Dick Fowler's no-hitter for the Philadelphia A's comes back to life (sort of)

Former Philadelphia A’s pitcher Dick Fowler threw a no-hitter in 1945. It was his first start after more than two years of service with the Canadian army.

His name appeared in the eighth paragraph of a story a few weeks ago. It was a sentence related to the no-hitter thrown by James Paxton of the Seattle Mariners. But, boy, was there more to it than that.

For many of us, considering the hustle and bustle of life here in the 21st century, it probably went in one gigabyte and out the other. Paxton, on May 8, became the second Canadian-born pitcher to throw a no-hitter. The first, the Associated Press pointed out in that eighth paragraph, was thrown by Dick Fowler.

Who?

Would have given a bag of hockey pucks to any fan at Citizens Bank Park this week who heard of Fowler. Would have thrown in some curling stones for anyone who knew that his no-hitter took place at 21st and Lehigh in North Philadelphia soon after the end of World War II.

They’ve long since torn down Shibe Park, but Fowler’s accomplishment that day deserves a salute.

Fowler played his entire career in Philadelphia, enlisting in the Canadian Army after the 1942 season, some 13 months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He served for 30 months with the 48th Light Highlanders, according to Jim Shearon’s book, Canada’s Baseball Legends. Fowler’s group was known as “The Ladies from Hell” because the members wore kilts. Nice.

Former Philadelphia A’s pitcher Dick Fowler joined the Canadian Army at the height of World War II. This clip was published in the Inquirer on Jan. 16, 1943.Our friends to the north observe their Memorial Day on July 1, but no reason we can’t raise a pint of Labatt’s in their honor this weekend. Yo, Canada.

The extent of Fowler’s military service is unclear, but the 48th landed in Sicily in 1943 and fought throughout Europe until the war’s end. Fowler was discharged in the summer of  ’45 and quickly went back to pitching for the A’s. After Fowler had made three appearances out of the bullpen, Connie Mack called on him to start the second game of a doubleheader Sept. 9 against the St. Louis Browns.

That’s when he threw his no-hitter. It was his first start in three years. Think about that. (The box score is below.)

“I’m just a pretty lucky guy,” Fowler told the Inquirer’s Hank Littlehales.

Fowler’s most anxious moment, he said afterward, was a ninth-inning screaming liner hit by Lou Finney that went foul down the first-base line. Fowler eventually induced Finney into a double play, erasing one of Fowler’s four walks during the day.

The A’s scored in the bottom of the inning when Irv Hall knocked in Hal Peck for the only run of the game. A rare walk-off no-hitter.

“I felt fine from the very first inning,” Fowler told Littlehales back in the hotel room in which Fowler stayed here in Philadelphia. “I knew I had a good start toward a no-hitter, but strangely enough, I wasn’t worrying about it. It was a wonderful feeling when we got that one run.”

He then thought of his wife, who was living in Oneonta, N.Y., with their sick child.

“I know Joyce will be pleased,” he said.

Dick Fowler pitched his entire career for Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics. Fowler met his wife while he was playing minor-league ball. Their courtship began when she asked for his autograph.

“Dick and I started going to movies and ice cream parlors [in 1939],” Joyce Fowler told Shearon, the Canadian author. “We were married the following March in Toronto, St. John’s Garrison Church. We were both 18.”

Seattle’s Paxton, who is from Ladner, British Columbia, threw his no-hitter at Rogers Centre, in Fowler’s hometown of Toronto. Interesting.

The Fowlers raised their family in Oneonta, where he eventually became a U.S. citizen. He died at 51 after battling kidney and liver disease.

“If you put a pennant contender behind Dick Fowler, he’d be a 20-game winner in a breeze,” former A’s teammate Carl Scheib told the Oneonta Star in Fowler’s 1972 obituary. “You just can’t believe the balls that dribble through the infield because of [teammates’] lackadaisical effort. He’s a great pitcher.”

