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Lynwood Thomas “Schoolboy” Rowe was a sports star from El Dorado (Union County) who became one of the most famous major league baseball pitchers of the 1930s and 1940s. With three other pitchers—Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Smokey Joe Wood—Rowe still (as of 2011) holds the American League record for most consecutive victories, winning sixteen straight games in 1934.
Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe was born on January 11, 1910, in Waco, Texas, the son of Thomas M. Rowe and Ruby Hardin Rowe. The Rowes soon moved to El Dorado, where Rowe and his brother, Mark, attended El Dorado schools. He established himself as a superior athlete in elementary school and was later a star in football, track, basketball, tennis, and baseball. He was an all-state football player for two years and an outstanding amateur golfer.
He began playing baseball in a regional semi-professional league with a team sponsored by the News-Times, Inc., which published the morning and afternoon newspapers in El Dorado. Playing in a men’s league as a fifteen-year-old boy, he overwhelmed a team that had a number of former professional players, and one of them remarked that they were “beaten by a schoolboy.” The name “Schoolboy” stuck for the rest of his life.
At 6' 4", Rowe was a right-handed pitcher with an overpowering fastball. He was also a phenomenal hitter. A Detroit Tiger scout watched him pitch and signed him to a professional contract in 1932. He played that year for the Beaumont Express in the Texas League, winning nineteen games and leading the league with a 2.30 earned run average. Rowe and first baseman Hank Greenberg, who would become his teammate in Detroit and would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, led the Express to the league championship.
In 1933, the Tigers called Rowe and Greenberg up to the majors, and Rowe had his greatest season the next year. He won twenty-four games and lost eight, winning sixteen in a row late in the season. At the end of the season, the Tigers needed to win at least two of four games against the New York Yankees—the team of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Frankie Crosetti, and Lefty Gomez—to win the pennant. Rowe won the first game for the Tigers. The Yankees won the next game behind Gomez and then won the first game of a Sunday doubleheader. The Detroit News reported that in the clubhouse before the second Sunday game, the Tigers’ manager and catcher, Mickey Cochrane, raged, “Can’t anyone beat these baboons?” From the far end of the clubhouse Rowe yelled, “If nobody else wants it, I’ll take it.” He shut out the Yankees 3–0.
In the World Series, the Tigers lost a seven-game series to the St. Louis Cardinals—the legendary Gashouse Gang with its Arkansas-born pitching stars, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean and Paul “Daffy” Dean. Rowe pitched twelve innings to win the second game for the Tigers 3–2, retiring twenty-two consecutive batters at one point. The Cardinals, behind Paul Dean, beat Rowe and the Tigers 4–3 in the sixth game, and the Cardinals won the seventh.
Like the Deans in St. Louis, Rowe had a folksy and garrulous manner, and that, coupled with his superstitions, made him a celebrity. He carried talismans in his pocket for good luck, always picked up his glove with his left hand, and muttered to the ball while he was pitching. On a radio broadcast interview in 1934 with Eddie Cantor, the comedian, singer, and dancer, Rowe whispered into the microphone, “How’m I doin’, Edna?”—referring to his high school sweetheart, Edna Mary Skinner, who became his wife after the 1934 season. Cantor thereafter frequently ended his broadcasts by whispering “How’m I doin’, Edna?” Opposing players and fans taunted Rowe with the line when he got in trouble on the mound. During the World Series, the Detroit News brought Edna Skinner from El Dorado to Detroit, Michigan, to write articles on cooking or baseball and to keep her around for the pitcher’s good luck.
Rowe won nineteen games the next season and led the Tigers to the World Series championship. He pitched twenty-one complete games and led the league with six shutouts. However, he developed arm trouble in 1937 and was sent to the minor leagues. He returned to the Tigers two years later and led them to the World Series again with a 16–3 record. The Tigers sold him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942, and he finished his career with two stretches with the Philadelphia Phillies, in 1943 and from 1946 to 1949. He missed the 1944 and 1945 seasons while he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He spent most of the twenty-two months at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, where he starred in the military services’ baseball rivalry. He pitched and played the outfield for a navy team made up of former professional baseball players and managed by Mickey Cochran. The team had a 48–2 record in 1944, and Rowe led the team in batting with a .446 average.
Returning to professional baseball in 1946, he had a league-best 11–4 record and a 2.12 earned run average. He last pitched for the Phillies on September 13, 1949. He moved on to pitch in sixteen games for San Diego in the Pacific Coast League in 1950 and in sixteen games for Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1951. In 1952 and 1958, he did brief stints as a minor league manager.
Over his major-league career, Rowe won 158 games, lost 101, and struck out 913 batters. He was named to the American or National League All-Star teams in 1935, 1936, and 1947. He had a lifetime batting average of .263 as a batting pitcher and pinch-hitter and hit .303 and .312 in his best seasons, 1934 and 1935. He hit eighteen home runs and batted in 153 runs during his career, both exceptional for pitchers.
After his playing career ended, he returned to El Dorado while he worked in the Tiger system as a manager at Williamsport, in the front office in Detroit, and as a roving scout for baseball talent. He was the Tigers’ pitching coach in 1954 and 1955.
Rowe and his wife had a son and a daughter. Rowe died of a heart attack on January 8, 1961, in El Dorado, at the age of fifty. An obituary in the New York Times reported his age incorrectly as forty-eight. He is buried in Arlington Memorial Park Cemetery in El Dorado.
For additional information:“‘Schoolboy’ Rowe Famed Baseball Star Dies.” El Dorado Daily News, January 9, 1961, pp. 1–2.
“Schoolboy Rowe, Pitcher, 48, Dies.” New York Times, January 9, 1961, p. 39.
Zoss, Joel, and John Bowman. Diamonds in the Rough: The Untold History of Baseball. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.
Ernest DumasLittle Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 8/12/2013
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