Legendary B.C. lefty Ted Bowsfield still a proud Canadian

A young Ted Bowsfield (Penticton, B.C.) with the Boston Red Sox early in his major league career. Photo: Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

April 14, 2023

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

He is still Canada’s Teddy Ballgame.

It’s an unlikely moniker for Ted Bowsfield when you consider he grew up in Penticton, B.C., 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 Canadian southpaw overcame seemingly insurmountable odds – not to mention a hometown with no Little League program (in the 1940s and 1950s) and a high school with no baseball team – to pitch at Fenway Park with Ted Williams in his outfield.

Bowsfield says he owes much of his early development to his father Frank.

“In Penticton, we’d get six or seven kids together and we’d play pick-up games in King’s Park,” recalled Bowsfield. “We would play there for hours and hours. And dad had the idea that there must be other towns that had kids like that that would like to play against us.”

So his dad reached out to neighboring towns and set up games with them.

“I remember he had an old Hudson and he would load up 11 of us in that car,” recalled Bowsfield. “Dad organized all of that, and without that, I don’t think I would’ve made it.”

And make it, he did.

Bowsfield was the first B.C.-born pitcher to have an extended major league career. He toed the rubber for parts of seven big league seasons with the Red Sox, Cleveland, Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City A’s from 1958 to 1964.

And the now 88-year-old Bowsfield can still vividly recall details about every one of his professional baseball stops. In a recent phone interview, he enthusiastically shared stories about former teammates like Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Bill Monbouquette, as well as opponents like Mickey Mantle. He also knew legendary owners Charlie Finley and Gene Autry.

And while he has lived in the U.S. for more than 50 years, he’s still Canada’s Teddy Ballgame. He maintains a Canadian citizenship, cheered for Canada during the World Baseball Classic (a tournament, for the record, he’d have loved to play for Canada in) and his son, Ted, lives in Pitt Meadows, B.C.

“I’m going back up there [to B.C.] in July because my youngest granddaughter is getting married,” said the proud grandpa.

It’s clear that despite two successful careers – first as a player and then as an executive in stadium operations – south of the border that Bowsfield has never forgotten his roots or the Canadians who helped him reach the big leagues.

Bowsfield says that while it was his father who arranged games for him as a kid, his athleticism came from his mother Queene. When the Second World War was going on, his mother and her twin sisters, Vi and Rose, and her youngest sister Christy played on a women’s baseball team in Vernon, B.C.

“They actually played some men’s teams during the war for charity type things,” recalled Bowsfield. “And they were very good.”

Bowsfield always looked forward to visits with his aunt Vi.

“When I was about four or five, my aunt Vi got me a glove,” recalled Bowsfield. “She was the first one really to start playing catch with me. She was a tomboy and she was tough as nails but she had a heart as big as a lion.”

Bowsfield started out playing mostly outfield.

“But I gradually got into more pitching because I got to find that I could throw pretty hard,” said Bowsfield.

Despite his dad’s tenacity in setting up games, the young left-hander still only toiled in about six to eight games a year for much of his youth. But baseball was never far from his mind. By scouring the box scores in the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province, he got to know the names of every major league player.

And by age 14, he was a standout on the mound and began pitching for the semi-pro Penticton Athletics.

“I can remember telling my first wife [who was his girlfriend at the time] that someday I was going to pitch in Yankee Stadium. And I was only about 16 at the time,” said Bowsfield. “So it was always a dream of mine.”

By his mid-teens, Bowsfield possessed an overpowering fastball 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.

Bowsfield’s big break came at a rotary tournament in Lethbridge, Alta. as a 17-year-old when he was invited to pitch for the Trail Smokies against a team of Cuban all-stars.

“The Cuban all-stars were really good baseball players,” said Bowsfield. “They travelled to tournaments all around North America – that was how they made their money and they usually won. And I pitched against them and lost 1-0 but I struck out 17.”

Those 17 strikeouts were a tournament record at the time and his performance 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 good 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 that included a $4,000 signing bonus.

After stints with Red Sox affiliates in San Jose, San Francisco, Oklahoma City and Minneapolis, the Red Sox called Bowsfield up in July 1958.

The Penticton native’s debut – a scoreless inning in relief on July 20 – was overshadowed by the performance of Jim Bunning, who tossed a no-hitter for the opposing Detroit Tigers that day.

But Bowsfield would deliver a number of memorable outings of his own that season, including registering three wins against the archrival New York Yankees.

He can still recall how he felt before his first start at Yankee Stadium on August 10, 1958.

“There used to be a dark tunnel that comes down into the dugout at the old Yankee Stadium and then all of a sudden you were at field level,” recalled Bowsfield. “I can remember getting to the field and then looking at the batting cage and there was a sound that was just totally different coming off this bat. Instead of a thud, it’s got a crack to it and I look and it’s the uniform number 7 and uniform number 7 was Mickey Mantle. I was just locked in place watching him swing the bat and seeing how hard those balls were being hit.”

