The Detroit Tigers have had their share of heavy-hitting pitchers over the years. George Mullin in the 1910s, Dizzy Trout in the 1940s, and Earl Wilson in the 1960s, to name just three, were so dangerous with a wand in their hand that they often were called upon to pinch-hit. Perhaps the most physically imposing batter of all Tigers pitchers in history, however, was Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe, who at the end of his 15-year major-league career was still banging out base hits – one-handed!
Rowe was a 6-4, 210-pound product of El Dorado, Arkansas, who came to Detroit in 1933 and stayed 10 seasons. Big and strong, he’d been besting adults in a variety of sports since he was a schoolboy; hence his nickname.
Rowe threw and batted right-handed. His breakout season was 1934, when he became a national sensation by dint of his 24-8 record and 16 straight wins, which tied Lefty Grove’s record and helped propel the Tigers to an unexpected pennant. He won 19 games in 1935 and again in 1936 before arm troubles curtailed what looked to be a Hall of Fame career, though he remained an effective pitcher for another decade. He pitched in three World Series and was named to three All-Star Games.
Schoolie was a dangerous man at bat, hitting a combined .307 with 5 home runs and 50 RBI in just 208 at-bats during the pennant-winning years of 1934-35. Manager and catcher Mickey Cochrane occasionally bumped Rowe up a notch or two from the traditional ninth spot in the batting order. “Schoolie was a great all-around athlete,” Tigers second baseman Charlie Gehringer once recalled. “I remember he once hit a golf ball 315 yards on the fly at Lakeland. He could hit a baseball as far as Babe Ruth. He hit one in the center-field bleachers in batting practice in the Polo Grounds later when he was with Philadelphia, and I think only two or three other guys have done that.”
Rowe’s remarkable strength was put on display in the spring of1948. By now the Schoolboy was 38 years old and winding down his big-league career with the Philadelphia Phillies. On May 5, the Chicago Cubs’ Peanuts Lowrey lined a pitch back at the mound, breaking the thumb on Rowe’s glove hand. Schoolie wore a special cast and sat out the next three weeks, giving his thumb time to heal.
On May 25, Rowe returned to the mound, pitching in relief against the Pittsburgh Purates. He still wore a cast on his thumb, which left him unable to grip a bat with his left hand. But Rowe had a lumberjack’s strength. When it came time for him to bat that afternoon, he dug in holding the bat only in his right hand. Fans got a good laugh at the sight of the one-armed pitcher swinging at and missing the first pitch, but moments later the hoots turned into cheers when Rowe walloped the second pitch over the shortstop’s head for a clean single.
Rowe, still on the mend, didn’t return to the plate until 11 days later, when he pitched a complete-game win against the Cubs. Still wearing a cast and swinging the bat with just his right arm, Rowe amazed Wrigley Field fans by lining a single to right his first time up, and then hitting safely to left his next time up. On his third trip to the plate, Rowe laid down a sacrifice bunt, and his fourth and final at-bat he was robbed of another hit when the center fielder stabbed a sinking liner.
Rowe never had to bat one-handed again. He finished his career the following year, retiring with a .263 lifetime mark and 18 home runs to go with his 158 victories. For all his storied strength and athletic prowess, Schoolie was only 50 years old when he died of a heart attack in 1961.