By the summer of 1944, Wes Flowers had risen from obscurity in Arkansas, traipsed across the minors for most of nine seasons, pitched briefly in the Major Leagues and served in the Navy during World War II. Back with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was left-handed, beguiled hitters with a knuckleball and, apparently, had skin as thick as sheetrock.
A week after the Allies launched the D-Day invasion at Normandy, Lee Scott, a sportswriter for The Brooklyn Citizen, excoriated Flowers after a particularly lackluster performance — three earned runs and four hits in a single inning — against the New York Giants.
“Wes Flowers is not a big leaguer,” Scott wrote. “He never was. The manner in which the Braves and the Giants pummeled him should have convinced Branch Rickey.”
Rickey, the Dodgers’ legendary general manager, got the message.
“Since every other club in the league seemed to be hitting Wes Flowers, Brooklyn’s left-handed knuckleballer, the Dodgers finally decided to whack him, too,” The New York Daily News wrote a day later. “Their sock was a long-distance once, for yesterday they sent him all the way to Indianapolis, via straight sale.”
Fast-forward three years, to the spring of 1947, and Flowers’ upcoming arrival in Anniston to pitch for the Southeastern League’s Rams was presaged by another godawful appearance against a big-league club — this time the American League champions, the Boston Red Sox, who once held his rights.
In camp with the Class AA Little Rock Travelers, Flowers was pegged to start an exhibition against the Red Sox that April. He failed, again. He lasted just one inning and left without getting an out in the second, with Boston touching him for five hits and two walks. The Boston Globe was blunt: “The Sox shelled left-hander Flowers into the showers.”
So oddball is the story of Flowers’ 1947 season that it keeps going — and giving. The Rams had won the 1946 SEL championship but were mired in last place when they acquired Flowers the following May. There were no Ted Williamses in the SEL — the Hall of Famer had hit Flowers hard in their April meeting — so he quickly found his rhythm. He went the distance, scattering 11 hits, in a 9-2 win over Pensacola on May 11. He remained in the Rams’ rotation in June and July. He even pitched all 12 innings — he threw a knuckler, after all — of a 7-6 loss to Jackson on July 27.
The Senators must have been impressed. A week later, on Aug. 2, they bolstered their pitching staff for a SEL playoff run by buying Flowers from the cellar-dwelling Rams, whom he pitched against later that month. The lefty’s Anniston stint was brief, only three months long, but earned him a shot at the postseason. So important was Flowers to Jackson’s postseason chances that he started Game 7 of the Senators’ playoff series against Montgomery.
Flowers and the Senators lost, 10-4. And then he retired. The Senators, hoping to rekindle some of the magic from their 1947 season, sent the Arkansan a contract the following spring, but he declined. He was 34 years old, and he was done with baseball.
In 13 seasons he pitched in 334 games, posting a 99-94 record for out-of-the-way teams in Alexandria and New Iberia and Helena and Toledo before earning promotions (or demotions) to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Louisville, Indianapolis and Montreal. Twice he’d made the Major Leagues — in 1940 and 1944, both with the Dodgers — appearing in 14 games and finishing with a 2-2 career record. He even won his MLB debut in a 6-3 win over the Giants at the Polo Grounds on Aug. 8, 1940, only days after Brooklyn had bought his contract from the Red Sox.
“Brooklyn’s new pitcher, Wesley Flowers, entered the contest and proceeded to hold the Giants in check in his major league debut,” The Brooklyn Citizen reported the next afternoon. “The newcomer pitched cooly and carefully and received credit for his initial triumph in the big league …” But knuckleballers’ inevitable curse — a lack of control — bedeviled him, especially after he hurt his arm during his first Brooklyn stint. With the ’40 and ’44 Dodgers he walked more (23) than he struck out (11) and ended with an ERA of 5.40.
Flowers died on New Year’s Eve in 1988 at the age of 75. He’s buried in Wynne, Arkansas.