Sunday, June 12, 2005

Quiet Al Cowens' Explosion In Chicago 'Strange But True'

(another in a series of posts featuring memorable Tigers -- in one way, shape or form -- who played in Detroit since the last All-Star game here, in 1971. This series celebrates the return of the midsummer classic to the Motor City in 2005, and a new feature will appear each weekend until the game is played in July)

Cowens (left) and Farmer were involved in one of the strangest on-field incidents in Tigers' history

If there was a "Jeopardy" category called "Infamous Tigers-White Sox Games Since 1971", no doubt the most well-known clue would be, "This caused a forfeit to the Tigers of the second game of a doubleheader at Comiskey Park in 1979." The correct question? "What is 'Disco Demolition' night?" The exploding of disco records in the infield between games of a doubleheader that June evening of '79 is still talked about from time to time.

But a year later, another Tigers-White Sox matchup was the setting of one of the most bizarre on-field incidents that I've ever seen.

In May 1980, the Tigers traded first baseman Jason Thompson to the California Angels for outfielder Al Cowens, the 1977 AL MVP. Thompson was one of a trio of young, talented Tigers that somehow fell into manager Sparky Anderson's doghouse, along with Ron LeFlore and Steve Kemp. So off to the Angels Thompson went, and to the Motor City came Cowens, a serviceable if not flashy player who was a solid .280-.290 hitter and played a decent outfield.

The year before, in '79, Cowens had been hit in the face with a pitch by former Tiger Ed Farmer. The pitch did some severe damage to Cowens' jaw, and it robbed him of some of hs confidence at the plate. He kept his anger over the pitch to himself, allowing it to brew and fester. How much this was eating him became painfully obvious a year later, as a Tiger.

In a game at Comiskey, Farmer faced Cowens for the first time since the beaning. It was remarked about, but certainly nobody expected what was about to occur. After a routine groundout, Cowens didn't even bother running all the way to first base. In a flash, he charged the mound, fists flailing, intending on beating Farmer to a pulp. Of course, the benches emptied, and the two combatants were separated. It was so odd watching on TV, and probably in person, too, because if you didn't know the history between the two men, you would have thought Cowens had lost his mind. Even knowing what had happened, it was strange, because it was just a simple groundout for crying out loud.

But it got even stranger. At first, Cowens expressed no remorse for what he did, feeling fully justified to have gone after Farmer. But as the weeks went on, and his temper cooled, Cowens did indeed apologize. But he wanted to go even further, so with the egging on of some of the Detroit media and his teammates, Cowens agreed to shake hands with Farmer prior to a game with the White Sox at Tiger Stadium. The handshake was captured on camera, of course, and Farmer accepted Cowens' apology.

To this day, I don't think I've ever seen two players shake hands on the field over a fight.

Cowens played for the Tigers thru the 1981 season. Sadly, he died young, at age 51, in March 2002. Maybe he'll pal around with Farmer when Ed joins him upstairs.

1 comment:

Kurt said...

Cowens never won an MVP award! He finished second in the 1977 vote, but he never won.