San Francisco’s resilient climb into the World Series driver’s seat couldn’t be more fitting for Ernie Ferrell Bowman, who experienced a Giant comeback in 2012.
Bowman was an infielder on the Giants’ 1962 World Series team, and 15 of those Giants, including Bowman, were in San Francisco for the home opener in April to commemorate the 50th anniversary. To say that the happy-go-lucky Bowman, who played as a freshman on Science Hill’s state runner-up team in 1951, was just happy to be there was an understatement.
Bowman, 77, was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer in the summer of 2011, and given several months to live. But former former teammate/Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry found out, and through the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), has helped Bowman with his medical bills and purchased him a new 10-15-year lease on life.
“Gaylord is such a wonderful man,” Bowman said. “Thursday, I called Gaylord and he said, ‘Ernie,’ and I said, ‘How ’bout them Giants.’”
Bowman is scheduled to speak at BAT’s annual meeting in New York City in January. Among those expected to be there with Perry and Bowman are Joe Torre and Johnny Bench.
“They want me to get up and give a testimony,” Bowman said. “Gaylord’s real happy about that. … I wouldn’t be here without ’em.”
Bowman saw Torre in San Francisco at the beginning of the season.
“Joe Torre’s one fine person,” Bowman said. “He was with the Milwaukee Braves in 1964 when I was traded to the Braves with Felipe Alou and Ed Bailey. … Joe is gonna be the next commissioner, I guarantee it.”
Bowman’s shining moment in the World Series was in Game 4, which the Giants won 7-3 at Yankee Stadium to even the series. Bowman pinch ran in the seventh for Bob Nieman, who was intentionally walked to load the bases after pinch-hitting for Don Larsen.
Ensuing batter Chuck Hiller hit a two-out grand slam that gave the Giants a 6-2 lead. Bowman was rounding the bases, scoring on the first World Series slam ever hit by a National League player. Bowman flew out in the ninth, but ended the game with all three assists in the ninth inning from his shortstop position.
“I made the diving play at short and then (Mickey) Mantle hit the line-shot to me to end the game (with a force-out at second),” Bowman said. “I thought to myself, ‘All the way from Elm Street in Johnson City to playing in the World Series in New York City.”
Others from Elm Street were there, too. Bowman’s parents rarely got to see him play in pro ball, but they didn’t miss the Big Apple.
“After the game we were sitting in a hotel and I was sitting on a dresser with the drawer open pulling my shoes off, and my dad looked over at me and said, ‘Damn Doc, you can really play,’” Bowman said, admiration obvious in his voice for the man who made 50 cents an hour at a hosiery mill. “He called me ‘Doc.’ He said, ‘You wasn’t scared?’ I said, ‘No dad, it’s just a baseball, and I haven’t made an error all year.’ I wasn’t about to miss one.”
The Yankees’ Ralph Terry pitched a four-hit shutout for a 1-0 victory in Game 7. Bowman took over at shortstop in the top of the ninth, and retired Bill Skowron via a ground-out for the first out of Billy O’Dell’s perfect frame.
Matty Alou led off the bottom of the ninth and Willie Mays moved him to third base with a two-out double. Willie McCovey appeared to have hit a two-run single, but hit the ball at second baseman Bobby Richardson.
“I’m sitting on the bench when McCovey hit the ball and up I jumped and … it was over,” Bowman said. “It’s a weird feeling. I mean, McCovey hit a line-shot to Richardson at second base.”
Bowman said the disappointment took him back to when he was a freshman playing when Science Hill lost the 1951 state championship game to Memphis South Side at the Memphis Chicks’ stadium, and more specifically, when he thought he’d hit a game-winning shot against Memphis Treadwell in the state tournament at Vanderbilt’ Memorial Gym in 1954. Instead, Sidney Smallwood’s Hilltoppers ended the season with 26-1 record.
Bowman didn’t always come up short. He won a state title in the long jump, and was high-jumping 6-5, rather unconventionally, before he left ETSU. Joe McClain, who went on to pitch for the Washington Senators, was a senior on the state runner-up baseball team when Bowman was a freshman.
“Ferrell, of the guys I knew back then, was the best athlete I ever saw come out of Science Hill, and I felt that way for many years,” McClain said. “Ferrell could’ve done anything he wanted to as far as sports went. For a little boy — what was he, 5-8? — he could dunk a basketball out there at State. I mean, that’s some pretty good spring in your legs.”
