Billy Joe Bowman visited with his brother Ferrell after watching him throw out the first pitch at the Johnson City Cardinals game Friday, but also learned he’d lost a brother in arms.
Ralph Carrier died Thursday. Carrier and Billy Joe pitched Science Hill to a state baseball championship in 1947.
They combined on a shutout in a 3-0 victory against Memphis Christian Brothers in the title game at Nashville’s Sulpher Dell ballpark after teaming for a shutout in a 1-0 semifinal victory against Franklin.
In several conversations some 5-6 years ago, Carrier preferred commending teammates while reliving his days with John Broyles’ Hilltoppers, players such as catcher John Mackley and shortstop Bobby Rowe.
“I tell you what, Ralph was a fine person,” Billy Joe said, “one of the finest you’ll run into.”
Ferrell and Billy Joe immediately said “curveball” simultaneously when asked what Carrier’s bread-and-butter pitch was.
“He had a good curveball,” Billy Joe said. “He’d come three-quarters. And he could pinpoint that curveball as good as anybody that age — even up here (at the Appalachian League level).”
Carrier pitched three years in the minors. He played two seasons in the Appalachian League — Pulaski in 1949 and Kingsport in 1951 — and went 10-7 with the Lamesa Lobos (Texas) in the New Mexico League in 1952.
Billy Joe pitched in the minors (1953-59). He went 11-3 for Johnson City in 1953 and finished his career with the Triple-A Houston Buffs.
Billy Joe remained in Houston as a coach for many years, including when the Astros had the loud uniforms and players such as Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard, Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedeno. He is pleased to see the Appalachian League-leading Greeneville Astros having success with Cedeno as hitting coach.
Billy Joe also played at the University of Tennessee, where he won two games (against Princeton and Southern Cal) and homered while helping the Volunteers finish runner-up to Oklahoma in the 1951 College World Series.
Mississippi State had also offered after seeing him pitch against Memphis in a Southeast Regional championship in Mississippi.
“The coach from Mississippi State said, ‘Young man, I’ll give you a full scholarship, books, everything if you come to Mississippi State,’” Billy Joe said. “And I almost went. But General (Robert) Neyland and Cy Anderson came up on Elm Street — they pulled up one day and knocked on the door — and they said, ‘We’ll give you a full scholarship, books, and we’ll give you a $25 a month stipend. And I signed the papers.
“The General saw me play against Chattanooga Central in the playoffs. They had a good ballclub. He stood behind home plate. We played them in Maryville.”
Hobe “Bobby” Leonard, who was also at the Cardinals game Friday, was a flashy third baseman for the state-champion Hilltoppers in 1947.
“I bet there haven’t been any two pitchers since Billy Joe and Ralph — any two pitchers at one time that were as tough as those two,” Leonard said. “I mean, John Broyles would just throw one, then throw the other and we just mowed ’em down.”
A defensive specialist, Ferrell Bowman played shortstop for the San Francisco Giants when they lost a classic seven-game World Series to the New York Yankees in 1962. He was a long-jump champion at Science Hill, where he helped the baseball team to a state tournament and led Sidney Smallwood’s 1953-54 basketball team to an undefeated regular season.
Ferrell also played basketball at East Tennessee State. He managed to play two baseball games for Jim Mooney’s Buccaneers before basketball coach Madison Brooks told him to quit. Ferrell said his pro baseball career started thanks to Bill Wilkins, a former Elizabethton Cub who was coaching Science Hill basketball at the time.
Ferrell got signed by playing in the semi-pro Burley Belt League for Abingdon with Carrier and his brother, Gene, also known as “Spook.” Another Science Hill alum, Joe McClain, who pitched in the majors for the Washington Senators, was pitching for Saltville in the Burley Belt at the time.
“We always had a battle with Saltville,” Ferrell said. “Boy, Ralph could just pinpoint that ball where he wanted. … I was the batboy for the 1947 Science Hill team. They had good players back then, Pete Deloach and Willis Sexton and Jack Chinouth. But (Billy) Joe and Ralph — they were the mainstays. You could pitch one, then the other, and they seldom ever got beat.”
Carrier and Billy Joe often credited Science Hill catcher John Mackley for much of the Hilltoppers’ success. Mackley, who died in 2009, played in the minors from 1950 to 1960.
“John Mackley was a good catcher,” Billy Joe said. “I played against him in the minors when I was at Nashville.”
Thinking of Mackley reminded Billy Joe of playing baseball games at the since-razed stadium at Mountain Home on the grounds of the Veterans Administration.
“We played some at the soldiers’ home,” Billy Joe said. “They made that into a graveyard now. And John Mackley’s buried there on the baseball field.”
Billy Joe said it’d been about a year and a half since he’d visited Carrier, and it suddenly seemed odd to him that he’d tried to visit Carrier earlier this week.
“I’d been to Mel’s Pawn Shop and was coming up Roan and said, ‘Well, I’ll drive by to see Ralph,’” Billy Joe said. “The blinds were shut. I should’ve stopped anyway. ...”