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Mudville: July 12, 2024 7:45 pm PDT

Scout Tales: Mays & Bowa

As amateur players begin to take the field, scouts will take their place at diamonds to begin evaluating talent to find the next group of big leaguers. Tales of players flow from the scouts memories giving a glimpse into our great game. Having spent time with former legendary scouts Eddie Bockman and George Digby, here are two scout tales of a pair of players who found their way to cardboard.

THE LITTLE SHORTSTOP THAT WOULD

For Phillies fans in the 1970s and early ‘80s, they share a memory of a feisty infielder who helped lead their team to the 1980 World Series. For former Phillies scout Eddie Bockman, it is a remembrance of a shortstop he secretly signed in 1965. Lawrence Robert Bowa.

“For an infielder, he had the quickest hands and feet of any kid that I had run into,” noted Bockman of the wiry young man out of Sacramento City College. “He did everything quick. He walked fast, he ate fast, he did everything fast.”

He even signed fast, however unintentional that may have been. At the urging of part-time scout Bill Avila, Bowa attended a tryout camp run by Bockman in the early fall of 1965. The scout liked what he saw and arranged for Bowa to join his fall scout team. Watching him regularly, Bockman warmed up to the physically weak, yet feisty shortstop.

Early October came and with it, the World Series that featured the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then-Phillies general manager Paul Owens invited Bockman down to Los Angeles for the Series games, but the veteran scout was reluctant.

“I was scared to leave him (Bowa) alone, that someone would come and sign Larry while I was in Los Angeles,” recounted Bockman prior to his passing in 2011. “So before I got to L.A., I decided that I needed to go sign him.”

Without the required permission from the Philadelphia offices, Bockman negotiated a deal with a $2,000 signing bonus for Bowa to join the Phillies’ organization the following Spring Training. The one thing the scout didn’t do was put a date on the contract, a detail that the Bowa family failed to notice in all of the excitement of the 30-minute signing. With the contract in his back pocket and an 8mm film of his newly signed shortstop, Bockman traveled to Los Angeles to watch the series, but more importantly, to sell Owens on the player he secretly signed.

In the privacy of the general managers’ room at the Ambassador Hotel, Bockman located a projector and with a bed sheet as a screen, the two baseball men watched their future shortstop. Owens liked what he saw and gave Bockman permission to sign Bowa for no more than $2,000. With that, Bockman relaxed and enjoyed the World Series, secure in the knowledge that he had his player.

Upon returning home, Bockman dated the contract and with tongue in cheek made the call to Owens with the word that the deal was done.

Bowa went on to spend four years in the minors before embarking on a 16-year major league career that would see him take his place on five National League All Star squads. All totaled, Bowa played 2,274 games, finished with a .260 average, a .980 fielding percentage and won two Gold Gloves. The infielder would then take his fiery personality to the dugout where he was a long time major league coach, while also gathering stints skippering the Padres and Phillies to collect 418 managerial wins.

While the first Major League Free Agent Draft held in 1965 featured Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Nolan Ryan; the little shortstop that everyone passed on went on to a marvelous career… thanks in part to scout Eddie Bockman.

THE RIGHT PLAYER AT THE WRONG TIME

The late 1940s and early 1950s was a time when minorities were making their way into the big league picture. While the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cleveland Indians cautiously jumped into the integration of major league baseball by signing Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby; the Boston Red Sox were painfully slow in making the transition. This brings to mind a story told by long-time Red Sox scout George Digby, who signed close to 50 major leaguers during his career.

Digby recalled a time when he was watching the Red Sox farm team in Birmingham. His friend Eddie Glennon, the general manager of the Birmingham Barons, recommended he stay over and see a 17-year-old outfielder play for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. While staying over would cause Digby to change his itinerary for the scouting the rest of the Southern Association, Glennon promised he would not be disappointed.

After watching the young fly catcher play in a weekend series, Digby remarked to Glennon that indeed, “he’s a definitely a big league prospect.” The pair of friends retreated to the Barons offices to call Red Sox general manager Joe Cronin with their report, Digby recounted prior to his passing in 2014.

Glennon knew Cronin well, but Digby had never met his boss. After listening to the pair describe the phenom in which Digby claimed, “had all the tools to develop into a top major league outfielder and he would be a good one to break the color line,” Cronin decided to send Larry Woodall down to Birmingham. Woodall, a former catcher for the Detroit Tigers in the 1920s, was a close friend of Cronin who worked out of the Red Sox front office and also served as an extra coach when needed.

But on Woodall’s recommendation, the Red Sox purchased the contract of Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, a 32-year-old infielder, and passed on the young outfielder on the Black Baron club that would have cost the Red Sox a mere $5,000 at the time. Davis was assigned to Scranton (Class A) of the Eastern League lasting just 15 games in the Red Sox farm system. The second sacker who also logged time at third base enjoyed a six-year minor league career, yet never played a day in the majors.

The young outfielder whom Glennon and Digby recommended to Cronin, went on to become a Hall of Famer with the Giants. He was none other than— Willie Mays.

Boston fans can only dream how the Red Sox may have fared during the 1950s with Ted Williams in left field and Willie Mays in center. 

C.J. Carlson is a freelance baseball writer residing in the Midwest and raised on Chicago Cubs baseball, while collecting cards along the way.

Comments
  • James Crowley IV

    Outstanding stories. Two exciting players. Imagine a team of Ted Williams in left, Willie Mays in center, Don DiMaggio in right? Wow.

    June 20, 2024
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