How good a pitcher was Amsterdam’s Roger Bowman? Based on his career accomplishments, this former southpaw from Meadow Street was the best there ever was in the Rug City. What were some of those accomplishments? Let’s start with his high school career at Wilbur Lynch during the early 1940’s. He was the star pitcher of a legendary Jack Tracy-led varsity nine that won 40 straight games for the Hilltoppers. Bowman’s catcher during that incredible streak was the great Costa Lazarou. Never before or since has Amsterdam High School fielded more talented battery mates.
Costa had already joined the Navy, when in 1945, a contingent of Amsterdam schoolboys were assembled to participate in the prestigious All American Amateur Baseball Tournament in Johnstown, PA. In his three starts during that tournament, Bowman struck out an incredible 70 batters. In the Championship game, which underscored just how good the baseball talent was in our area, Amsterdam squared off against Schenectady. All Bowman did was pitch a complete game two hit shutout and get 24 of the 27 outs his team needed to win the game via strikeout.
In high school, Bowman possessed a blazing fastball, an impressive curve and outstanding control for a pitcher of such a young age. But during the winter of 1945, during his freshman year at Colgate University, he slipped while running to catch a bus and slammed his left shoulder into a fire hydrant. He was never again able to pitch without a sore arm and the injury turned his fastball from blazing to just above average.
Even with the bad shoulder, Bowman was still good enough to earn a contract with the New York Giants. By his second year in the organization, he became one of their top pitching prospects, when he put together a 17-win season for New York’s B-level farm club in Trenton. He followed that up with three successive double-digit victory seasons in the high minors while the local Recorder newspaper faithfully reported his progress to his proud hometown.
He got his first big league experience with two 1949 late-season starts against the Reds and Braves. The first big league hitter he faced was the Reds’ All Star third baseman Grady Hamner, who he retired on a groundout. He made it through four innings in his first start but just two his next and would spend the entire 1950 season back in the minors.
By the time the 1951 Giants’ spring training camp opened, Bowman was 23-years-old with four straight solid seasons of minor league pitching on his resume and ready to pitch his way onto New York Manager Leo Durocher’s big league staff. He did just that with a solid spring performance and made the Opening Day roster. But after he lost his first two starts in April that year, he was demoted to the bullpen. Then on May 5, 1951 Bowman earned his first-ever big league victory with a scoreless five-inning relief performance against the Pirates. Just five days later, he got his first and only win as a Major League starting pitcher when he gave up only one run in a six-inning stint against the Cardinals in the Polo Grounds. All of Amsterdam celebrated the good news. Unfortunately, that would also turn out to be Bowman’s last big league victory. By the middle of June, he had walked 22 batters in just 26 innings and that lack of control had helped his ERA grow to over six runs per game and got him demoted back to the minors.
Though he’d never pitch for New York again, its important to keep in mind that the 1951 Giant team he did pitch for had to win 98 games to catch the Dodgers for first place on the last day of the season. Without either of Bowman’s two wins, there’s no playoff between the two teams to decide the Pennant and Bobby Thomson never gets a chance to hit his “Shot heard round the World!”
The Giants released Bowman in 1953 and the Pirates picked him up and gave him two more chances to pitch in the big leagues in 1953 and 55. He saw plenty of action in that ’53 campaign, appearing in 30 games for a terrible Pittsburgh team that would finish that season with a 50-104 record and in last place.
Then in 1954, the Pirates sent him to their Hollywood affiliate in the Pacific Coast League where Bowman had the greatest season of his professional career, winning 22 games. That got him one more shot with the Pirates in 1955, but he could not take advantage of it. His career as a Major League pitcher ended in May of 1955.
Roger continued pitching in the minors until 1961, which brings us to his final big moment on the mound in front of hometown admirers. Bowman was asked to pitch for the Amsterdam Textile Workers Union Team in a Schenectady Twilight League Game against a Schenectady team that featured their own pitching ace named Don Blaha. A standing room crowd of over 800 fans showed up at Mohawk Mills Park on the evening of July 6, 1961 to see if Bowman could still get good hitters out. The game would reunite Bowman with his high school catcher, Costa Lazarou and their AHS teammate, Johnny Krochina.
At first, it looked as if Bowman was about to get pounded. He had given up two runs and three hits in the second inning and the Schenectady bats were easily getting around on his best fastball. That’s when Bowman and Lazarou decided to focus on his curveball and for the next seven innings, Amsterdam fans were treated to a classic pitching performance as their native son did not allow another run and struck out ten and the Textiler’s won the game 3-2, when Bobby Cantine drove in the winning run with a ninth-inning single.
Bowman would end up returning to California with his wife Pat and one daughter and open a custom furniture upholstery shop in Los Angeles. He died there on July 21, 1997 at the age of 69.
Bowman’s big league lifetime record was not noteworthy. He pitched in a total of 50 games, compiling a 2-11 record with 75 strikeouts and an ERA of 5.81. But he did win 131 games against the very best minor league talent in this country, when baseball was still the top sport of choice for America’s best athletes. There’s absolutely no doubt that Roger Bowman was the best and most successful baseball pitcher ever to be born in Amsterdam, NY.
Here is a rundown of pitching statistics for Bowman’s professional baseball career:
|162 Game Avg.||2||12||.154||5.81||55||13||0||0||0||129||150||93||83||15||78||82||1.768|
|NYG (3 yrs)||2||4||.333||6.31||13||8||0||0||0||35.2||47||25||25||3||32||31||2.215|
|PIT (2 yrs)||0||7||.000||5.60||37||4||0||0||0||82.0||90||60||51||11||39||44||1.573|
(This post about Roger Bowman is one of over 300 birthday posts that appear in the first edition of my book “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam NY Birthdays.” You can purchase a copy here. I will be issuing the second edition of this book in just a few more months. It will include interesting stories about over 300 more current and former Amsterdam residents. To get sneak previews of some of these stories each month and to have the opportunity to reserve a copy of the second edition at a reduced price, make sure you sign up for the free Amsterdam NY Birthdays Newsletter.The monthly newsletter is free. If you’d like to receive it, just make sure your name and e-mail address are included on this list.)