There are times as a Phillies fan I have been so angry and so sad it has brought me to tears. October 2nd 2004 is another one of those days. Oh you can roll your eyes or laugh or do whatever it is Larry Bowa bashers do when someone feels this strongly about him but there are plenty who feel as strongly about him as I do. Those fans showed up Sunday at the final game of the Phillies season. But my sadness was also over this entire season finally coming to an end. And if I didn’t have to watch my mouth for purposes of professionalism, I would really let loose and say more than what many fans expressed on Sunday. On Sunday, fans at the game chanted “We want Bowa” and “Fire Ed Wade”. I share those sentiments, and as Phillies fans, I’m sure that you too feel cheated.
My sadness and disgust over Bowa’s firing represents much more to me than just a simple changing of the guard. It is about many things. My sadness about this season and Bowa’s dismissal was so intense that I sat in front of my computer and cried trying to figure out what I was going to write about when the final game of the season ended. What could I say? I tried to say there were things I was proud of but that is simply me trying to be loyal to the title of “Phillies Phan.”
|"The players on this team are what got him fired."|
|- Eric Milton on Larry Bowa.|
You hold on and hold your head up and tell yourself that the time will come it just isn’t now. Of course, that is what we have done for many years. Why do we have to be passive year after year? How much longer can this organization drag us around through all of the trash they throw at us?
Many might say it was pointless to sit through these last few weeks and watch these last games when they were “meaningless”. But this goes back to the essence of being a Phillies fan. You could say that the motto of a die hard Phillies fan is the ancient Scots Hunter clan motto: Cursum perficio. “I finish the race.” That doesn’t mean we follow and win. It just means we don’t walk away before it is over.
And so with all of my heart, I cheered when they finally started beating the Florida Marlins and I got excited just the same before each game as if it were all leading somewhere. Miracles at one point were being whispered about but, hey, come on. Who were we kidding, guys? I even attended the rainy double-header in the final week of the season against the Pirates. Do you know when I bought those tickets? The week before; when it was far and away completely over. I spent my entire summer scheduling things around games or running home to catch the rest of one if I simply had to miss it.
When the Phillies dropped the shoe of 1964 upon our heads after the all-star break by going 1-9 and losing seven straight, it effectively ended all chances at the playoffs. I was devastated, then numb. Each time that someone got up to the plate and swung at air or one of our pitchers wildly threw into a non-existent strike zone I was as frustrated as one can be. Players go through slumps and that’s not something any of us can truly understand. But never in all of those times, through all of those moments did I feel down right cheated. That is how I felt the day Larry Bowa was fired.
I felt that way for many reasons. It had to do with the man who stood in that press conference, having fired Bowa just a short time earlier. It had to do with the stunningly loyal relationship that same man, GM Ed Wade and Phillies President David Montgomery, share that somehow keeps Wade. Ed Wade was once a PR man and for the life of me I don’t know how a PR minded person would have the audacity to stand in a press conference and in response to how disappointed Phillies fans feel after the Bowa firing say “no one cares more about this than we do”. Oh yeah, that’s good Wade. Good direction to go in and alienate the fans who put all of that money in your pocket this year. Did I say I felt cheated? Yes, well I can’t say it enough.
My frustration over Bowa’s firing also has to do with the kind of man Larry Bowa is. He was someone that I felt expressed the emotion and passion of this city and the frustration we all feel. Winning was like oxygen to him and he is a man who has lived and breathed baseball all of his life. He understood us and gave us what we wanted; emotion, fire and a gritty, bulldog mentality. This is not a peaceful, polite little town. And this ain’t Kansas as Dorothy might have said if she were an angry little Philly girl like me. This is a tough minded, loud talking, passionate city. Larry Bowa cared as much about the Phillies winning a championship as the fans did because he was truly one of us. Perhaps I didn’t grow up around men who were subdued and the loud, fiery and mouthy ones are the kind I understand. Larry Bowa fit right in here.
