The Phillies Are Loyal to A Fault

If there’s been one constant about the Phillies through the years, it’s that they’re a very loyal organization. Former players are often welcomed to stay with the organization in other roles. After being fired as the team’s manager towards the end of last season, Charlie Manuel agreed to become an advisor to GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. Former second baseman Mickey Morandini is the manager of the Single-A Lakewood BlueClaws. Former shortstop Larry Bowa is in his second coaching stint with the team, despite his time as manager from 2001-04 not going so well, and finding success with a diametrically-opposite manager in Manuel.

In many ways, loyalty can be a good thing. It can help you keep prized assets around when they might otherwise go elsewhere given the prospect of a more prominent role and/or more money. The reputation creates good will within the organization and in the community, allowing the fans to maintain a relationship with players they loved to watch growing up. At other times, being loyal can be detrimental, making one blind to a close ally’s faults and being resistant to change the status quo. The Phillies, unfortunately, have hurt themselves lately by keeping familiar faces in the periphery.

The Phillies brought Bowa back as a coach during the off-season, and it was questionable even back then. Bowa is not a friendly guy and commonly finds himself embattled with his players. Third baseman Scott Rolen — who turned down a ten-year, $140 million contract extension from the Phillies — was happy to land in St. Louis in 2002 in a trade after battling with Bowa for a year and a half.

Bowa went on 97.5 The Fanatic recently and used the platform to rip the team. He said that the Phillies weren’t playing “big-league baseball”. More specifically, he criticized Domonic Brown for showing up to the ballpark with a smile on his face despite his struggles at the plate. Bowa criticized Roberto Hernandez for not being able to go more than five innings in a majority of his starts. He suggested that several unnamed Phillies lacked good baseball instincts, and absolved the coaching staff of blame because “you can’t teach instincts”.

Even if Bowa’s criticisms were right — they’re not — what purpose does he serve going on the radio and ripping the team and the players? If it was meant to light a fire under the team, as it is sometimes suggested, it didn’t work, as the Phillies lost 7-0 to the Washington Nationals later that night and 8-4 on Wednesday. Brown has logged two hits, both singles, in seven at-bats since.

The Phillies are not the group of youngsters that they were under Bowa’s leadership in the early 2000’s. They’ve seen a manager yell, throw chairs, and flip over post-game spreads. None of it is going to magically make the team play better. That the team would allow Bowa the freedom to go on the radio and castigate the players shows not only a fundamental misunderstanding of human psychology, but blind loyalty.

But this is who the Phillies are. It’s why they’ve been the slowest team to adopt the use of analytics. It’s why they have kept around the same core that won them a championship six years ago even though they’re all injury-prone and in their mid-30’s. New ideas cannot permeate the Phillies’ culture because they keep the same people around and they all think the same things. Is there any debate that when Amaro’s time is done, the Phillies will just hand the job over to an underling like Scott Proefrock or Marti Wolever?

For a brief period of time, the Phillies took a risk going outside of the organization and it paid off. When Ed Wade was relieved of his duties as the team’s GM after the 2005 season, the team brought on Pat Gillick. Gillick traded away franchise icon Bobby Abreu and approached roster construction from a different perspective, slyly picking up Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs on the cheap, having known both players from his time with other teams (the Orioles and Mariners, respectively). His eye for getting fringe players — think Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin, Tadahito Iguchi, Matt Stairs — was unique and not something the Phillies had had success with in the past. But it worked, and the team won a championship as a result.

The Phillies don’t just need a fresh, new roster. They need fresh, new upper management. They need leadership that will be happy to bring in a qualified outsider over someone that has hung around the organization for 30 years. They need to be able to let go of old memories and realize that while fans may be happier with the crotchety, old former Phillie in the short-term, they’ll be happier — and be more willing to spend money — when the club is successful again after adopting 21st century ideas and people.

Larry Bowa is emblematic of the Phillies’ biggest organizational problem at the moment. Bowa made that loud and clear on Tuesday with his appearance on 97.5. The Phillies should use that clue to turn the club in a new direction when the time comes, be it this season or several years from now. Otherwise, they’re doomed to continue repeating the same mistakes they have always made.

