Phillies’ Interest in Larry Bowa is Peculiar

CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury is reporting that former Phillies shortstop, coach, and manager Larry Bowa is close to an agreement that would make him the bench coach under manager Ryne Sandberg. Salisbury notes that Sandberg is close to Bowa as Bowa was his mentor with the Chicago Cubs after the Ivan DeJesus trade sent them out of Philly.

Bowa managed the Phillies from 2001-04. Although the Phillies won at least 80 games in all four seasons — and it was a marked improvement over their 65-97 finish in 2000 — the Bowa era was a tumultuous time in the franchise’s history. He was grating to a lot of the players, including third baseman Scott Rolen, who eventually talked his way into a trade that sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals. Bowa was known for publicly criticizing his players, throwing temper tantrums, and being just abrasive in nature. Some players liked it, a majority of them did not.

Bowa was fired with two games left in the 2004 season. During the off-season, the Phillies interviewed a number of candidates, but eventually settled on Charlie Manuel, a mild-mannered, folksy former manager of the Indians. His entire approach was and still is the exact opposite of Bowa’s. He was renowned for being a “player’s manager” — someone who the players felt comfortable being around and talking to, and it worked for the Phillies. The Phillies saw their win total rise every year from 2006-11 and they won the NL East five years in a row, reaching the World Series twice and winning it once.

Though Bowa won’t be managing, going back to that well — with memories of his managerial days still vivid and only recently having been separated from Manuel — seems peculiar. The Phillies are a veteran-laden bunch. It’s hard to imagine Bowa’s screaming tirades will help motivate Jimmy Rollins to run out that routine pop-up. Could Bowa’s nature eventually dissuade Domonic Brown from signing an extension to buy out some or all of his arbitration years? Will the flipping over of the cold cuts table motivate a youthful bullpen to throw strikes more often?

GM Ruben Amaro recently told the media that the Phillies are “going to make some changes” about the way they evaluate players. He said, “I think we owe it to ourselves to look at some other ways to evaluate. We’re going to build more analytics into it.” As one of the last remaining teams to embrace the use of modern methods of baseball analysis, it would send a mixed message to then hire someone — Bowa — who represents an attitude and approach reminiscent of the early 20th century.

Of course, it’s Ryne Sandberg’s call. Managers get the privilege of picking their own coaching staff. If Sandberg brings Bowa on board, then perhaps it was a mistake to give him a three-year contract. The denouement of the Manuel era should have ushered in the beginning of a fresh, modern era of Phillies baseball, but it appears that the old guard will continue to run the show in Philadelphia. Yes, Bowa is just a bench coach and bench coaches have very little — if any — impact on the success or failure of a team, but it represents something bigger as the Phillies restructure their coaching staff for the first time in a long time.

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  1. John

    October 08, 2013 07:35 AM

    Yes let’s fire Sandberg because he brought back Larry Bowa to be a bench coach! How will the Phillies EVER recover from such awful news?!

  2. Evan

    October 08, 2013 08:16 AM

    Would like to see Davy Lopes back over Bowa, but this team does need a kick in the pants from time to time. I may like this better if the Phils had a younger team.

  3. Tim

    October 08, 2013 08:27 AM

    Good cop/bad cop routine coming?

  4. SteveH

    October 08, 2013 08:29 AM

    @ Bill B

    Bill, unless I am giving the organization to much credit here I get the idea of wanting to add someone with a more in your face attitude since I think by the end Charlie was such a player friendly manager that the team probably tuned him out. I do however agree with your point that someone new would’ve been a better idea. My question to you is this; who would you like to see in the roll? A second question I have is who would you like to see as part of Sandberg’s staff as a whole especially pitching and hitting?

  5. Bill Baer

    October 08, 2013 08:32 AM

    I don’t know enough about the pool of available candidates to definitively say who would be the best group. But it seems foolish to bring back someone who was at the head of — and reason for — one of the more unpleasant eras of Phillies baseball.

  6. joecatz

    October 08, 2013 08:55 AM

    here’s the thing. Athletes are athletes. You can modernize how you determine which of those athletes you sign, which ones you play, how much you pay them, which ones you want to keep and which ones you should trade fairly easily by implementing and modernizing your approach to both player development and analytics.

