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South Culture 2

Schoolboy and Edna Rowe: A Baseball Love Story

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About 100 years ago, a young fellow with the scholarly-sounding name Lynwood Thomas Rowe arrived in Arkansas from Waco, Texas. Often described as tall and lanky for his grade in school, young Lynwood was likely two years older than his new classmates. Although he was not exactly a scholar, Rowe had extraordinary talent.

He was destined to emerge from small-town obscurity to become a sports writer’s dream. Lynwood Rowe had it all. He was an outstanding athlete and excelled in several sports. He was also tall and handsome with a southern charm that made good press. Rowe was quirky, superstitious and quotable…And he had a love story.

Upon his arrival at Hugh Goodwin Elementary in El Dorado, Lynwood was immediately smitten by a classmate named Edna Mary Skinner. Unfortunately, Edna had a boyfriend named Fred, so Rowe volunteered to hang out with Edna and Fred to act as a bodyguard. The plan worked well for Edna and Lynwood, but not so much for Fred. Young Edna took a fancy to the bodyguard. From those grade school days until he became a major league sensation, Edna Mary Skinner was a major part of the saga of Lynwood Rowe.

Lynwood Rowe, called “Speck” by his family and friends because of an abundance of freckles, was an immediate star in elementary school sports. By the time he was 15 years old, the El Dorado Daily News semi-pro team had “hired” Rowe as their pitcher in the adult Twilight League. The team sponsor gave their teenage hurler free newspapers to sell after the game. The proceeds would serve as Lynwood’s “salary.”

The sports editor of the Daily News gave Lynwood a much-needed nickname. First, the paper called him “Newsboy Rowe” and later upgraded his moniker to “Schoolboy Rowe.” Now sporting a catchy nickname, the kid pitcher not only made local headlines, but regional papers also began to cover the exploits of El Dorado’s “Schoolboy” pitching prodigy.

Schoolboy Rowe (left) and Hank Greenberg (right) arrived in Detroit in 1933.

Although Rowe signed with the Detroit Tigers as a teenager, he remained at El Dorado High School until his graduation in 1931. Rowe was assigned to Detroit’s farm team in Beaumont, Texas, in 1932. He was joined in Beaumont by another young Tigers prospect named Hank Greenberg. Future Hall-of-Famer Greenberg hit 39 homers to lead the league, and Rowe’s 2.30 ERA was also the best mark in the Texas League. The Beaumont Explorers won the pennant and the league playoffs. By the next summer, both Rowe and Greenberg were promoted to the majors.

Rowe went 7-4 with the Tigers in 1933. He got off to a good start as the club’s fifth starter, posting a 3.58 ERA in 123 innings, but a shoulder injury ended his season in late July. Greenberg hit .325 in his rookie year, but the Tigers finished 75-79 in fifth place in the American League. There was little indication in the Detroit club’s season to predict the magic summer of 1934.

The beginning of the 1934 season did not reveal that Schoolboy Rowe would have a career-defining year and one of the most remarkable seasons in Major League history. He entered June with only two pitching victories and an ERA approaching six runs a game. He continued to complain about the sore arm that he carried over from the previous season. The press and some of the Tigers’ leadership began to look at the arm problems as an excuse for poor performance. All those doubts and innuendos vanished in mid-summer when Rowe began an epic winning streak.

On June 15, the Tigers and Yankees were virtually tied for the league lead, and Schoolboy Rowe’s record stood at four wins and four losses. Rowe pitched a complete game in an 11-4 Tigers win over Boston that day, but nothing in his performance indicated the historic win streak that began with his fifth victory. Although he was the winning pitcher, Rowe gave up nine hits and four runs, raising his ERA to 4.14. He posted one more victory in June and entered July with a 6-4 record and a lackluster 4.17 ERA.

Schoolboy Rowe (left) and Hank Greenberg (right) with teammate Boots Poffenberger

July was a much different story for both Rowe and the Tigers. Schoolboy won 8 pitching victories in the month, and the Tigers moved into first place. Rowe had posted 10 consecutive victories by Aug. 1, lowered his ERA to 3.62, and caught the imagination of a city hungry for a pennant. His Future Hall of Fame teammate, Hank Greenberg, raised his batting average by 33 points in July and drove in 28 runs. For the first time in 35 years, Detroit fans could imagine the American League Pennant flying over Navin Field.

