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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.