Sunday, September 30, 2012

Back on Topps' Radar: Billy Cowan

This is Billy Cowan's first card (#643) since the 1965 set. Cowan's career spanned 1963-1972, but he only had 5 cards during that time. Billy appeared as a Cub in the 1964 and 1965 sets, as a Yankee in the 1969 set, and an Angel in the '71 and '72 sets.

A member of the Phillies' organization from 1966 to 1968, he spent most of that time (except for the 2nd half of 1967) in the minors, effectively eliminating his chance for a card in the 1966-1968 Topps' sets.

Cowan was signed by the Cubs in 1961, and spent the next 3 seasons in the minors, finally making his major-league debut on 9/9/63. He made a half-dozen starts, spelling Billy Williams in LF, Lou Brock in RF, and a host of center fielders.

In 1964, Cowan was the Cubs' regular center fielder (I didn't know that until today), starting 127 games between Williams in left and Brock in right (with Len Gabrielson taking over after Brock's trade to St. Louis). Billy hit .241 with 19 home runs, but rarely started during September.

Before the '65 season, he was traded to the Mets for ex-Cub outfielder George Altman. In 1965, Cowan was a frequent center fielder for the Mets, until his early-August trade to the Milwaukee Braves (for infielders Ernie Bowman and Lou Klimchock).

Billy was traded back to the Cubs in late April 1966 for future Yankees' 3rd baseman and Braves' manager Bobby Cox. Two months later he was traded to the Phillies, and spent the rest of '66 with the Phillies' AAA San Diego club.

Cowan began the '67 season in San Diego, but a roster spot with the Phils opened up in late June, after the team sold Dick Groat to the Giants. With 4 of the Phillies' 5 outfielders (Johnny Callison, Tony Gonzalez, John Briggs, Doug Clemens) all batting from the left side, Cowan was called up to provide a right-handed bat off the bench.

In 1968, the Phillies' Richie Allen became the regular left fielder, creating a logjam in the outfield. As such, Cowan spent the entire season back in triple-A.

After the season, the Yankees selected him in the Rule 5 draft, marking the end of Cowan's days in the minor leagues. He split the 1969 season between the Yankees and Angels, and played for the Angels for the '70 and '71 seasons. Primarily used as a pinch-hitter, he was also a backup outfielder and occasional 1st baseman.

Cowan was released by the Angels on May 2nd, 1972, having only played 3 games that season.


Douglas said...

When I look at Cowan's career I'm a bit mystified why he was traded after a serviceable rookie season (19 hr. .241 but hey it was the pitcher friendly 60's) Given it was a straight up trade it makes me wonder if he had a run in with management or an undisclosed injury.

But then again it was the Cubs of the mid 60's...

Jim from Downingtown said...

Maybe a Cubs fan out there (like Hackenbush @ Can't Have Too Many Cards) might know.