    Doesn’t stop the jock from being the jock. If Sandberg feels (and he knows a lot more about the inner workings of the clubhouse dynamic than any of us do) that he wants a more structured, high intensity, do the work and get in your face if you don’t, mentality as opposed to the laid back approach Charlie had, then Bowa is a good choice.

    And at the same time, Larry Bowa has forgotten more about how to play the game than most of the other candidates for that job know. A bench coach is a consigliere. He’s there as much to help the manager see the choices in front of him as anything else. he’s the guy that, after a 3-2 loss sits down in Sandbergs office and hashes out what the other options might have been.

    If Sandberg trusts Bowa, then Bowa is the right guy. Has nothing to do with modernizing anything, IMO.

    Though I can’t wait for the June game where Sandberg get thrown out, Bowa takes the reigns, and then also gets thrown out an inning later.

  7. Jeff

    October 08, 2013 11:11 AM

    Bowa actually said this as manager in 2001, about the leadoff hitter getting walks. If he hasn’t gotten any smarter in 12 years, then he has no place on any MLB coaching staff. Which means he’d still be a perfect fit for the Phillies’ front office.

    “When Glanville got 200 hits [in 1999], nobody said anything about what he did,” Bowa said. “Maybe I’ll experiment with Jimmy Rollins there, but if we were to open the season today, Glanville would be the leadoff hitter. If he gets 180 to 200 hits, that’ll be fine with me. I don’t care if he gets any walks.”

  8. sweatingisnormal

    October 08, 2013 11:38 AM

    Not saying that Bowa is good or bad, but TBF he does seemed to have mellowed with no incidents as coach for the Yankees and Dodgers under Torre. Also Rolen has had a history of run ins with every club he’s been with (not just Bowa) and many say Scott is a difficult, strange personality.

  9. T. Martin

    October 08, 2013 12:09 PM

    For whatever this is worth when the Dodgers promoted Mattingly to replace Joe Torre Mattingly wanted to bring Bowa back as a bench coach and Ned Colletti wouldn’t allow it.

    Just by his presence in the clubhouse/dugout Bowa rubs some players the wrong way and the Phillies clubhouse is one of extremes with a lot of vets and a lot of very young players. One can only imagine Bowa saying something after Pap blows another save and how that’ll go over….

  10. Ryan

    October 08, 2013 12:38 PM

    There’s nothing wrong with having someone with the wealth of experience that Bowa brings as a sounding board for Sandberg who is a first time MLB manager. The fact that Sandberg trusts him completely is even better. He wouldn’t have kept getting good jobs with top notch organizations like the Yankees and Dodgers if he wasn’t a good coach. You need a blend of old and new school thinking to succeed.

    I remember seeing an interview on tv where Bowa (I have no idea how to dig this up) himself admitted to making some mistakes while managing the Phillies and saying that he has mellowed with age.

  11. joecatz

    October 08, 2013 12:38 PM

    One can only imagine Bowa saying something after Pap blows another save and how that’ll go over….

    good. I hope Bowa shouves his fist up Papelbons ass and gets him to focus on pitching and not worrying about Obama taking away his guns and calling out the rest of the team when he shits the bed.

    theres a place for that believe it or not. These guys arent kindergarteners with delicate emotions to be coddled. theyre egotistical professional athletes, many of whom have a me first attitude that has a negative effect on the rest of the clubhouse.

    Parkman from Major league? That stuff is real. And as much of an asshole Bowa can be, as much as the guy has a propensity for not thinking before he speaks to the press himself, I don’t know of a single incident where his mouth got him into trouble because he put his ego ahead of the team. When that shit happens its because he’s a team first play together hard guy. and he’s a smart baseball mind.

    Larry Bowa isn;t stupid, or a bad coach, he’s just opinionated and voices it.

    And frankly all the coaches in the world won’t mean shit if Michael MArtinez gets at bats in June, and this years Delmon Young is in the starting OF.