As the season moved into August, the Detroit Free Press knew there was another story to tell associated with Schoolboy Rowe’s assault on the league record of 16 consecutive pitching victories. Suddenly everyone wanted to know what Edna Mary Skinner was thinking down in Arkansas. In fact, as Rowe approached the consecutive victory record it was hard to determine if fans were more enthralled by the on-the-field excitement or the personal back-story of Schoolboy and Edna Mary.

Schoolboy’s uncomplicated county-boy personality won the hearts of Detroit fans. He was handsome, bucolically charming and profoundly superstitious. He had a disarmingly honest way about him that softened even the toughest critics. His unsophisticated rural ways were exactly the expected persona that the Deans and Lon Warneke had established for Arkansas pitchers, but to his expected provincial personality, Rowe added an amusing quirkiness. He armed himself with a pocket full of lucky charms and amulets to fend off evil spirits and, when necessary, called on his girl back home for help on the mound. Although Edna was hundreds of miles away in Arkansas, Rowe would often address her through the ball as he stood on the mound. “Edna, Honey, let’s go,” was his preferred pep talk.

Edna Mary Skinner and Schoolboy Rowe, Detroit favorites.

Perhaps Rowe’s most enduring quality was his obvious affection for Edna Mary Skinner. His public infatuation with his high school sweetheart was part of his charm, and Rowe made no effort to hide it. One of the most retold examples of Schoolboy’s obsession with Miss Edna came during an interview with radio personality Eddie Cantor in September 1934. In the middle of the program, without regard for Cantor’s question, Rowe could no longer contain his most important thought. Schoolboy leaned into the mike and posed the question, “How am I doin’ now, Edna?” The delightfully charming question would endear him to his Detroit fans and provide a taunting yell for the opponents. For the remainder of his career, if things went wrong for Rowe on the mound, a loud voice would boom the question, “How am I doin’ now, Edna?”

When Rowe won his 16th consecutive victory August 25, everyone in Detroit wanted to know how Edna Mary Skinner of El Dorado, Arkansas, felt about the big win. Under the headline, “It’s a Big Day for Edna and All El Dorado,” the sub-heading read, “Schoolboy’s Fiancée Just Knew That He Couldn’t Fail.”

The article went on to include Edna’s first comments after learning about the win, “I am tickled to death,” said the excited 22-year-old. The story continued with the news that the town of 17,000 was getting a train together for a trip to the World Series. The leaders of the contingent would be Edna Mary Skinner and her father.

Detroit Tigers 1934 American League Champions – Schoolboy Rowe (1st row left)

The Tigers won the American League pennant going away, which set up a historic Arkansas World Series that would match the American League Champions led by Schoolboy Rowe and the Gas House Gang St. Louis Cardinals that featured Dizzy and Paul Dean.

It’s almost 9 o’clock honey and I am just on the verge of a-goin to bed. Tomorrow is the big day, so they tell me. They are depending on me to win one for the Tigers and if I do, I will tie the American League record for consecutive victories…Take care of yourself and while I’m whizzing them down the middle tomorrow, I’ll be thinking about my honey down in El Dorado. And when I think of you, honey they can’t beat me.

Next Month in OnlyInArk.com – The 1934 World Series.

 

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Jim Yeager is a baseball historian who resides with his wife, Susan, in Russellville. A member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Robinson-Kell Arkansas Chapter of SABR, Yeager is a frequent presenter on the history of rural baseball in Arkansas. His books titled Backroads and Ballplayers and Hard Times and Hardball feature stories of Arkansans who played professional baseball in the first half of the 20th century. More information on Backroads and Ballplayers, Hard Times and Hardball, and other publications – www.backroadsballplayers.com

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2 responses to “Schoolboy and Edna Rowe: A Baseball Love Story”

  1. Greg Bishton says:

    Good evening Mr Jim Yeager.
    I just wanted to reach out and “Thank you”. What a wonderful article about my Granda and Grandpa, Edna And Lynwood Rowe. I had never heard that about Lynnwood , being called “Speck’s”. Makes total sense. We have a lot of pictures from when he was growing up. Again, Thank you for your efforts in getting this truly amazing love story out there. Hey remember. Ms. May West was flirting with him during the 1934 world series. God Bless. Greg. B.

  2. Jim Yeager says:

    Greg,
    What a nice comment. I appreciate your kind words.
    I enjoy feedback from families very much. Yes, this is one of my favorite stories. It captures everything I love about baseball and Arkansas folks.
    Please tell your family not to order books from Amazon, but order directly from me. They are a little cheaper and I would like to sign them personally.
    I have two books in print, but the second one, Hard Times and Hardball has the Rowe story. There are more details there.
    http://www.backroadsballplayers.com

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