Ken Rowe, who played three seasons in the Major Leagues and worked in the Indians' player development system for more than two decades, died on Thursday after a bout of pneumonia. He was 78.
A former middle reliever for the Dodgers and Orioles, Rowe spent the 2011 and '12 campaigns as an advisor working in Arizona with youngsters in the Indians' organization."He embodied everything that we have always looked for in our staff members and our players," said Ross Atkins, the Indians' director of player development. "In the world of professional baseball, there are always things that come to mind with the sacrifices and passion and toughness it takes not only to compete at the highest level but also to be a leader. You can't be short on any of those traits and Ken Rowe had them all. He was exceptionally bright, exceptionally passionate and exceptionally tough and was really willing to do whatever it took to help young professional baseball players." Rowe started with the Tribe in 1991 as pitching coach for Colorado Springs -- then the club's Triple-A affiliate -- and served in that position for an array of teams in Cleveland's Minor League system over the next 20 years.
"There's not a pitcher that came through our system that he didn't impact," Atkins said. "I think he would be just as proud, however, of his impact on the players that never made it."
Rowe was Tribe setup man Vinnie Pestano's first professional coach at Class A Mahoning Valley. He taught the right-hander how to out-think hitters, including a sequence he termed a "Texas Two-Step," which instructed Pestano to attack a batter with a fastball up and in before firing the next pitch low and outside.
"One thing you always noticed is that when somebody talked with Kenny, the other person always had a smile on their face," Pestano said.
Rowe also eased Josh Tomlin's transition from college ball. Known for his light-hearted attitude and deep arsenal of jokes, Rowe routinely referred to Tomlin as "Lefty," noting that the soft-tossing right-hander could have benefited from having a southpaw's deceptive arm slot.
"He would make jokes like that all the time," Tomlin said. "He kept the game fun. He wasn't as hands-on as a lot of people, but he didn't have to be. He'd get his point across in a way so you understood what he was talking about and then you wanted to go out there and do it."
Rowe made 26 career big league appearances from 1963-65, posting a 3.57 ERA in 45 1/3 innings. In all, Rowe coached for 35 years in the Appalachian League, Northern League, Minors and Majors.
"Whatever they asked him to do, he would do it," said Bart Swain, the team's director of baseball information. "He was just a solid baseball lifer."