Bowsfield, however, couldn’t have been too intimidated by Mantle and the Bronx Bombers. In his first start at Yankee Stadium, he held the Yankees hitless for the first 6 1/3 innings, until Norm Siebern singled off him. He eventually completed seven innings and earned the win.

“The second game I pitched at Yankee Stadium [on Sep. 1, 1958] was probably one of my best. I think I struck out nine that game,” recalled Bowsfield, of his complete game performance in a 4-2 Red Sox win.

He finished that season with a 3-0 record and a 3.04 ERA in four starts against the Yankees, which helped him earn him the Red Sox Rookie of the Year Award.

That fall, Red Sox director of minor league operations Johnny Murphy encouraged Bowsfield to throw in the off-season, which inspired the young left-hander to build a pitching tunnel at his home in B.C.

“That was the worst mistake I ever made in my life,” said Bowsfield. “It haunts me to this day . . . I built this tunnel and I didn’t make the thing big enough, and it was cold. So, what I would do is put on too many shirts. So I think what happened is I readjusted my delivery so I didn’t hit any of the posts that was holding the tunnel up. So I changed my motion and I had this tight clothing on. And that started the downward slide [with his arm].”

After struggling in his sophomore campaign, Bowsfield was sent down to Minneapolis (the Red Sox Triple-A team), where the Sox would assign a young Carl Yastrzemski for a short stretch at the end of the season.

“Carl came up as a shortstop, but I don’t think they were sure where his position was,” said Bowsfield. “Our manager was Gene Mauch and he would hit him ground balls and it was the darndest thing you ever saw. Carl would miss first base by two-three feet and the ball would end up about six rows up in the seats and thank God they were empty because the ball would rattle around in there. He had an arm that was a rifle. I remember Mauch wrote in his report, ‘There’s one thing I know for sure: he can’t play shortstop. But I sure recommend him for the outfield.’”

Bowsfield also toiled for Minneapolis against the Havana Sugar Kings in the Junior World Series that year. Hampered by snowy conditions in Minneapolis, the series was shifted to the warmer confines of Cuba, where Fidel Castro had just become prime minister and it was a tense political atmosphere.

Bowsfield started and won Game 6 to tie the series at three games apiece.

Prior to the seventh and deciding game, Bowsfield can recall Castro walking on to the field with his “pistols on his hips.”

“Before the seventh game, he comes in and puts his hands on his pistols on his hips and he says to us, ‘Boys, tonight we win,’” recalled Bowsfield. “And we had a guy named Vito Valentinetti, who was a really great guy and a pretty good pitcher . . . And Vito looks at Castro and says, ‘Fidel, no problem. If I get in the game, you’ll win.’”

And though Valentinetti didn’t appear in the game, the Cubans did win the game and the series.

Back in the majors the following season, Bowsfield pitched primarily out of the bullpen. One of the highlights of his Beantown tenure was the lasting friendship he forged with Ted Williams.

“When we would go on the road, we’d go to sporting goods stores together,” said Bowsfield. “He always like to do that. That was a thing that got him away from baseball and he always dragged me along.”

Unfortunately, Bowsfield’s tenure as Teddy Ballgame’s teammate was cut short when he was dealt to Cleveland in June 1960. He threw for Cleveland for the remainder of the campaign before being selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft.

Ted Bowsfield had his best season with the Los Angeles Angels in 1962.

It was in The Golden State that Bowsfield would put together his finest season, compiling an 11-8 record and a 3.73 ERA in 41 appearances, including 21 starts. Coming off this stellar campaign, the veteran southpaw had arm troubles at the beginning of the 1962 season, but he rebounded 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 pitched through considerable arm pain in his final two seasons.

One of his career highlights was throwing back-to-back complete games for the A’s in May 1963. On May 11, he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins.

“I’m going into the bottom of the ninth and I’ve got a no-no going,” recalled Bowsfield almost 60 years later. “And they were telling me that [A’s owner Charlie] Finley already had a cheque written out for me for $1,000 if I threw a no-hitter. And the second hitter of the ninth was Vic Power, and what’s he do, he’s hits me like he’s supposed to hit me. He didn’t try to pull it. He hit right up the middle and that was the end of the no-hitter and the cheque.”

Bowsfield followed that up six days later with a three-hit shutout against his former team at Fenway Park.

“That was one of the best games I ever pitched,” said Bowsfield.

Unfortunately, arm troubles continued to dog him and eventually the pain became so intense that he was forced to retire at the tender age of 30.