Willie Mays introduced Bowman to basketball great Oscar Robertson, who came here to speak when Bowman was inducted into the Northeast Tennessee Hall of Fame in 1993. That was a thrill for Bowman, who had once fired up the Cincinnati Bearcats fans with a dunk during pregame layup drills while playing for Madison Brooks at East Tennessee State.
Bowman played basketball two seasons at ETSU, which went to the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City his second season (1955-56). He played two games for the Bucs baseball team before Brooks balked at the idea.
“Joe Davis broke his leg on the baseball team, and … Jim Mooney asked me if I’d go play,” Bowman said. “We had Harold Stout, who later became the coach. So I went up and played at Appalachian State. Got three hits, made two errors. They played me at short. So next game we go to LMU and they put me at first base. I get three more hits, make two more errors. Jim Mooney called me over and he said, ‘I’ll tell you one thing, if you stay in baseball, you’re some kind of great hitter, but you can’t field your (butt).’”
Instead, Bowman became a light-hitting infielder known for his glove. In fact, his versatility in the field cost him at-bats. He remembers plating three runs against Philadelphia and not being in the lineup the following day, and he vented frustration after shagging flies in batting practice.
“I’m standing in the outfield and they say, ‘Squeak, throw the balls in,’” Bowman said. “I just turned around and threw ’em all to the stands. They said, ‘Alvin (Dark) wants to see ya.’ I went in there and I said, ‘How come I’m not playing, Alvin?’ He said, ‘Who else can play second, third, short and catch?’ I said, ‘Nobody.’ He said, ‘That’s why I want you right here (by me on the bench for late-inning double-switches).’ He says, ‘As long as I’m manager of the Giants you’ve got a job.’ They fired him and traded me (chuckling) the next day — me and (Ed) Bailey and Felipe Alou to the Braves.”
Bowman initially signed with Tennessee in baseball. His brother, Billy Joe, who helped Science Hill’s baseball team win the 1947 state championship, played at UT, where he won two games and hit a home run in the 1951 College World Series.
“Having an older brother like that gives you an edge,” Bowman said. “Joe was a ballplayer. I was the batboy for John Broyles when they had Willis Sexton, Jack Chinouth, Billy Joe, Bobby Rowe, the dentist, Ralph Carrier and John Mackley. Oh man, they had a great high school team.”
Bowman chuckles thinking about how often he heard the only reason he was getting to play as a prep freshman was because he was Billy Joe’s brother.
Bowman transferred to ETSU when UT football coach Robert Neyland told him he was playing football and returning punts. And he left ETSU shortly after Brooks told him he couldn’t play baseball.
Bill Wilkins, a former minor-league baseball player who coached Science Hill’s basketball team in the late 1950s, helped get Bowman signed professionally. Bowman first played in the Burley Belt League, and thought he was in the money when he was getting paid $15 a game 2-3 times a week in places such as Abingdon and Saltville, Va.
It was the Golden Era of area baseball. The late Jim “Sheriff” Constable, a left-handed pitcher from Jonesborough, played with the Giants 1956-58 and ’63, when he was teammates with Bowman for a month.
Constable went 3-4 with two saves in 98 career innings. He won 102 games in the minors, and 64 of those came in Triple-A at Minneapolis, Toronto and Tacoma.
“Me and the Sheriff roomed together there for 30 days at the Case Mateo Inn,” Bowman said, “and they sent him to Tacoma. … Everybody loved the Sheriff.”
The Washington Countians smiled at the long odds of them ending up together in an MLB dugout.
“We talked about it,” Bowman said. “The Sheriff said, ‘Boy, wonder what everybody back home thinks about us country boys?’”
Bowman loves the old-school style and camaraderie of Bruce Bochy’s Giants. He can identify, to some degree, with Sergio Romo’s beginnings.
“He came out of Mexico, you know, and they were so poor and everything, and when he got that contract for $1.4 million he said, ‘I can take care of my momma and my daddy and my grandpa’ and all this stuff,” Bowman said. “He is just so happy to be here, and I know he’s happy to be paid and all, but he’s one that’d probably be like I was — would’ve played for nothing.”
Bowman topped out at $12,000, but his pro career’s still paying off. Memories are priceless, as is the opportunity to make more.