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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,531

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This is the grave of Al Cowens.

Born in 1951 in Los Angeles, Cowens was a great baseball player and was drafted by Kansas City out of high school. He was a complete outlier though. The Royals didn’t think much of him and took a flier on him in the….75th round in 1969. Yep, he was the 1,026th player selected in the draft. Guess that flyer worked out. The funny part about this too is that the first round of the 69 draft is one of the least productive in the history of the draft. I guess Gorman Thomas was the best player out of it? Bert Blyleven was the best player to sign out of the class, drafted in third round.

Anyway, Cowens wasn’t the greatest player of all time but he was sure a solid right fielder. He reached the majors for the first time in 1974. He was pretty replaceable at first and had a negative WAR (using the Baseball Reference version of the statistic) in his rookie year. But he improved pretty quickly. Among other things, he became an outstanding defensive right fielder. He only won the Gold Glove once, in 1977, but he was very good for most of his career. He also advanced to being a pretty fair hitter. Mostly he was a decent contact hitter with a bit of speed. But in 1977, he all of a sudden developed power and it only lasted for one season. But that year, he hit 23 homers and 14 triples. He hit .312/361/525 that year and finished second in MVP voting to Rod Carew. Not bad at all. He had a 5.3 WAR, according to Baseball Reference’s version of the statistic, that year as well, which was by far the best of his career.

The Royals then had high hopes for Cowens, but he just went back to the solid contact hitter he was before that one year. So after the 79 season, he was moved to the Angels for Willie Akins and Rance Mulliniks. Those are some blast from the past names! But he only played a half season in California, before he was moved to Detroit, where he played for the rest of 1980 and then in 1981.

If Cowens is remembered for anything other than being a solid hitter of the 70s, it’s his feud with Ed Farmer. In 1979, Farmer hit Cowens in the face with a fastball and broke a bunch of his teeth. Not great. Farmer also accused Cowens of trying to steal pitch calls and thinking what was in fact an inside baseball was going to be a curve away. Well, Cowens did not appreciate this, as you can imagine. Moreover, Farmer had already knocked Frank White out of the game with another hit by pitch. Both would end up on the disabled list. So the next year, Farmer had moved from Texas to Chicago and Cowens from Kansas City to Detroit. They faced each other. Cowens hit a grounder to shortstop. Instead of running to first, he charged the mound and beat the shit out of Farmer’s head before they were separated. Everyone was so surprised that they froze for a couple of seconds and that allowed Cowens to get some serious blows in. Not only was Cowens suspended, but Farmer then filed criminal charges for assault and a warrant was sworn out against Cowens in Illinois. He later dropped the charges though. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of that in baseball before. Pressing charges?

Cowens ended his career with the Seattle Mariners, those horrible teams of the early 80s. I’d rather not think about that era of Mariners baseball at all and I am sorry Cowens had to experience it. Yucky. Believe this is my first Mariner grave though, so that’s mildly fun I guess. Anyway, he was actually pretty good with the Mariners, playing with them from 1982-86. He had another power, well not explosion, but surge and he maintained it a bit. In 1982, his first season there, he hit 20 homers and then had 15 and 14 in 1984 and 1985, so that’s three of the top four power seasons of his career. But by this time, Cowens’ defense had also declined, so he was a replacement level player, which made him perfect for the Mariners of that time. He retired after a shortened 1986 season when he clearly had nothing left.

Cowens became a scout after his career, working mostly for the Royals. But he had a massive heart attack in 2002 and died at the age of 50. I am turning 50 in two weeks, so that makes me feel great.

Al Cowens is buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California. And yes, you can see The Forum from the cemetery, which was slightly exciting for me.

If you would like this series to visit other right fielders, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. According to Baseball Reference’s JAWS statistic, Cowens is the 162nd best right fielder of all time, which is not super great, but I mean, he had a really long career and that should not be taken away from him, especially given where he was drafted. He was a good player, at his best. For current comparison, Michael Conforto is 160th and Mitch Haniger is 169th. No shame in being around solid guys like that. Red Murray, who played mostly for the Giants in the 1900s and early 1910s and is 161st on the list, is in Elmira, New York. Steve Evans, who played in the 1910s, mostly for the Cardinals, and who is 164th on the list, is in Cleveland. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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