William Joseph Bowman
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 160 lb.
- School University of Tennessee
- High School Science Hill High School
Billy Bowman pitched six season in the minor leagues and was regarded as a top prospect at one point, but never reached the majors.
Bowman was a big star in amateur baseball, leading his high school to a state championship in 1947 and the University of Tennessee to the 1951 College World Series finals, where they lost to the University of Oklahoma. He was pursued aggressively by a number of major league teams before signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953. After starting off 11-3, 2.10 for his hometown Johnson City Cardinals in the Appalachian League, he spent the rest of 1953 and all of 1954 in military service at the time of the Korean War, actually serving for most of that time on the Korean Peninsula itself.
Bowman returned from military duty in 1955 and continued to do well, going 16-5 in 26 games for the Peoria Chiefs of the Three-I League and 3-1 in 8 games for the Columbus Cardinals of the South Atlantic League, for a combined mark of 19-6. He had actually started the year at Columbus, before being demoted in spite of his fine record. The Cardinals invited him to spring training in 1956 and while manager Fred Hutchinson apparently wanted to take him north with the team, he was instead assigned to the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League. This was a strong squad loaded with pitching talent, and Bowman had to make do with the role of swingman, getting only 13 starts in 37 appearances. His record was 7-8, 4.57. In 1957, he won a promotion to the International League and the Rochester Red Wings, and he was off to a good start, going 2-1 in 7 games including a four-hit shutout over the Havana Sugar Kings on April 29th. But unexpectedly, he was included in a multi-player trade with the Cincinnati Redlegs and he ended up back in AA with the Nashville Volunteers, where he struggled to a 2-6 mark with a 6.51 ERA the rest of the year.
While with Houston in 1956, Billy had married local beauty queen Wanda Lee Hurley, but the marriage became rocky when he began moving around, contributing to his on-field struggles. The Redlegs gave up on him and sent him back to St. Louis at the end of the year, and the Cards in turn assigned him again to Houston in 1958. He seemed back on track when he produced a 12-7 record with a 3.67 ERA, including 4 shutouts. Having started his professional career late because he had stayed in college to earn his degree and then lost two years to Uncle Sam, he was already 29 by the time the 1959 started, and was clearly running out of time if he was to make the major leagues. he started off that season in Houston on a mission and on May 14th pitched a five-hit shutout over the Omaha Cardinals, but he soon began to be hit hard, and was transferred to the bullpen. Midway through the season, after going 1-2, 6.65, he was loaned to the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Washington Senators affiliate in the Southern Association, but he could not turn things around. He went 2-3, 5.94 the rest of the way. Houston then sold him to the Indianapolis Indians after the season, but Billy chose to hang up his spikes. He had gone 56-36 in 199 games as a pro.
Even though his marriage had ended in divorce, he had made Houston, TX his home and settled there, working in the trucking industry. In 1968, Houston Astros manager Harry Walker, who had managed Bowman when he was with the Buffaloes, hired him as a batting practice pitcher. He would stay in the role for a couple of decades, accompanying the team to spring training and on road trips.
His younger brother Ernie Bowman played in the major leagues.