Richard Hyatt: Legendary pitching coach Art Fowler was more than just a clown in pinstripes

November 5, 2013 

The back window of Ray Fowler's van pays homage to No. 42 of the New York Yankees.

Baseball fans who see him around town assume he means Mariano Rivera, but ask him and he'll tell you the story of his father, whose turbulent career in Yankee Stadium assured him a ringside seat to the Bronx Zoo.

Art Fowler was Billy Martin's drinking buddy and Martin was Yankee owner George Steinbrenner's punching bag. Together Fowler and Martin went in and out of New York more often than a subway.

He probably won't be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but Art was a legendary pitching coach who hitched his wagon to Martin and worked for five big league clubs -- including multiple stints with the Yankees.

"He was something else," Ray said. "When I was a child my Daddy would leave in February and get back home in October. He didn't make much money, though. He always told me he was born 30 years too soon."

Art Fowler left baseball in 1989 and died in 2007, 18 years after Ray moved here to work for Pratt & Whitney.

His son can regale you with colorful stories about his father's 45 years in baseball.

Art earned three World Series rings, but the tales usually come back to the Yankees, where Fowler served as the club's sixth, ninth, 17th and 26th pitching coach.

Ray remembers one trip where Martin's limo driver picked him and his buddy up at the Newark airport.

At the hotel, his father said he would be back later and that he had an appointment with Steinbrenner at 2 p.m.

"What's that about?" Ray asked.

"He's going to fire me," Art said. "He's mad at Billy and wants to make him quit by firing me."

His father returned with two checks.

"He paid off my contract then he gave me this check for $20,000," Art said. "I wouldn't take it at first. I told him I didn't earn it. But after he pushed it across the desk three times, I took it."

By the time Fowler got to the majors in 1954, he was 31 years old and had spent 10 years wandering the minor leagues. He pitched for three big league teams, including the Los Angeles Angels owned by Gene Autry -- the singing cowboy.

"Daddy liked funny books and he especially liked Gene Autry," Ray recalled. "They got to be friends and he would put a paper bag over the name on Mr. Autry's parking place and write Roy Rogers."

But Fowler was more than a clown in pinstripes. He tutored 18 20-game winners and five of them won more than 25 games. His simple approach did not include running. In one memorable observation, he said,

"If running had been important, Jesse Owens would have been a 20-game winner."

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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