Carvel "Bama" Rowell

Baseball player Carvel William "Bama" Rowell (1916-1993) is best known for his hit that struck the clock at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field in 1946. The event inspired a scene in the 1952 novel The Natural and was featured in the 1984 movie version starring Robert Redford. Overall, Rowell was a skilled athlete who played Major League Baseball for six seasons with the Boston Bees/Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1930s and 1940s.

Rowell was born on January 13, 1916, in Citronelle, Mobile County, to farmers John and Inez Rowell. He was one of ten children who lived beyond infancy. After graduating from Citronelle High School, Rowell attended Louisiana State University (LSU) on a football scholarship and also played baseball. He stood around 5 feet, 11 inches and weighed around 185 pounds and this athletic frame also helped him become a good baseball player.

Although Rowell went to LSU to play football, after graduating in 1935 he signed a contract to play baseball for the National League's Boston Bees, previously known as the Braves, in 1939. Managed by the renowned player and coach Casey Stengel, the team called up Rowell for his major league debut on September 4, 1939. Traditionally an outfielder, Rowell was moved to second base and played in 21 games.

The following season, Rowell played admirably, finishing the season batting .305, hitting three home runs, and had 58 runs batted in (RBIs). He further demonstrated good decision-making skills at the plate by striking out only 22 times during 130 games. More impressively, Rowell received votes for the 1940 National League Most Valuable Player award, but it went to nine-time All-Star and Cincinnati Reds great Frank McCormick. In 1941, Rowell played in 138 games. His plate appearances increased, as did his power. Rowell finished the season with seven home runs and 60 RBIs. His batting average dropped to .267, but in both of his full seasons with Boston he posted an above average performance.

Rowell was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941 following his third season in Major League Baseball. It was not uncommon for baseball players, including stars like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, and Bob Feller (who served aboard the USS Alabama), to serve in the U.S. military during national crises. In 1943, he married Nora Eunetta Hare in Etowah County. The couple would have at least two children, including noted University of West Alabama athlete Carvel Rowell Jr. He served for three years during World War II in a chemical warfare training battalion, achieving the rank of sergeant. Rowell then returned to the Braves and played in 1946, albeit in left field instead of at second base.

The event for which Rowell became famous occurred on May 30, 1946, as the Braves faced the Brooklyn Dodgers at their home stadium, Ebbets Field. In the second inning of game two of a double-header, Rowell hit a ball off of Hank Behrman that smashed into the Bulova Company clock atop the ballpark's scoreboard. Glass rained down on the Dodgers' right fielder, fellow Alabamian Fred "Dixie" Walker, but because the ball landed back on the field and remained in play, Rowell only reached second base. The clock stopped working at 5:25 p.m., an hour after contact was made at 4:25. News of the feat spread, and the Bulova Clock Company promised a free watch to anyone who managed to hit it again. He ended his first season back in the major leagues with a .280 batting average.

Rowell played one more year with the Boston Braves before being traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for future All-Star Eddie Stanky on May 6, 1948. Eleven days later, his rights were sold to National League rival Philadelphia Phillies. Rowell played in just 77 games for the Phillies. He had only one home run, had his lowest batting average since 1939, and struck out more times than he walked for the first time since he was 23 years old. In 1948, At the age of 32, Rowell retired from Major League Baseball but played in the minor leagues for several years afterwards. He reportedly held a variety of jobs, including farming, working for the county, and running a pool room in Citronelle.

In 1952, Brooklyn native and novelist Bernard Malamud used Rowell's famous clock-striking hit in Brooklyn as an inspiration for the finale of his novel about baseball, The Natural. Malamud was a Dodgers fan and knew about the Bulova Clock shattering. In the novel, protagonist Roy Hobbs hits a game-winning home run by striking a light tower, with the shattered glass of the broken light bulbs emulating the glass from the Bulova Clock. It was a memorable scene in the novel and inspired an iconic scene in the 1984 film directed by Barry Levinson and starring Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, and Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs. Perhaps because of the fame of the book and film adaptation, Bulova eventually gave Rowell a wristwatch 41 years after the event during Citronelle's 1987 celebration "Bama Rowell Day."

Rowell died on August 16, 1993, and was interred at the New Home Baptist Church Cemetery in his hometown of Citronelle.

Further Reading

  • Buege, Bob. Borchert Field: Stories from Milwaukee’s Legendary Ballpark. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2017.
  • Finoli, David. For the Good of the Country: World War II in the Major and Minor Leagues. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2015.
  • Krabbenhoft, Herman O. Leadoff Batters of Major League Baseball: Complete Statistics, 1900-2005. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2015.

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Bama Rowell

Bama Rowell