Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, MiLB.com will attempt to fill that gap and explore these historical oddities in our new feature, "Cracked Bats." Know of any stories to be considered for this feature in the future? Send an email and let us know.
It certainly seemed as if Hal Stowe would have accomplished more than he did in his abbreviated baseball career. After all, he had some impressive credentials coming out Clemson in the late 1950s.
Stowe's path to stardom, however, short circuited in the Bronx, leaving him as not much more than a bystander in what would ultimately be considered the end of the great Yankees mid-century dynasty. Rather than laying claim to being part of the Mantle and Maris years in New York, Stowe eventually found fame -- well, notoriety anyway -- far from the bright lights and big city.
It was in Charlotte during the summer of '64 when the left-hander grabbed headlines across the country, giving the baseball world something to talk about. By then, Stowe had been jettisoned by the Yankees and was finishing up his career with Minnesota's Double-A affiliate in the newly named Southern League. But when he won a game on July 11 without ever throwing a pitch, it made for some unusual media fodder, giving Stowe his 15 minutes of fame.
Charlotte was a pedestrian team in 1964, finishing in fourth place, eight games back in the eight-team Southern League. Asheville was simply dreadful, and would finish in the cellar, 28 games behind first-place Lynchburg. But on this night, the Tourists rallied for four runs in the top of the ninth to tie the score at 5-5 in Clark Griffith Park.
Asheville's Roberto Herrera had singled in the tying run off George Miller to cap the rally, and was on first base when Charlotte manager Al Evans decided to bring in Stowe. The veteran wasted little time in squashing the rally.
"I came in with two outs and a man on first base, took a stretch, he took a lead off the bag and I picked him off," Stowe said. "We came up, someone drove in a run and we won the game. It had to be the easiest game I ever won. I had never heard of that happening before and haven't since."
It was small consolation for a hurler who fully expected to have 15 years, not minutes, when he left Clemson in 1959 after leading the Tigers to consecutive College World Series appearances. He was 24-13 with a 2.32 ERA in three seasons with Clemson, and left such a mark that the institution now presents the Harold Stowe MVP award annually to its top pitcher.
"The two Yankees scouts that signed me were their top-notch, big-dog scouts," Stowe, 70, said. "They were after me for about a week. It was between them, the Phillies and the Red Sox. I took the advice of a close family friend, who was kind of an agent even though we didn't have agents then, and signed with New York.
"The Yankees sent me to Greensboro and I stayed there about a week before I went to Fargo, N.D. I didn't lose a game there and the Yankees brought me up at the end of the season, but I didn't get into any games. I went to the fall rookie league that year, and Spring Training in 1960 with the Yankees, before they sent me back to Amarillo [of the Texas League]."
Stowe made the most of his time in the Texas League, going 15-3 with a 3.43 ERA. At one point he won 12 consecutive games, earning a promotion to the big leagues. He even pitched an inning with the Yankees that August, impressing manager Casey Stengel. But it would turn out to be the only inning Stowe would pitch in the big leagues, ultimately leading him down the path to that Saturday night in Charlotte.
"At that time, I felt as if I were a big-league pitcher," Stowe said. "And Casey thought so, too."
The problem was that Ralph Houk didn't share Stengel's feelings. And when Houk took over as New York skipper in 1961, it signaled what would be the end of Stowe's career with the Yankees. This despite the fact that he was given the Most Outstanding Young Pitcher Award that spring after allowing only three runs and four hits in 17 innings.
"I guess I wasn't his type of pitcher," Stowe said. "I had no idea why. A lot of people asked me that question, but I never knew why. That's 50 years behind us now. I made a lot of good friends with the Yankees and they paid me a good bonus. I wish I could have had more of an opportunity with them, but the good Lord didn't wish it."
Stowe broke camp with the Yankees in '61 and stayed with the team until mid-May, though he never pitched an inning. He was eventually sent to Richmond and was finally released following the 1963 season.
Minnesota, looking to add some pitching, offered Stowe a contract for 1964, but wanted him to pitch in Triple-A Vancouver. Stowe, a North Carolina native, had no intention of heading across the continent. By that point, he was gearing up for life after baseball. But when the Twins told him he could pitch for their Double-A affiliate in Charlotte, he agreed and thus was pointed toward his unusual effort against the Tourists.
Stowe won eight games for the Hornets, ending his career close to home. By that time, he was married with children and decided to take a public relations job. Nine years later he took over the family restaurant in Gastonia, N.C., and that's where he's been ever since. He's planning on celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary this year with a trip to New York, where he hopes to catch the Mets-Yankees Subway Series in June.
He has some memorabilia in his playroom at home: signed Yankees pictures and a plaque from The Sporting News commemorating what he did on that July night against Asheville.
"My wife has the article hanging there on the wall," Stowe said. "I walk past it all the time, but this is probably the first time it's come to mind in 40 years."
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com.