person can look back on his or her life and see where ironic situations
dominated their choices. A missed
phone call here, a left turn there and we look back and wonder what if the call
had been taken, what if the turn had been right instead of left. For Larry Bowa, his Summer Years were
filled with irony. Here are but a
few of them.
#1: When Bowa was traded to the
Cubs along with infield prospect Ryne Sandberg for shortstop Ivan DeJesus, the
swap was basically considered as a trade of one shortstop for another. Little did anyone ever realize that
Sandberg would be the star of the trade, a Hall of Famer infielder in the
certainly, most impartial analysts would not argue that the Cubs were the
beneficiaries of these deal, as Bowa gave them three solid seasons and Sandberg
gave the team a career of thrills and highlights. As for DeJesus? Though steady and effective, he was
never the player of Bowa in his prime or Sandberg at his
the first irony of Bowa’s summer story, it was DeJesus who was the only one of
the three to ever appear in a World Series after the trade. Though Bowa and Sandberg completely
turned around the Cub’s fortunes and the 1984 club came within one win of the
World Series, it was DeJesus who participated in the 1983 World Series with the
course, more than a few Phillie fans will insist that had the trade never been
made, an infield that consisted of Mike Schmidt, Ryne Sandberg, Julio Franco and
Juan Samuel might very well have made it to several World Series appearances
throughout the 80’s.
career with the Cubs last nearly four seasons, and though he no longer had the
range or arm that he had with the Phils, his combative spirit and veteran
leadership quickly won over the Chicago fans. His 1983 season was probably his best
statistically in Chicago, but his fondest memories are no doubt saved for the
1984 team, a team that seemed full of ex-Phillies.
glance of the roster revealed such former Phils as Bobby Dernier, Gary Mathews,
Keith Moreland, Sandberg and Bowa.
It was no coincidence, as GM Dallas Green, who came over to Chicago after
the Phillie purge in 1981 knew the Phillie roster as well as any man in
winners, and in veterans like Mathews and Bowa, that is exactly what he
got. Few people remember what a
talented team that was, and it seems a shame that the San Diego Padres and not
the Cubs became cannon fodder for the Detroit Tigers that season. Though the Tigers were powerful, many
baseball pundits are convinced that it may very well have been different had the
Cubs, and not the Padres, made it to the series.
#2: Bowa’s career as a Cub came
when he was released in August of 1985.
Though it pained Green to do it, he felt that Bowa could no longer handle
the shortstop duties and he would never accept a part-time role. The New York Mets quickly signed him,
and it was as a Met that irony #2 took place.
Bowa was the consummate shortstop, graceful, steady and sure. He had played all but 1 game as a
shortstop in his entire career, and his only appearance as a second baseman had
occurred way back in 1970. Yet, in
Larry Bowa’s final game as a major leaguer, he was not playing his beloved
shortstop position, but instead was performing as a second sacker. This must have seemed almost blasphemous
to the feisty Bowa.
career ended when he was granted free agency after the 1985 season and he
retired. A player who most thought
would never even put on a major league uniform had instead carved out a career
with nearly 2200 hits. It was a
career any player would be proud of, the hits, the playoff births, the World
Championship in 1980.
long history of the Philadelphia Phillies, they have been graced with many
shortstops but no one has ever replaced Bowa in the hearts and minds of Phillie
fandom. Clearly, he was the
greatest shortstop in Phillie history.
#3: Few baseball men have proven
more a thorn in Bowa’s side than has Jack McKeon, the manager of the Florida
Marlins. He not only replaced Bowa
as manager of the San Diego Padres in 1988 but it was McKeon who has verbally
chided Bowa during the past two seasons for his temperamental ways and inability
to keep his team focused.
no team has proven more a thorn in the side of the Phils over the past two
seasons than McKeon’s Marlins.
Florida never would have made it to the NL playoffs last year, much less
a World Series championship, if not for McKeon’s mastery of Bowa and his
despite all this, McKeon and Bowa are solid friends, and it was Trader Jack who
recommended Bowa for his first managerial job in San Diego in 1987. Many people thought Bowa too tightly
wound to ever succeed as manager, but McKeon thought otherwise, and Bowa was
it to say, it was an artistic disaster, though players such as Tony Gwynn and
John Kruk said they admired Bowa’s intensity and desire to win. He inherited a team that wasn’t very
good, yet left it in even worse shape.
This is a legacy that Bowa carried to the Phils, and is likely to carry
with him for the rest of his life.
team finished dead last in the NL West with a record of 65-97. Though the fans clamored for change,
Padre management decided Bowa deserved another chance. However, when the team began the 1988
season with a 16-30 record, Bowa was fired. His replacement? None other than Jack McKeon, his mentor
have been a signal that Bowa might not be cut out to manage when McKeon took the
same group of sad sack players and immediately transformed them into a solid
team. His record was 67-48 through
the rest of the year, and most baseball people thought Bowa would never manage
If Bowa struggled as a manager, he was highly successful as a third base
coach. Hired in 1988 as coach of
his beloved Phils, he was tireless in his approach, and popular with the
players. Although the team
struggled until 1993, he became a powerful voice in a clubhouse full of powerful
1988-1993 Phils saw such players as John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra,
Dave Hollins, Curt Schilling, Mitch Williams and Danny Jackson become clubhouse
leaders. Yet, Manager Jim Fregosi
remembers Bowa as the guy who was called in the most by the manager to calm him
down. Fregosi remembers Bowa as a
never say die optimist, who always insisted this team would arise from the ashes
and become a NL powerhouse once again.
Of course, his faith was rewarded
in that magical 1993 season when only two Mitch Williams’s meltdowns kept the
team from a World Championship.
Nevertheless, Bowa defended Williams vehemently, and to this day insists
that without Williams, that team never would have made it as far as it
career as a Phillie coach ended when Fregosi was fired after the 1996
season. His nine years had shown
him to be a solid coaching fundamentalist, and a quick thinking and daring third
base coach. No one expected him to
be unemployed for long, and he wasn’t.
When the California Angels hired another fiery taskmaster, Terry Collins, as
their manager in 1997, they made it clear they wanted fire and brimstone in the
clubhouse. Too many California
casual players had seen their way through the system, players like Jim Edmonds
and Garrett Anderson.
was told to hire coaches who would convey the same attitude as he had. It didn’t
take him long to cast a glance Bowa’s way, and it seemed a marriage made in
heaven. Collins immediately shaped
up a casual clubhouse, and the Angels began to win on a regular basis.
actually took on a more caring and sensitive appearance, the ice to Collin’s
fire. It worked for a while, but
when the players eventually mutinied against Collin’s tirades, the entire
coaching staff was let go with Collins.
This happened in 1999. The
irony of the whole story was that Bowa, who was thought to be very much a
Collin’s replica, was in fact a voice of reason in the Angel’s clubhouse.
mattered little though, and when Bowa received his third pink slip in a bit over
10 years, his career seemed at a crossroads. Many people felt that Bowa might soon
become persona non-gratis and that his career in professional baseball was at an
Larry Bowa was about to say good-bye to the Summer Years of his career, and he
could never have imagined what would transpire in 2001, the year that begins his
Bowa story, Autumn Years…Part 3 will appear next Monday, September
Note: Please send any comments or
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and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left