  12. Pencilfish

    October 08, 2013 12:46 PM

    There are at least two more vacancies on Sandberg’s staff, and then there are whatever moves RAJ will make over the winter, such FA signings, trades and talent evaluation. Linking Bowa’s hiring to lobbying by Sandberg and then saying it was perhaps a mistake to give Sandberg a 3-yr deal is beyond premature. You can’t even suggest some other candidates for bench coach in response to SteveH’s question, so how Bowa’s hiring be considered good or bad absent a reasonable comparison?

  13. joecatz

    October 08, 2013 12:50 PM

    also, lest we forget.

    When Bowa took over the Phillies in 2001 they hadnt had a winning season since 1993, 7 consecutive seasons.

    he won 86 games and was NL manager of the year. The offense of the team was essentially the same as 2000 save Rollins and Burrell replacing Desi Relaford and Ron Gant and Johnny Estrada taking the bulk of catching duties from an injured Mike Lieberthal.

    Johnny Estrada C
    Travis Lee 1B
    Marlon Anderson 2B
    Rollins SS
    Rolen 3B
    Glanville CF
    Abreu RF
    Burrell LF

    The ace of the staff was Robert Person. Omaar Daal and Coggins replaced Curt Schilling and Andy Ashby.

    SP Person
    SP Omar Daal
    SP Randy Wolf
    SP Dave Coggins/Bruce Chen
    SP Aumary Telemaco

    rollins and Burrell worse pitching, and a 21 win swing.

  14. GB

    October 08, 2013 01:09 PM

    Bill – I’m with you 100%. Bowa is exactly what this team does NOT need and reinforces my concern about Sandberg and his own baseball philosophy. If their aim is to convert us into a small ball, station-to-station contact offense, it will fail. If Sandberg wants to be more “aggressive” with hit/run, stealing etc. thats fine, but Howard, Rollins & Co. have rarely shown any ability to hit to a certain spot or do much of anything except pull, pull, pull. Its clear what is needed for the offense: better talent and a renewed focus on plate/strike zone discipline, walks, hitting to all fields and working the pitcher. These vets clearly have not and will not adapt (except for Utley and maybe Ruiz) and the Phils do not seem to believe in such an approach even though it has generated the best teams in their history. Hiring Bowa would tell me not only do they not believe in that approach, but they plan to do the opposite which scares the heck out of me.

  15. Ethan

    October 08, 2013 03:51 PM

    The only thing I disagree with is Bowa’s lack of interest in using stats to make decisions. Watching him on MLB Network, he has become somewhat enlightened to their place in the game. Brian Kenny even mentioned a while back that he was beginning to embrace analytics. Will he be a convert full time? No, but he isn’t afraid of them anymore

  16. Boo-urns

    October 08, 2013 06:52 PM

    Definitely a good cop / bad cop scenario being set up here, but I’m cautiously optimistic about its potential. If there’s one thing this group of players could royally use, it’s a hard kick in the pants… especially Rollins, who is about the most self-centered, selfish, lackadaisical potential HOF player I’ve ever seen. (No, I don’t think he’ll actually get voted in, but I’m 99% certain he’ll be on several ballots.)

    And I agree about Davy Lopes, I never understood why we let him go in the first place. His contributions were felt immediately, as was his absence. He must have naked pictures of Charlie Manuel (shudder) somewhere.

  17. nik

    October 08, 2013 09:40 PM

    LTG I read your link and the only thing it showed was how obnoxious and petty that fjm website was.

  18. SJHaack

    October 09, 2013 07:48 AM

    The one thing that suggests to me the explosiveness we anticipate won’t happen is the fact that Bowa was 3B Coach for almost 10 years here, and there was never an issue. He was just a beloved player returning to the team as a coach and that was that. Bench coaches don’t hold press conferences or call team meetings. Set the defense and we’re good, Bow!

  19. SJHaack

    October 09, 2013 07:50 AM

    Fire Joe Morgan is the best baseball blog that has ever existed. I don’t think Bill would disagree with me. I am only sorry that someone can’t feel its impact and understand.

