnotes
[1] Houk, a former catcher whom players called The General, had an old-school outlook when it came to pitchers. He liked those who threw hard. Houk called one of them up that July, the fireballer Al Downing, and sent the nibbler Stowe to Richmond.
[2] For a nostalgic look at the old fish camps that once lined the Catawba River, see David Joy’s essay in Charlotte Magazine, https://www.charlottemagazine.com/essay-a-charlotte-native-remembers-fish-camps/.

References
[I] Griffin, John. “Sowe’s Guts, Arm Earned Him Kudos.” Gaston (NC) Observer, April 27, 1991.
[II] Shelby (NC) Star. “Memories Abound as MLB Playoffs Start Without All-Time World Series Champion Yogi Berra.” Oct. 6, 2015.
[III] Griffin.
[IV] Helms, Herman. “’I Can Be part of the Yankees,’ Says Gastonia’s Harold Stowe.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, Feb. 21, 1961.
[V] Griffin.
[VI] Griffin.