Bowman was a standout athlete at Science Hill: a member of the Hilltoppers’ 1951 state runner-up baseball team, a star on the 1954 basketball team that went 26-1 and a state champion in the long jump.
He got an offer to play football for Tennessee. Instead, he played basketball for two seasons at East Tennessee State under coach Madison Brooks during which the Bucs went to the NAIA national tournament in 1956.
The baseball diamond was where Bowman gained the most notoriety, playing 14 seasons of professional ball, including 1961-63 with the Giants. Billy Joe Bowman, Ernie’s older brother and a member of Tennessee’s 1951 College World Series team, also played six seasons of professional baseball.
Ernie Bowman, a right-handed batter, played in 165 major league games, including two in the 1962 World Series against the New York Yankees. He was a pinch runner and played shortstop, scoring a run in the Giants’ 7-3 win in Game 4. In Game 7, he came in at shortstop and retired Bill Skowron on a groundout in the top of the ninth in the Giants’ 1-0 loss.
Bowman played 81 games for the Giants in 1963 and was briefly a teammate with left-handed pitcher Jim “Sheriff” Constable of Jonesborough.
After his playing days, Bowman worked for three decades with the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department. He was enshrined in the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Wall of Fame in 2013.
Local sportswriter Trey Williams saw Bowman as a hero when Williams’ father, Carl, worked with him at the Parks & Rec department. Their friendship grew as time went on. Williams fondly remembered how Bowman stayed loyal to the Giants and his friends until the end.
“I've talked to Ferrell a lot the past 15 years. He was happy watching Madison Bumgarner pitch, nearly ecstatic sometimes discussing what a ballplayer Buster Posey was and highly pissed off about the wide strike zone he felt Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay got in the postseason one year,” Williams recalled. “He hated the Dodgers until the end and wasn't even sorry he sprayed champagne on Richard Nixon after the Giants beat the Dodgers in the three-game playoff in 1962.
(“Nope. I was excited — and he was wearing blue anyway,” Ferrell said.)
“I never saw him as excited as the night he found out my dad would join him in the Parks & Rec Wall of Fame,” Williams added.
Bowman made his minor league debut with the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Rox of the Northern League in 1956. He made stops in Springfield, Massachusetts; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Tacoma, Washington, on his way to San Francisco.
His major league debut came April 12, 1961. Pinch-running for Harvey Kuenn, Bowman scored the game-winning run in the Giants’ 2-1 home win over Pittsburgh.
He also scored as a pinch runner for Willie McCovey in his final major league game, a 5-4 loss to the Phillies on Sept. 24, 1963.
Over his three years in the majors, teammates included Hall of Famers McCovey, Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry.
The Giants traded Bowman to the Milwaukee Braves at the start of the 1964 season, and he played at the AAA level the rest of his career. After solid stints in Denver and Atlanta, he was traded to the Mets organization in 1966 and later to the Indians.
He finished his professional career with 24 home runs, 930 hits, 328 runs scored and a career .235 batting average. In 1993, he was inducted into the Northeast Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
More than his athletic accomplishments, Williams remembers Bowman as a man with a kind, loving heart who bravely fought cancer over his final years.
“Ferrell fought cancer boldly for a long stretch, and there's no doubt in my mind he would've been gone years ago if not for the love he had for his wife, Mag,” Williams said in a Facebook post. “He also often thanked Major League Baseball's BATS program for the financial assistance to keep him alive and the help and encouragement from folks like Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry and Joe Morgan.
“Several times I sat with him outside on hot summer evenings and listened to the bands play from across the lake at Sonny's Marina. It was spiritually nourishing time. He loved when my granddaughter Ella Grace, who was 3 at the time, sang ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to him. I hate that he's moved on, especially for Mag and Billy Joe and the family he's left behind.”