CD's Connect the Dots... Autumn Years, Part Two
Larry Bowa

Posted Sep 6, 2004


Larry Bowa may not have known it then, but his Spring Years ended the day he was traded from the Phillies to the Chicago Cubs in late 1981. If Spring had been a period of abounding opportunities and success, then the Summer Years were a period of irony and transition. It is this writer’s belief that there are no coincidences in life and Bowa was about to set out on a journey filled with irony and missed chances. Let us now look back on the period from 1982 to 1999 in his life...the Summer Years.

Every 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.

 

Irony #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 making.

And 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 peak.

 

Yet, in 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 Phils.

Of 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.

 

Bowa’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.

 

A quick 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 baseball.

 

He wanted 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.

Irony #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.

Larry 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.

 

His 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. 

 

In the 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.

 

Irony #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.

 

Indeed, 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 Phils.

 

Yet, 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 hired.

 

Suffice 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.

His 1987 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 and buddy.

 

It should 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 again.

Irony #4: 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 voices.

The 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 did.

 

Bowa’s 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.

Irony #5: 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.

 

Collins 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. 

 

Bowa 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. 

 

It 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 end.

 

Clearly, 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 Autumn Years.

 

The Larry Bowa story, Autumn Years…Part 3 will appear next Monday, September 12.

 

Columnist’s Note:  Please send any comments or suggestions to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond.  Thanks!  Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast



Related Stories
CD's Connect the Dots... The Autumn Years
 -by FightinsFuture.com  Aug 30, 2004
CD's Connect the Dots... Autumn Years, Part Three
 -by FightinsFuture.com  Sep 13, 2004
Larry Bowa: "I Still Hate To Lose"
 -by FightinsFuture.com  Aug 14, 2004

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