I also felt that the way it went down was sneaky and unfair. Ed Wade had said he would be evaluating things after the season was over. But after firing Bowa he said he felt it was only fair to be up front with the manager and tell him they would not be retaining him. He knew he was going to fire him weeks ago. He had no intention of “evaluating” or “assessing” anything. Bowa was going to take the fall and Ed Wade made that decision long before he told it to Larry Bowa’s face. It seems to me that when David Montgomery joined the team on their successful west coast road trip, it was to evaluate Bowa. I truly believe that Larry Bowa’s fate was being secretly sealed months ago. Perhaps, if we had made the playoffs it would have been a different story, I don’t know. I don’t want to over speculate but I just have a hunch that Bowa’s job was on the line before this season even started. If Bowa wound up making Ed Wade look bad well that would be it. Ed Wade would not protect him even though Montgomery is sure being protective of Ed.
Let’s also look at the record here. Larry Bowa was the skipper of the first winning seasons for the Phillies since Jim Fregosi’s reign in 1993. 2003 and 2004 were the first back to back winning seasons since 1982 and 1983. During Bowa’s run both Jimmy Rollins and Bobby Abreu improved as players and have enjoyed the best numbers of their careers. I’m not sure about Bobby Abreu but Jimmy Rollins loved and admired Larry Bowa and felt a particular closeness with him. When he hit that grand slam in Sunday’s final game of the season Rollins said that he thought of Larry Bowa; he also said that no one gave Bo the chance and that he accepted his manager the way he was. Jimmy Rollins has just enjoyed the best season of his career and is now considered to be the strong lead off hitter that the Phillies have needed since Lenny Dykstra. If Jimmy Rollins is not an example of Larry Bowa’s passion paying off I don’t know what is.
There were players who seemed to be truly turned off by Bowa’s way of doing things, which I can understand. Randy Wolf and Mike Lieberthal in particular seemed either indifferent towards Bowa or irritated by him. These guys should have just played to the best of their ability and play for themselves if that’s the case. It was Sparky Anderson who said “The players make the manager not the other way around”.
The fact that Ed Wade still stands as the news comes in that John Vukovich has been “fired” as third base coach but is being offered an assistant position to Wade really turns my stomach. If the destruction of this team is on the shoulders of Larry Bowa, Joe Kerrigan and John Vukovich how is it not on the shoulders of the general manager? How is he the man still standing in this gun fight?
I am especially disgusted that after David Montgomery said that he doesn’t believe in firings to fix things, a firing was made to fix things. I find it ironic that many have attacked Bowa for not taking enough responsibility for this disappointing season but by cleaning house and firing the manager and now, the third base coach, Ed Wade still has his job. If they are responsible and should be fired how is it that the general manager isn’t? I guess having friends in high places can really pay off.
There is, of course, a sentimental aspect to this story too and I would be lying if I didn’t say that was part of it. Larry Bowa was the shortstop on the Phillies team that won the World Series in 1980 and what he contributed as a player simply cannot be forgotten. The way he played, with that same passion and grit despite people who passed on him years before, was what made him such a huge part of that team’s success. When he came back here to Philadelphia to manage he declared that outside of his daughter being born that was the happiest day of his life. It is painful to see it end this way because you know it meant something to him to come back and have a chance to also go to the World Series with the Phillies as a manager. I didn’t imagine it would end this way and i’m sure he didn’t either.
I hope people respect him for what he is and what he has accomplished. Through all of the years that he has played, coached, and managed in the game of baseball he was a spitfire with no fear. That is the very reason he made it as far as he did. He remained true to it because that is how he succeeded in life.
Wherever Larry Bowa winds up I hope he finds success because he deserves it. His heart is totally invested in this game. I realize that he has left this team once again having not done as much as he and all of us wanted him to. But I hope we can all appreciate what he did do and how hard he tried.