When Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Archie Bradley became the first reliever to hit a triple in the postseason, it blew a lot of us out of our ratty, Cheetos-infested recliners.
Madison Bumgarner raked this year. Clayton Kershaw had his moments with the stick. Luis Perdomo hit four triples and a double (and that's all) this year, for crying out loud. But they were all NL pitchers; they were at least used to taking their turn in the batting order.
Before the advent of interleague play, the American League enjoyed the advantage of having a DH in the lineup, every regular-season game of every year since 1973. Ron Blomberg was the first DH to take a turn at bat in the regular season when, on April 6th, 1973, he stepped in against the Red Sox starter Luis Tiant. Ironically, the “designated hitter” walked, though with the bases loaded. The bat he carried to the plate in that plate appearance is now enshrined in the Hall Of Fame.
But that train of thought eventually led me to this question: who was the last AL pitcher to record a hit in a regular-season game before the DH was instituted?
Some of you already know the answer to this trivia question: on October 4th, 1972, it would be another Yankee who would make his mark in history when rookie right-hander Larry Gowell, facing Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jim Lonborg, stung a 3-2 fastball down the left-field line for a double.
Interestingly enough, it was both his first and last MLB hit, as well as the final regular-season hit by an American League pitcher until we were blessed (ahem!) with interleague play.
As it turns out, there's a lot more to his story than just one hit. I recently had a chance to sit down with Mr. Gowell, who spoke with me at length about his childhood, his early baseball years, his experiences in minor-league baseball, and his post-baseball experiences. (This is Part One of a two-part article.)
Clinton: So you were drafted right out of high school, in the 4th round, by the Yankees. Growing up in the Auburn, Maine area, did you have expectations about what you wanted to do when you grew up? Did you always want to play baseball, or did you have a different idea as to what you wanted from life?
Larry: I really had no idea what I wanted to do growing up. I had great passion for sports and music. The sports took over my life at an early age.
My father, Lawrence Gowell Sr. was a big baseball player for his high school, playing second base and pitching. He was a baseball fanatic and got both my brother and me into organized ball at age five. From a very early age, all I wanted to do was play baseball as much as possible. I remember playing on four teams: the Police Athletic League, Colt League, Legion Baseball and a softball team to boot.
At about 12 years old I started pitching after showing a great arm from center field. The coaches could see I had great potential and I had my chance to pitch a lot in those early years. My brother, Richard was also a great player, but hurt his arm at 13 throwing too many curveballs.
Having a brother to play with and pitch to every other day helped a lot. Set up a pitcher's mound in the back yard and worked on our curveballs, changeups and fastballs. So, I really did not have any other direction in my life. I played no other sports in high school.
So, the bottom line is I did not have any other plans in life or a desire to go on to college, because I really did not like going to school. Being signed as a 4th round draft pick, the 61st player in the nation, was a really big deal coming from our area of the country. It was a great honor to be picked.
At my high school graduation the school gave me a made-up contract sent from the Yankees to recognize me at the graduation. That meant more to me than the diploma. So, the Yankees gave me the chance of a lifetime and without that chance I would have been working next to my father in the shoe shop.
Tell me a bit about the town in which you grew up.
The city of Auburn is about 30,000 people. We call our area L/A area. That stands for the L/A of the northeast, since Lewiston is across the river. They have about 25,000 in Lewiston. It was a mill town in those early years, shoe factories.
A lot of blue-collar labor was needed to keep things going. A very friendly town and people, and they would really get behind you. Great sports and arts area. A lot of sports and music. My whole family played music; my brother was a songwriter, singer and guitar player and I was a trumpet and organ player and sang in the choir. I've been a professional singer for more than nine years now.
I was going to a Seventh day Adventist private school where I sang in the choir and played in the band. They had no sports programs of which to speak. I was told by people that I had to go to public high school to been seen. So, I switched to Edward Little High School in Auburn, Maine. It had a very good baseball team and its history was great.
We had the late Artie Belivieu, who was a Bates College graduate. He was a very good coach that happened to be a huge Yankees fan. So, in my first year I did not pitch that much as I was a new young buck on the team. I went 3-0. I was wild that first year. I threw very hard but walked a few too many. I still won all my games.
After having a great Legion baseball year I was a front-runner, pitching my team to a 6-0 season, breaking some strikeout records and pitching some close no-hitters. During the summer of my junior year was when I made my mark as a major prospect. Our New Auburn Legion team, under Jim Bouchles, went for the Maine State Championship in Augusta.
Since I did not pitch on Friday night and Saturday, I started the first game on Friday and pitched a 1 hit shutout. With one day rest on Saturday, I pitched on Sunday and pitched a no-hitter. That was 18 innings, with one hit, against the best in Maine. We had nine scouts at the game, and on that day I was on the radar of many teams.
So, now comes my senior year with scouts showing up like Frank Malzone for the Red Sox, the Cubs and Phillies scouts, and on and on. In my last season I was 7-0 with several one-hitters. I also was a great hitter in high school and hit .390 or so over my three years. I had the home run record (14) over three years until the metal bats came out and they broke it.
Now, one of the later games of the year my coach got the big scouts from the Yankees in to see me pitch against our rival, Lewiston High. Pat Cogan showed up to see me pitch for the first time just before the draft. In that game, I was throwing bullets. I knew he was sitting right behind the cage. I struck out 19 out of 19 hitters, then several tried to bunt on me and got some bunts down but we got them out. I ended up with 22 strikeouts, 3 walks and my first no-hitter in high school. It was the best I had ever thrown and the scout was all smiles, talking with me and my father.
At that point my value went way up. I was not going to be a fourth round pick before that game. The Cubs were the other team most interested in me, along with many others. Since my coach was a huge Yankees fan and he got the big scouts to come to what was the very best game of my life, I ended up picked 61st out of the whole nation.
I was told many years later by some scouts that the 1967 draft was the most talented group of players in the history of baseball. So, my competition way very high. Yes, I was undefeated and had the home run record for the school in 1967.
The Yankees signed you in '67, send you to Oneonta. What was it like adjusting to your first year in pro ball? Are there any experiences that stand out from that season?
My father was a tough negotiator. We worked the Yankees hard to get a $20,000 bonus and he got my brother signed with me to watch over me my first year. My brother's name is Richard. He was on the bench, but did get up a few times and then they released him. Yeah, we had the fiery Frank Verdi, a little like Billy Martin. A great guy. I went 3-0 my first year.
I was in awe of the players. Many of them from major universities like Florida State, Arizona State, Clemson and so on. You say to yourself, “I have to be better than these big college players to get noticed?” It is overwhelming when you talk to a pitcher from Florida State who went 10 and 2 for Division I! I just came from a small school in Maine.
Anyhow, I did have a lot of pride in myself and I was told by Verdi that they all put their pants on the same way. “You are here because you have great talent, or we would not have taken you in the 4th round,” he told me. “We have faith in your abilities, so just go out and do your best.” Well, I did, with a 3-0 season after coming to the team in late-middle July because of a late signing.
The town of Oneonta is a great town, and the people really took you in like family. The one experience I had was on one night when I was throwing really hard. My brother was in the dugout looking in, and I threw a pitch and several people said they never saw it come out of my hand.
They just heard it hit the mitt.
(Stay tuned for Part Two, as Gowell speaks about friends he made as a minor-league newbie, how control issues led to a change in his delivery that led to his ML call-up, and his moment in history after less than a week in the bigs.)