Fowler pitched in the majors until 1952 and kicked around in pro ball for a few years more to help pay medical bills incurred by his son, Tom, who had numerous surgeries for birth defects. Dick Fowler, in fact, was given a compassionate discharge from the army in 1945, which set the stage for his historic no-hitter.

“Impossible is the best word for it,” said Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta, a Canadian who hails from Victoria, British Columbia. “A lot of things have to go right in a game for something like that to happen. If you have three years away from baseball, I guess you’d be grateful just to be back – especially from World War II. That is a great accomplishment for a man who served his country in a difficult time.”

Dick Fowler notebook

Born: March 30, 1921 in Toronto

Died: May 22, 1972 in Oneonta, N.Y.

Major-league career: 1941-42, 1945-52, all with the Philadelphia Athletics

Quick stats: 66-79 record, 4.11 ERA, 170 starts, 75 complete games.

Notable:

*Had been the only Canadian-born pitcher to throw a no-hitter for 73 years until Seattle’s James Paxton hurled one this season.

*Lost to the Browns, 1-0 in 1942, after pitching all 16 innings. Called no-hitting the Browns three years later a payback.

*When Ted Williams went 6 for 8 on the final day in 1941 to push his batting average to .406, he got two of his hits off Fowler, including his 37th homer of that season.

*Baseball career was interrupted by military service from 1943-45. Fowler enlisted when he was 22, missing three prime years of his career.

*No-hit the St. Louis Browns in his first start after returning from the Army in 1945 at Shibe Park.

*His no-hitter was the first in the American League since Bob Feller had one in 1940.

*Inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.

BOX SCORE

Philadelphia A’s 1, St. Louis Browns 0

Sunday, Sept. 9, 1945 — At Shibe Park (21st & Lehigh)

A’s pitcher Dick Fowler throws first no-hitter by Canadian-born pitcher

St. Louis Browns   AB RBI  BB  SO 
Milt Byrnes cf 3 0 0 0 1 2
Lou Finney 1b 3 0 0 0 1 0
Gene Moore rf 2 0 0 0 0 0
Chet Laabs lf 3 0 0 0 0 2
Mark Christman 3b 3 0 0 0 0 1
Vern Stephens ss 2 0 0 0 1 1
Frank Mancuso c 3 0 0 0 0 0
Don Gutteridge 2b 2 0 0 0 1 0
Ox Miller p 3 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 24 0 0 0 4 6
Philadelphia A’s  AB  RBI  BB  SO 
Mayo Smith lf 4 0 0 0 0 0
Hal Peck rf 4 1 1 0 0 0
Irv Hall 2b 3 0 1 1 1 0
Bobby Estalella cf 3 0 0 0 0 0
Dick Seibert 1b 3 0 2 0 0 0
George Kell 3b 3 0 0 0 0 1
Buddy Rosar c 3 0 0 0 0 0
Al Brancato ss 3 0 0 0 0 0
Dick Fowler p 3 0 1 0 0 0
Totals 29 1 5 1 1 1

E: Christman (6). LOB: St. Louis 2, Athletics 5.

2B: Fowler (2). 3B: Peck (7). HR: None.

RBI: Hall (44). SB: None. S: Moore.

RISP: St. Louis 0-2, Athletics 1-4. Turned DP: St. Louis 1, Athletics 2.

Score by innings

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
St. Louis 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Athletics 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 5 0

Pitching

St. Louis IP H R ER BB SO ERA
Ox Miller (L, 0-1) 8 5 1 1 1 1 0.96
Athletics
Dick Fowler (W, 1-0) 9 0 0 0 4 6 4.79

Miller faced 2 batters in the 9th.

Time: 1:51. Attendance: 16,755.

Umpires: George Pipgras (home), Eddie Rommel (first), Hal Weafer (third).

Note: There was no second-base umpire.

HOW THEY SCORED

ATHLETICS NINTH (1): Peck tripled to right. Hall singled to center, Peck scored.