The Detroit Wolverines purchased the entire Buffalo club for $7,000 in August 1885 to acquire Rowe, Dan Brouthers, Hardy Richardson, and Deacon White, known as the Big Four. The deal brought the previously weak franchise a pennant in 1887 and Rowe scored a career-high 135 runs. Primarily a catcher for his first six seasons (he led NL catchers in fielding in 1884), Rowe began playing shortstop regularly in 1885. He hardly ever struck out (177 times in 12 seasons and 4,386 at-bats), and went the entire 1882 season without fanning once, playing in 75 of his team’s 84 games.
Rowe and White bought the International League‘s Buffalo franchise after the 1888 season, planning to co-manage the team and play, but Detroit sold them to Pittsburgh, whose owner threatened to have them blacklisted if they played on their new team. Rowe and White held out well into the 1889 season, but capitulated on the advice of Brotherhood of Ballplayers leader Monte Ward, who filled them in on the upcoming players’ revolt. They jumped to the Players’ League in 1890, becoming part-owners of the Buffalo franchise. Rowe managed; the club finished in last place, but he led the league’s shortstops in fielding. Managing the Buffalo franchise in the Eastern League later on, he was the basis of manager Delaney in Zane Grey‘s story “The Redheaded Outfield,” inspired when Grey’s brother R.C. played under Rowe in 1897 in a real redheaded outfield.