It's not often that a pitcher with an ERA above 4.00 ranks among the best in a franchise's history, but things were different during Schoolboy Rowe's heyday. Offense was the norm in the 1930s, and despite some high ERA figures, Rowe was better than league average in seven of his nine seasons in Detroit. A three-time All-Star, Rowe went to the World Series three times with the Tigers.
Lynwood Thomas Rowe was born on January 11th, 1910 in Waco, Texas. Nicknamed "Schoolboy" when he played on a men's baseball team as a 15 year old, Rowe was a talented athlete. He grew up playing football, tennis, and golf, but (wisely) chose to devote his talents to baseball. Rowe made his professional debut for the Beaumont Exporters in 1932, compiling a 19-7 record and 2.30 ERA.
Rowe debuted with the Tigers in 1933, posting a 3.58 ERA in 123 1/3 innings. He and fellow rookie Hank Greenberg showed promise, but the Tigers were under .500 for the season. That did not last long, however. With the 1934 season came new player-manager Mickey Cochrane, and the Tigers won 101 games en route to a World Series appearance. Rowe was spectacular, going 24-8 with a 3.45 ERA in 266 innings. He led the team in wins -- including a league-record 16 consecutive victories from June 15th to August 25th -- and was tops among AL pitchers with 5.4 WAR. Rowe was fourth in the AL MVP voting, but third on his own team. Mickey Cochrane and Charlie Gehringer finished first and second, respectively.
Rowe saw both his record and ERA decline in 1935, but like Justin Verlander in 2012, may have been better than in his 24-win campaign the season prior. Rowe tossed a team-high 275 2/3 innings and led the league in shutouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He finished the year with 6.5 WAR, third in the AL, and made his first All-Star team. If that were not enough, he also hit .312/.380/.459 with three home runs and 28 RBI in 124 plate appearances.
His postseason followed the same pattern as the regular season. He lost two games in the World Series, receiving one run of support in 17 innings. Those two starts, combined with a win in relief in Game 3, saw him post a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings with a 14:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This came on the heels of a 1934 World Series in which he allowed a 2.95 ERA in 21 1/3 innings with 12 strikeouts and zero walks. It seems that playoff run support has been an issue for a while in Detroit.
After another 19-win season in 1936, Rowe spent the next two seasons dealing with arm issues. He only pitched 31 1/3 innings for the Tigers in 1937 and spent most of the 1938 season in the minors after just 21 big league innings to open the year. He returned to full-time duty in 1939, posting a 10-12 record and 4.99 ERA in 164 innings. It would be Rowe's only full season in a Tigers uniform with an ERA above the league average.
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Rowe regained his stride in 1940, winning 16 of 19 decisions with a 3.46 ERA in 169 innings. His strikeout totals dipped, resulting in him compiling "only" 3.2 WAR. He finished seventh in the MVP voting (and third on the team, again) as the Tigers won 90 games en route to their third World Series appearance of Rowe's career. Unfortunately, the postseason was not so kind to him this time around. Rowe allowed seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings as the Tigers lost in seven games to the Cincinnati Reds.
As mentioned above, Rowe was a talented athlete, and it showed at the plate. His .332 wOBA is the best for a pitcher in franchise history with at least 100 career plate appearances, while his 82 wRC+ ranks third. To put these figures in perspective, Brandon Inge had a .303 wOBA and 82 wRC+ in a Tigers uniform. Rowe's nine home runs and 111 RBI rank third and second, respectively.
It's possible that the Tigers may have soured on Rowe after the 1940 World Series and a lackluster 1941 season. He was sold to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942 at the age of 32, where he spent part of the year in their minor league system. The Dodgers may have given up on Rowe too soon, however. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he put up a 14-8 record and 2.93 ERA in 199 innings during the 1943 season. After two years of military service -- most of which were spent playing baseball for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station juggernaut -- Rowe returned to post a career-best 2.12 ERA in 1946.
While he made another All-Star appearance in 1947, Rowe's '46 season in Philadelphia was the last above-average year of his career. He went 27-27 with a 4.31 ERA for the Phillies over the next three seasons. After playing for the San Diego Padres in the Pacific Coast League in 1950, Rowe retired. He didn't stay away from the game, serving as the Tigers' pitching coach and a scout after his playing days. He passed away after a heart attack on January 8th, 1961 at the age of 50.