Leave a Reply



  1. Matt

    June 05, 2014 08:00 AM

    This maybe or maybe not the right moment to pay homage to Don Zimmer. I don’t know the man, but just from what I remember watching all those damn Yankee World Series and his rotund smiley face, I can’t help but think that he made it more enjoyable to show up to the ballpark. I suppose Dom Brown needs a lot of help, but I am guessing that someone getting in his face and telling him to stop smiling (which I could image Bowa doing based on his comments) is not the best way to work out Brown’s problems. It’s not like Brown needs some motivation to go stare down the barrel of a rifle and crawl thru landmine-ridden battlefields. It’s a sport. Is anyone teaching Dom the right things to do to work out of his funk? If Dom cannot raise his level by his own pride, fear of failure and letting down his teammates, despite sound instruction, then he just doesn’t have the talent or the drive. But I suspect, part of his problem is the sound instruction. Telling a guy not to smile is not going to help his swing. Larry Bowa, as a coach, is simply the Hollywood caricature of the gym teacher who laughs at the awkward kid getting bullied in gym class. Baseball has passed this man by. Wish we had someone like Don Zimmer.

    • zengreaser

      June 05, 2014 08:09 AM

      It’s not a sport. It’s not gym class. It’s his job. (Ok, so his job is to play a sport, but hopefully you get what I am saying). If I was sucking at my job and coming to work every day laughing and smiling but not producing better results, I would have my boss breathing down my neck. Dom Brown is infuriating to watch. He possesses (possessed?) the athleticism to be offered a scholarship to play WR at the University of Miami, but you would never guess that by watching him play LF. And, Holy Moses, does he look awful at the plate.

      • CopingMech

        June 05, 2014 02:11 PM

        Everything I’ve ever read indicates that Dom Brown is a hard worker before & after the games. In game – he always runs hard and is clearly trying & caring. People grieve differently. Not everyone wails at the funeral.

  2. zengreaser

    June 05, 2014 08:01 AM

    See, I’m ok with Bowa’s radio venting. As fans, we get frustrated when players/coaches/management give canned responses in interviews. Even if he’s inaccurate with some of his criticisms as you say (which I am not entirely convinced he is), I appreciate the forthrightness of his comments. Besides, I took it as more of a shot at the Phillies front office. Whose fault is it that the team is currently not talented enough to play like a big league club? If things like this can help lead to RAJ’s exit, I am fine with it.

    • furtigan

      June 06, 2014 07:31 AM

      Effective management of human beings involves knowing when and how to be forthright, when to be oblique, and when to shut up. Bowa is only capable of one of these.

  3. Renmiked

    June 05, 2014 09:31 AM

    Wasn’t Rolen’s decision more about the overall organizational choices being made and the way they were still being run as a “small market team”, rather than his issue with Bowa? I’m not a huge fan of Bowa the manager/coach, and yes he is emblematic of their philosophy, but I think in that one instance it was more a front office issue than a managerial issue.

    • Bill Baer

      June 05, 2014 09:34 AM

      Yeah, it certainly was. Sorry if I gave off the impression that it was Bowa and Bowa alone that chased Rolen out of Philly.

      • CopingMech

        June 05, 2014 02:14 PM

        IIRC – Rolen also had a shit fit with the Cardinals/LaRussa? Most articles don’t paint Rolen as being Mr. Personality & in fact, indicate that he is a very difficult person to live with.

  4. JB Allen

    June 05, 2014 09:43 PM

    Bring back Dallas Green. Someone needs to teach Utley a thing or two about hustle.

  5. George Callanan

    June 06, 2014 12:00 PM

    Rolen had problems with Dallas Green. Who picked Bowa, Rhino did. Who picked Sandberg, Amaro did. Top management is the reason the Phillies stink along with bad luck, Lee hurt, Asche hurt, Ruff hurt and Biddle suffering from headaches because of a hailstone. If that is not an example of bad luck then I do not know what is. All we have to talk about is who they drafted. Just Great.

  6. Boo-urns

    June 07, 2014 07:36 AM

    Bowa is, and always has been, a royal jerk who commands no respect from the players. How he keeps finding himself employment in the bigs is beyond me.

  7. Brian

    June 07, 2014 11:23 AM

    “Is there any debate that when Amaro’s time is done, the Phillies will just hand the job over to an underling like Scott Proefrock or Marti Wolever?”

    This was probably the most depressing sentence of this article. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

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