Obituary: Weldon “Hoss” Bowlin (1940-2019)

RIP to Weldon “Hoss” Bowlin, whose major-league playing career amounted to two games with the 1967 Kansas City Athletics. He also had a long and successful career as the head baseball coach at the University of West Alabama. He died on December 8 at the age of 78.

Lois Weldon Bowlin was born in Paragould, Ark., on December 10, 1940. Where did “Lois” come from? He was the fourth boy born to his parents. “My mother had her heart set on a girl. She already had the name picked out and she wouldn’t change it,” Bowlin explained. “She finally got the girl she wanted — but not till after her fifth boy.”

Bowlin signed a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1958 and debuted the following year, when he was 19 years old, with the Hobbs Cardinals of the Sophomore League. In his very first at-bat, he homered. “I was figurin’ I’d eaten my last piece of catfish and it was filet mignon the rest of the way,” Bowlin recalled years later. “Well, I was up 505 more times that year and I didn’t hit one more home run. So I still like catfish and hushpuppies and biscuits and buttermilk, but I’ll get me some of those Kansas City steaks one of these days.”

Bowlin was named to the All-Star team and ended his first professional season with a .281 batting average. He moved to the Dothan Cardinals of the Alabama-Florida League and again made the All-Star team — as a second baseman this time. He hit .281 again, but this year he smacked 6 home runs and stole 15 bases as well. Power would never be a huge part of his game, but he hit the first home run of the season and helped lead Dothan to an Opening Day win on May 8.

Source: The Dothan Eagle, May 9, 1960.

Bowlin started 1962 as a member of the Tulsa Oilers, but he never played a game for them. He dislocated his shoulder in an exhibition game, and when he returned, he was bounced around the Cards’ organization. He made brief stops in Lancaster, Pa. and Norfolk but spent most of the season with the Billings Mustangs. He joined Billings on June 11 and homered in his first game there. He stuck with the Mustangs in 1962 and hit .287 with 10 home runs and 69 RBIs, all of which were career highs for him.

Bowlin was transferred to the Athletics’ organization some time before the 1963 season — I can’t find if it was due to a trade, a release or a purchase. The A’s installed him as the third baseman of the Lewiston Broncs. He was in the midst of what could be considered another Hoss Bowlin-type season (batting average in the .280s, a few home runs), when he was hit in the stomach by a batted ball. When the pain didn’t go away, he went to a doctor in the offseason. The doctor, according to Vancouver Sun columnist Denny Boyd, made a small incision in Bowlin’s lower stomach and found a malignant tumor. He underwent surgery and, “they cut Hoss Bowlin open like a baked potato,” Boyd wrote. The doctor didn’t find any more cancer, but he recommended that Bowlin take a season off to recover from the ordeal.

Not only did Bowlin not take any time off, he got his first meaningful taste of AA in 1964 with the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League. He struggled there with a .242 average, but Kansas City kept him there, aside from a difficult 31-game stay with the AAA Vancouver Mounties in 1965. He lost a lot of weight after the cancer surgery, and while he had some good seasons for the rest of his career, he never reached the heights of his earliest seasons.

By 1967, Bowlin was in Birmingham, which was his fourth straight season primarily at AA. Though his ascent to the major leagues had stalled, he was appreciated by the Birmingham A’s faithful. After a season in which he slashed .239/.309/.296, the team held “Hoss Bowlin Night” on August 31. The infielder had planned to retire after the season, and the team wanted to send him out with a bang and have him play all nine positions in the game. The night didn’t go exactly as planned. He gave up 2 runs while on the mound, allowing the Montgomery to tie the game. He then hurt his eye while donning the catcher’s mask and never got to work his inning behind home plate.

The Kansas City A’s brought up a slew of rookies in September, and Bowlin was a part of it. Bowlin’s promotion was largely done as a favor by A’s owner Charlie Finley, who wanted to give the long-time minor leaguer a turn in the majors. By the time they played a series in Anaheim against the California Angels in mid-September, a majority of the starting lineup were rookies, including Bowlin at third base, as well as Ted Kubiak, Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi and Dave Duncan. Weldon’s MLB debut came on September 16 against the Angels, and he singled in the 4th inning off Jack Hamilton for his one and only major-league hit. He started the next day’s game and went 0-for-2 before being lifted for pinch-hitter Sal Bando. That game on the 17th was noteworthy for another reason. Aside from being Bowlin’s last major-league game, Reggie Jackson hit his first major-league home run.

Source: University of West Alabama.

Bowlin did not retire after that season, though he never got back to the major leagues. In his 2 games with the A’s, he went 1-for-5 at the plate and fielded 4 ground balls in the field successfully. He stayed in the minor leagues until 1971. He was the player/manager of the Wisconsin Rapids Twins, an A-Ball team in the Midwest League, in that last season. It wasn’t his first attempt at running a ballclub; he’d actually be preparing for a second career in coaching for some time.

During his playing career, he had been taking classes for his college degree. He attended Arkansas State University and the University of Alabama and was an assistant baseball coach under former big-leaguer Joe Sewell in the late ’60s. He helped lead the Crimson Tide into the NCAA playoffs in 1968, after they became the Southeastern Conference champs. He was named head baseball coach of Livingston University in August 1972. That school changed its name to the University of West Alabama in 1995.

Bowlin spent a total of 14 seasons with the UWA baseball team. During that time, he accumulated a 311-327-2 record, with 90 Gulf South Conference wins. The Tigers won Gulf South Coast Eastern Division titles in 1978 and 1979, the NCAA playoffs in 1976 and 1979 and a College Division II World Series appearance in 1976. He was inducted into the UWA Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.

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