Card thoughts: I thought this Joe Cowley was this jerky Sun-times columnist, but apparently I was wrong.
The player: Cowley spent 9 years in the Braves system, but never pitched much with them in the majors—which is telling, because from 1981-1984 (when Cowley was at AAA), their major league pitching staff was no great shakes.
After essentially being released by the Braves in 1983, Cowley was picked up by the Yankees as AAA insurance for their starters. But the Yankees only had Ron Guidry and Phil Neikro as regular starters that year, and Cowley was rotated into the rotation in July. He performed surprisingly well, going 9-2 with a 3.68 ERA.
Cowley was even better in the season shown on this card. With a 12-6 record, with winning percentage was in the top ten in the league. He was helped by the Yankees high power offense, however, as his peripherals that season were pretty bad: 85 walks to 97 strikeouts, and 29 home runs given up in just over 159 innings. Cowley couldn’t even field well.
Realizing they had lightning in the bottle, the Yankees made a rare wise trade (for the time), and sent Cowley to the White Sox for Britt Burns and a few minor leaguers. With the Sox, he continued to walk tons of guys, although his strikeouts were up a tad. His 11-11 record wasn’t so great, however, although some of that can be attributed to the poor White Sox offense backing him up.
But notably, Cowley threw one of the more improbable no-hitters in major league history. You usually think of no-hitters as a crisp, well-thrown game. This was decidedly not. Cowley was in trouble all game, and at one point walked three batters in a row (with no outs). However, he got out of it by just giving up a sacrifice fly. Those three walks were out of seven on the day, and he won the game 7-1.
Cowley would never win another major league game. He went 0-2 the rest of the season, and then gave up 17 hits and 21 walks in just 11 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 1987 (he only made it past the fifth inning in one of those four starts. He gave up 7, 5, 5 and 6 runs in those starts. ). So Cowley is the last pitcher to have his last win be a no-hitter.
Rear guard: You might think Cowley was a veteran by looking at this card back, but no. Those are almost all minor league teams. Topps standard back then was if a player had less than 3 years experience, they showed the minor league record. If you squint hard, you can see he played with the Braves (tucked away in there in 1982).
As a kid, though, all those unknown towns were exciting. Cowley’s best minor league year as a starter was with
in 1978, where he went 11-7. Greenwood
was part of the now defunct Western Carolinas League (which changed its name in
1979 to the South Atlantic League). Greenwood
had been a Braves affiliate since 1969, but didn’t survive the initial
transition to the South Atlantic League (they later had three years as a
Pirates affiliate). Greenwood