Rebuilding the Phillies
Bowa tries to inject his team with some of his fire
Updated: Tuesday April 17, 2001 11:17 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
It's hard for a guy like Larry Bowa to relate to today's baseball players. None of them wants to win more than he does. None takes losing quite as hard.
None of these guys stays up until 3 a.m. after a loss, going over the game in his head. None worries about how to turn a team that lost 97 games last season and hasn't been on the good side of .500 since 1993 into a winning team.
This is what Bowa, the former Philadelphia Phillies shortstop and now the team's famously hyper-intense manager, does. All the time. And now he has to teach today's major leaguers how to care like he does.
And nobody cares like Larry Bowa cares.
"You could find something every day that will [hack] you off," about today's ballplayers, Bowa says. "I had a manager tell me once ... 'Don't look for things, 'cause you'll find them."
So, instead of looking, Bowa "masks" his famous fiery side -- his word -- retreating to his office, biting his tongue. He leans on his coaching staff to insulate him from the way of many of today's ballplayers. Just the other night, Phillies coach John Vuckovich had to warn a player about chatting on a cell phone just minutes after a loss. If Bowa would have seen that...
What gets to Bowa is the same thing that new Toronto Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez calls the "whatever" attitude. Instead of working harder, many of today's players figure things will get better because they always have.
"I'm not an animal. I'm not trying to beat them down. I'm not trying to wear them out," Bowa says. "I just want them to know ... when things aren't going well, when you have problems, they're not going to go away by themselves."
None of this is new for Bowa. Back in 1987, he ran into some trouble in his first managerial stint in San Diego by being his too-intense self. He got into a well-publicized fight with one of his own players in the clubhouse. Tony Gwynn remembers one Bowa tirade that had the manager literally frothing at the mouth.
After San Diego fired him, Bowa bounced around for more than a dozen years as a coach for three different teams. Now, the Phillies have given him another chance. Another chance to figure out how to motivate today's players.
He's talked with other managers about it. Seattle's Lou Piniella, who's been known to go a little overboard himself, told Bowa not to be any more intense than his players. Jim Leyland told him to manage with "one eye closed and one ear closed." He figured Bowa couldn't take it if he heard and saw everything today's players say and do.
Still, Bowa sees. He hears.
He won't rip players in front of their teammates anymore -- a huge no-no for these millionaire athletes -- but he's already gone nose-to-nose with a couple of them in private.
A lot of people figure it's just a matter of time until something big happens.
"There's going to be some stuff," says third baseman Scott Rolen. "And I think there has to be. There has to be some policing in the clubhouse from somewhere."
Bowa recalls one of his former managers, Dallas Green, tearing into the Phillies late in the 1980 season, calling them out by name. The '80 Phils went on to win 91 games and beat the Kansas City Royals in a six-game World Series.
"We were like, 'Screw him. We'll show him,'" Bowa says.
These days, Bowa wonders just how his team might take something like that. Right now, as they sit on top of the National League East, they don't seem to need a ripping. But there could come the time.
"I don't think they'd quit on me," he says after a short silence. "But they wouldn't run through a wall for me."
And that, in the end, is all Bowa wants, really. For his players to run through a wall once in a while. For the team.
He'd do it.