Wednesday, January 28, 2009

#19 -- Billy Cowan

Billy Cowan

Billy wasn't the best ballplayer out there. Only once did he get 200 plate appearances in the big leagues. In 1964 he was the regular centerfielder for the Cubs as a rookie. Even though his batting average was only .241, hitting 19 homers was pretty good for that day and very good for a rookie. He stole 12/15 bases that year, which was a good clip. So why didn't he ever get 200 plate appearances again?
The answer might be hiding in the fact that in 1965, despite getting 183 at bats for the Metropolitans and Braves, he didn't get 200 plate appearances. In fact, he really wasn't close. In that year he had 4 walks, got hit once and had 1 sacrifice bunt...189 plate appearances. He struck out 54 times. Go back to that rookie season where he played regularly, hit .241 and had 19 homers. He had 497 ABs, 18 walks and 128 Ks. Thats a line of .241/.268/.404 for an OPS+ of 84. That 1965 season had an OPS+ of 42. For comparison, Bob Gibson's lifetime OPS+ was 49.
Billy is very appropriately posed with the scoreboard halo over his head. Although he had a decent 1971 as a part-time leftfielder and pinch-hitter, he was about to enter Baseball Heaven. In 1972 the Angels gave some playing time in the outfield to Leroy Stanton and Jim Spencer and Andy Kosco came in to take Billy's spot. Billy's last 3 plate appearances were in 1972: foul pop to the catcher off Dave LaRoche, struck out by Paul Lindblad, and struck out by Lindblad again, both times to end a game with the tying run on. (Career against Lindblad he was 0-7, 3 Ks)
But Billy's famous for this photo of him entering the pearly gates of the California Angels....

1972 Feature
"Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is ABC's Wide World of Sports!"

I listened to those words most every week when I was a kid. There might be a ballgame on another network that I liked, so I didn't watch every week. But many weeks I'd have to see what Jim McKay was doing next. There was such a variety of sports.....and sport-like events. You know, it's been years since I've seen barrel jumping on ice skates. For those of you younger than 40 you might find it hard to believe that such a thing exists, but one of the annual staples of ABC's Wide World of Sports was the world barrel jumping championships. You'd have a rink (or a pond somewhere). "Athletes" in speed skating suits were out there. Then they'd bring in barrels that looked like kegs with numbers on the outside. I remember these Evel-Knievels-on-ice-skates jumping 12-13 barrels. But when they'd crash it was good.

This link is to the 1952 Barrel Jumping Championships. It's not Wide World of Sports, but it's the kind of thing you'd get to watch. It's also cool because of a certain Baseball Hall of Famer who is spotlighted in the stands watching. I would never in a million years have equated this particular Hall of Famer with barrel jumping.

I'll come back to more Wide World of Sports "sports" like demolition derby, etc. I'll leave you with my favorite reference to this long running ABC show at about the 1:17 point of the clip. Any offensive material is courtesy of the wit of Mel Brooks.


  1. I guess the photographer who took the photo coordinated with Cowan to have him pose so the halo was over his head.

    I had planned to get that card at the card show, coincidentally.

  2. Think I now own several of this card. Every time I run into it at a card show and it's reasonably priced (~.25) I can't resist.