I thought I would resurrect this story that I wrote about Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Bowsfield in 2006. Bowsfield was one of the most fascinating former players I’ve ever interviewed. Hope you enjoy!
Ted Bowsfield: Penticton’s major league miracle
He is Canada’s Teddy Ballgame.
It’s an unlikely moniker for Ted Bowsfield when you consider he grew up in Penticton at a time when he was lucky to find a ball game, let alone dream of playing alongside the “other” Teddy Ballgame.
Yet somehow the gifted southpaw overcame insurmountable odds – not to mention a hometown with no Little League program – to pitch at Fenway Park with Ted Williams in his outfield.
“In Penticton at that time (late 1930s to early ’50s), I think the population was around 8,000 to 9,000 people. There was no baseball. . . . . For me to get to the big leagues was really a miracle in itself,” recounted Bowsfield in a 2006 interview.
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer credits his parents for his success. His mother, a solid player in her day, supplied the genes, while his father worked tirelessly contacting neighbouring towns to set up games.
Despite his dad’s tenacity, the young left-hander toiled in only six to eight games a year for much of his youth. But baseball was never far from the youngster’s mind. By scouring the box scores in the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province, he got to know the names of every major league player.
As he reached his teens, Bowsfield’s potential began to emerge and at 14, he started playing semi-pro ball. The young hurler threw hard and catchers in Penticton were scarce. It wasn’t until Sam Drossos stepped forward that the fireballing lefty would find a steady battery-mate. Heavily scouted in his own right, Drossos was instrumental in helping the young pitcher hone his craft.
“From my 16th year to my 19th year, he was my catcher there . . . I can remember several times when I would not be doing very well and would be acting a little bit like my youth, he would stand up and yell at me and say, ‘Teddy, come on!’ And he would fire the ball back at me as hard as I was firing it at him,” recalled Bowsfield.
It was Drossos who introduced Bowsfield at his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1988.
The talented southpaw’s big break came at a rotary tournament in Lethbridge, Alta. as a 17-year-old.
“That tournament in Lethbridge was a humdinger because they brought in the Cuban all-stars, which were really a bunch of Cubans who did nothing but travel around the United States and make their living playing in these tournaments. . . . . I pitched a game against them and I think I lost 1-0,” he recalled.
But Bowsfield also set a tournament record with 17 strikeouts and caught the eye of the scouts in attendance.
The hard-throwing southpaw came close to signing with the St. Louis Browns because he had developed a close relationship with a scout named Tony Robello. But with the Browns moving to Baltimore, Robello could not commit to signing Bowsfield. That’s when Red Sox scout Earl Johnson moved in and inked the young lefty to a deal.
After stints with Red Sox affiliates in San Jose and San Francisco, the Red Sox called Bowsfield up in July 1958. The Penticton native’s debut – a relief appearance – was overshadowed by the performance of Jim Bunning, who tossed a no-hitter for the opposing Tigers that day.
“I always say that I’m in the American Hall of Fame also – in Cooperstown – because I’m in that box score,” he added with a chuckle.
But the talented lefty would deliver a number of solid performances of his own that season. His biggest accomplishment was posting three wins against the archrival Yankees. His mastery of the Bronx Bombers would earn him the Bosox Rookie of the Year Award that year.
After struggling in his sophomore campaign, Bowsfield was sent down to Minneapolis (the Red Sox Triple-A team), where the young left-hander would toil in the Junior World Series in 1959. Hampered by snowy conditions in Minneapolis, the series was shifted to the warmer confines of Cuba.
“At that time Fidel Castro had just overrun Cuba and they kicked the dictator, Batista, out . . . so the whole country of Cuba was in a shambles . . . Castro came to every one of the games. He was an avid baseball fan and I can remember he would come through the bullpen in center field out on to the diamond before the start of every game and he had these two pearled pistols strapped to his side. And we had all these young kids who were just teenagers with guns sitting in the dugout,” Bowsfield recalled.
Bowsfield would overcome the volatile political climate, however, to defeat the home squad in Game Six to tie the series at three games apiece. Unfortunately, his club dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker in the series’ deciding game.
Back in the majors the following season, the versatile hurler pitched primarily out of the bullpen. One of the highlights of his Beantown tenure was the lasting friendship he forged with Ted Williams.
“Ted was good to everybody. They can say all the want about him . . . I knew Ted back then just the way he was. He could be a very abrupt guy and he did not like the media. He didn’t trust the media one bit,” reminisced Bowsfield.
Of course, The Splendid Splinter was equally impressive on the field.
“I can tell you this: I saw all the great hitters. I saw Musial, Mays, Mantle, Kaline . . . But he was the best hitter I ever saw,” confided Bowsfield.
Unfortunately, Bowsfield’s tenure as Teddy Ballgame’s teammate was cut short when he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians in June 1960. He threw for the Tribe for the remainder of the campaign before being selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft.
It was in The Golden State that he would put together his finest season, compiling an 11-8 record and a 3.73 ERA. Coming off this stellar campaign, the veteran southpaw had arm troubles at the beginning of the 1962 season, but he would rebound to start a career-high 25 games and help his team to a surprising third-place finish. After the 1962 campaign, Bowsfield was dealt to the Kansas City A’s where he would play his final two seasons. Unfortunately, arm troubles continued to bother him and eventually the pain became so intense that he was forced to retire at the tender age of 29.
“Unfortunately, I went to see the doctor and there was just nothing he could do with the shoulder at that time. There were no MRIs or anything at that time where they could take a look and see what was going on with the arm,” he recalled.
When his playing days were over, Bowsfield landed a job in stadium operations with the Angels. After 10 years in California, he held a similar position with the Kingdome, the former home of the Seattle Mariners.
Now residing in California with his wife, Marilyn, he still makes the odd trek back to B.C. to visit his son, Ted, who resides in Mission. His other son, Brad, lives in Mesa, Arizona.
These days you’ll likely find the ex-big leaguer on the links. If he’s not swinging a club, he’s probably working – he marshals at the Cypress Ridge Golf Course in Arroyo Grande. His passion for baseball, however, remains strong.
“I still enjoy it and I just have great memories . . . I was just a blessed, fortunate person to have come from the little town of Penticton to end up playing in the major leagues,” he said.