  20. Robby Bonfire

    October 09, 2013 01:19 PM

    I suppose using the “ingratiating” and standard of performance futility enabling personality of Charlie The Mule as the foil for dumping all over “ascerbic” Larry Bowa is the ticket.

    When it comes to propping up Manuel’s tenure with the Phillies, for the record, and in deference to objectivity – something Manuel lacked in spades, it should be noted that the team vastly under-achieved throughout the Manuel era, and he burned out, and in the process rendered vulnerable to nagging infirmity, literally dozens of otherwise highly-productive and extremely well compensated key members of the team.

    Hey, Bowa is a jerk, too, we can agree on that, but merely a jerk with a different style and expression mode.

    You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to write anything laudatory as regards Charlie Manuel, on its own “merit,” and certainly not by comparison with anyone else who ever donned the Phillies uniform..

    Do I detect an emotional lament regarding Manuel’s extremely-belated departure? Incredible, if true. Hope I’m wrong.

  21. BeezNutz

    October 09, 2013 02:24 PM

    This move signifies 1 thing to me.

    The phillies continually fail to move on from the men who successfully kept them from being a good team.

    Bowa, Ed Wade, Ruben, Dallas Green …. blah blah blah

    They moved on bringing in Gillick and Charlie and it was all success. Now they go back to this steaming pile of manure.


  22. Robby Bonfire

    October 09, 2013 02:52 PM

    My Gawd –

    Dallas Green got the most out of the Phillies, then heisted Ryno on his way out of town. Charlie The Mule got the ~least~ out of the Phillies, overstayed his unwelcome, and defaulted on all MLB standard of performance principles.

    Now tell me where Charlie bested Earl Weaver, too, as that has to be the next Land of Oz fantasy around here.

  23. BeezNutz

    October 09, 2013 03:23 PM

    Yea Dallas Green got the “most” out of them … if you ONLY count the 1980 season.

    He was also god awful with the yankees and mets.

    But you brought that up… However, I was only speaking to his tremendous time as a member of the front office with the Phillies.

  24. Biagio

    October 09, 2013 04:33 PM

    It’s agreed that sometimes players need to be kicked hard, and that maybe under Charlie that didn’t happen. The problem with Bowa is that he just blows up when he blows up. Could be at exactly the right time, or exactly the wrong time — he just goes off. This is not the way to motivate players. He will initially be a breath of fresh air, but by August 2014 most of the players will be sick and tired of being sick and tired of Bowa.

  25. joecatz

    October 09, 2013 04:53 PM

    funny part of all this to me is while Bowa has had some altercations with players who have had less than stellar reputations to begin with, the vast majority of baseball people, and players alike have nothing but praise for him.

  26. Robby Bonfire

    October 09, 2013 07:20 PM

    Charlie Manuel got the least out of the Phillies, if you only count the 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons. Other than those sabotage jobs, he was sensational.

  27. BeezNutz

    October 10, 2013 07:59 AM


    I’m not a huge Manuel fan myself … but its tough to say he underachieved. MLB’s postseason is the biggest crapshoot of all the major sports (maybe hockey is but its between them)

    He won a WS (2008)
    Went to 2 WS’s (2009)
    Went to 3 NLCS’s (08, 09, 10)
    Led the team to best record in baseball another year (2011)

    As I said i’m not a huge fan but its tough to say he underachieved that greatly.

  28. BeezNutz

    October 10, 2013 08:01 AM

    Regardless the point i’m trying to make is that the phillies finally stepped out of their mentality of cronyism to find success.

    Since Gillick stepped down they have slowly crept back into it. Bowa coming back is just the latest move signifying it.

  29. Robby Bonfire

    October 10, 2013 07:03 PM

    Phillies still suggest a “cronyism” factor, what with RAJ now exposed as a dolt GM, so long as he retains his job. You see, both RAJ and David Montgomery are graduates of The William Penn Charter School. This explains how and why RAJ got the position ahead of a much more qualified and capable man.

    We finally got liberated from “The Fiend Who Walked The East” mgr. but there is one more move this organization needs to make to bring the Phillies back into the light of day, to join baseball’s elite, contention. Really, really doubtful this team can scale the heights again, with the present extremely-flawed GM in place.

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