“Quite honestly, I don’t know how I got through some of the years because basically I was living on cortisone,” said Bowsfield.

And back then there was no such thing as MRIs or Tommy John surgery, so Bowsfield never did learn exactly what was wrong with his arm. But when his playing days were over, he got a job with the Angels after bumping into Cedric Tallis in the Angels’ offices. Tallis hired him as an assistant director of stadium operations.

“One thing about Cedric that was so wonderful was that he threw me into every possible situation and he let me get burned,” said Bowsfield. “He let me learn the ropes the hard way. He would put me into union negotiations. He would put me into deals with the concessionaire. He’d put me in charge of the groundskeeping crew and then he’d put me in charge of all of the ushers, ticket takers, ticket sellers and parking lots attendants . . . He threw me into all that stuff. And I’m going to tell you something, boy did I make a mess of things sometimes. I made a royal mess of stuff and he’d have to come in and bail my ass out. But he did, but he kept pushing me in that direction.”

When Tallis left to become the first general manager of the Kansas City Royals in 1968, Bowsfield replaced him as director of stadium operations.

“[Angels owner] Gene Autry and I became very close,” said Bowsfield.

After 10 years with the Angels, however, Bowsfield found himself butting heads with GM Harry Dalton. And without his knowledge, his wife Marilyn submitted an application for a similar position with the Kingdome in Seattle and he ended up getting the job.

He worked in that post until 1985 when he moved on to become director of the Tacoma Dome. He later operated a consulting business that saw him work on projects like BC Place Stadium and the SkyDome in Toronto.

Bowsfield retired to Nipomo, Calif., where he resides today.

His wife, Marilyn, died in 2011 after a battle with breast cancer. Bowsfield says it has been difficult without her, but staying active has helped him through the grieving process.

“I’m still pretty active,” said Bowsfield. “I golf a couple of times a week. I work out three times a week and I still take care of my house and my yard and take care of all of the other odds and ends like paying taxes . . . My time is still pretty full.”

And Canada’s Teddy Ballgame feels blessed to be remembered by so many fans almost 60 years after his final major league pitch.

Bowsfield was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988, and the St. Marys, Ont.-based shrine has since created a set of baseball cards celebrating their inductees. Scott Crawford, the Hall’s director of operations, sent 50 of Bowsfield’s commemorative cards to him.

Bowsfield’s Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame card.

“I get letters. I probably sign at least three or four autographs a week and sometimes a heckuva a lot more, especially when spring training is rolling around,” said Bowsfield.

“I get letters every day. It’s amazing how many people when they write me a letter talk about the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame . . . and all of a sudden this [Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame] card is starting to pop up all over and I’m getting a demand for it. So I’m going to have to call Scott to get some more because they’re pretty hot items.”

The demand for his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame card is further proof that, in the hearts of many fans, Bowsfield is still Canada’s Teddy Ballgame.

“I can’t say enough about how fortunate I’ve been,” said Bowsfield. “I think about it quite a bit because it’s sort of overpowering. As I get older, I have to admit that I think about it more than I did before. I go back to those times. It was just an unbelievable series of events that led me to wherever it led me to and I’ve been just so blessed to be so lucky and fortunate, and with some ability, to have done what I’ve done with my career. I have no regrets whatsoever.”

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6 thoughts on “Legendary B.C. lefty Ted Bowsfield still a proud Canadian

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    1. cooperstownersincanada – Kevin Glew is a professional writer based in London, Ontario. His work has been featured on CBC Sports, Sportsnet.ca, MLB.com and Sympatico.ca. He has also written articles for Baseball Digest, Baseball America, The Hockey News, Sports Market Report and the Canadian Baseball Network. He has been involved with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for more than 16 years, including a two-year stint as the museum's acting curator.
      cooperstownersincanada says:

      Thanks for reading this and for your support.

    1. cooperstownersincanada – Kevin Glew is a professional writer based in London, Ontario. His work has been featured on CBC Sports, Sportsnet.ca, MLB.com and Sympatico.ca. He has also written articles for Baseball Digest, Baseball America, The Hockey News, Sports Market Report and the Canadian Baseball Network. He has been involved with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for more than 16 years, including a two-year stint as the museum's acting curator.
      cooperstownersincanada says:

      I agree, Bob. Thanks for reading this.

    1. cooperstownersincanada – Kevin Glew is a professional writer based in London, Ontario. His work has been featured on CBC Sports, Sportsnet.ca, MLB.com and Sympatico.ca. He has also written articles for Baseball Digest, Baseball America, The Hockey News, Sports Market Report and the Canadian Baseball Network. He has been involved with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for more than 16 years, including a two-year stint as the museum's acting curator.
      cooperstownersincanada says:

      Thanks, Scott. And thanks for your help in setting up the interview.

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