In 1996, he played 21 games as a rookie with the Baltimore Orioles, batting .308 down the stretch to help the team clinch a playoff appearance. His reward for such fine work? That offseason the O's signed Eric Davis as a free agent. Farewell, job.
The following year Bowers joined the Phillies, who assured the outfielder that he had a strong chance of making the roster out of spring training. Bowers didn't, but on Opening Day Danny Tartabull, the Phillies' right fielder, went down with a foot injury. That night, Bowers was told he was being called up from Triple-A. That night, Bowers tore his left hamstring.
The list is endless, and starkly depressing. Save for those 21 magical games with Baltimore, Bowers' career features 1,146 minor league appearances for 18 different teams. Wanna know what it's like to face Nolan Ryan in a clutch spot? Wrong guy. Wanna know where to find the best sushi in Medicine Hat? Bowers is your man.
All that being said, at some point even the unluckiest among us have to take responsibility for poor fortunes. You trip over one banana peel? It happens. You trip over two? Acceptable. You trip over three... four... five... 10 -- it's on you.
This one is on Brent Bowers.
In the first inning of a game on July 31, Bowers, manager of the Edmonton Capitals of the independent Golden Baseball League, stormed the field to argue with the umpires over a close call.
The crew chief that day was Billy Van Raaphorst, a 34-year-old Irvine, Calif., resident and avid flag football player who happens to be gay. Outsports.com, a gay-oriented athletics Web site, obtained a copy of Van Raaphorst's official report to the league. According to a the umpire, Bowers allegedly ran toward him and screamed, "You know what I heard? I heard you are a [expletive] faggot. The rumor from several managers and people at the league is that you are a fag... so what do you do you [expletive] faggot? Do you take it up the [expletive] faggot?" Van Raaphorst said Bowers then made an obscene sexual gesture before continuing on with a stream of insults. He ended with, "I ought to kick your a--, faggot."
In the ensuing days, the Golden Baseball League suspended Bowers for a paltry two games, then -- after its umpires rightly protested -- extended the ban for the entire season. On Aug. 7, Bowers resigned. "I went over to him and I said those words," he admitted to an Edmonton TV station. "If I had 10 minutes to look back, I've grown up more in three days than ever before."
At this point, we are supposed to forgive people like Brent Bowers. We are supposed to be open-minded about the whole thing; to accept his apology and believe that -- at heart -- those words were provoked not by any sort of hatred, but by a manager trying to stand up for his team. In the heat of the moment... when a game in on the line... blah, blah, blah, blah.
The year is 2010. Across America, as more and more people come to know and understand and appreciate and love gays, more and more people are shedding the corrosive brand of hatred that once consumed them. Soon enough, gays will openly serve in the armed forces, sans concern of an outing. Soon enough, gay marriage will be deemed universally legal. Soon enough, people will be wondering what all the fuss was ever about.
Sports, however, continue to hold out. Anyone who covers a professional league -- minor or major -- knows that Bowers isn't one of one, but one of 100,000. For the small handful of Steve Nashes and Ken Griffey Jr.s who insist that they would gladly coexist with gay men, there are eons of others who comfortably drop words like "faggot" and "queer" and "homo" with the same casualness that white athletes of the '50s and '60s uttered racial epithets. Oftentimes fans are no better.
Even in the aftermath of his resignation, Bowers still didn't seem to get it. Yes, he was sorry and upset and all that stuff. But, come day's end, he was a skipper being a skipper. "There were a couple of instances in two games where I got kicked out in the first inning from that umpire, OK?" he told the Edmonton Journal. "And some of my players also got kicked out from that same umpire. I just though, as manager, I needed to go out there and just ask why is this happening to me and us, and it just came to a point then where I just started saying bad things to him, and for that I'm sorry.
"But it was more than me just [arguing] a call. I got kicked out of a game not once, but twice in the first inning. I've never had that happen to me in my life."
Perhaps one day, when his major league managerial dreams have officially flickered out and he's in charge of packaging or inventory or whatever at some pewter-colored 9-to-5 plant, Bowers will look back and understand that this wasn't about a game or a close play or standing up for his guys.
This was about being a bigot.
This was about hate.