Bowa calls the discussion on the bus "their little meeting," adding, "If that meeting ignited [the players], I'm glad. If it took my meeting for them to have a meeting, I'm glad. I just wonder why it took them so long to have a meeting."
The next night Phillies leftfielder Pat Burrell hit a home run at Shea Stadium. Returning to the dugout, he didn't enter at the end near home plate, where Bowa was, but snubbed the manager by entering in the middle of the dugout. Houston later called it "a staged thing," saying that at the meeting on the bus, veteran players "were endorsing players doing stuff like that."
"The thing that bothered me the most is that I've stuck with Pat all year," Bowa says. "He's got the fourth-most at bats on the team, [even though] he's hitting .200. And I'll still stick with him. He's a good kid. He's got to learn to be his own man. He's getting better at it." After a breakout season last year (.282, 37 homers, 116 RBIs), Burrell, 26, has endured a seasonlong slump (.207, 20,59) despite the lineup support of free-agent addition Jim Thome. When told of Bowa's remarks, Burrell said, "No comment. Right now what's important is for the team to win games, not any individual situation."
Behind Burrell's homer and Millwood's pitching, the Phils beat the Mets 7-0 that night. Millwood called it "the biggest game of the year. If we don't win that one, there's no telling what would have happened to us."
The Phillies cut Houston the next day. Though Bowa says he considered Houston to be the ringleader of the players' meeting, G.M. Ed Wade says the meeting had nothing to do with Houston's release—although he acknowledges that Houston was released because he was considered a poor clubhouse influence. Bowa implied that Houston was a malcontent. That prompted Houston to tell the Courier-Post, "Bo doesn't give a crap about his players. Bo only cares about himself. You see it in the negativity and disrespect that he has for his players, the way he speaks to his players. He's the first one to slam you, embarrass you, throw stuff in the dugout, throw his hands up in the air."
Bowa returned fire, calling Houston "a loser" and said, "There were 15 guys doing backflips when we let him go." Bowa does admit that "there are five, six or seven guys" in his clubhouse who don't like him. "That's normal," he says. "I don't really care. My job is to manage the baseball team in a way that's best for 25 guys. I would love everyone to say, 'God, he's a great guy.' But you know what? There are going to be times during the season when a guy doesn't like what you do."
"Listen," reliever Dan Plesac says, "playing here is like [being] a high school basketball player [and] signing to play at Texas Tech for Bobby Knight. You know what you're signing on for. There are no surprises. [Bowa] wears his emotions on his sleeve. I can tell you he's been great with me. In all honesty, what's been going on has not been nearly as bad as it may seem from the outside."
Even when the Phillies began winning again, their troubles continued. After Jose Mesa blew consecutive saves last week, inflating his ERA at the Vet to 7.76, Bowa yanked him from the closer's role. He says he'll manage through the wild-card race with a bullpen by committee. Lefthander Rheal Cormier, who earned his second save in 358 career relief appearances on Friday, and righthander Turk Wendell were Bowa's first options to close games.
Meanwhile, Marlins manager Jack McKeon, noting the unrest in Philadelphia, said last Friday that Bowa was "panicking." Under McKeon the Marlins are 6-0 against the Phillies this year, and the wild-card rivals play six more times. Philadelphia is 15-19 against the four teams remaining on its schedule, the Braves, Pirates, Marlins and Reds. But the Phils do play nine of their final 12 games at the Vet, where they are 45-27, including 16-2 since July 29.
Bowa, a scrappy, beloved player for 12 years in Philly, is signed through next season with a club option for 2005. Wade has repeatedly offered unqualified support for his manager, saying that Bowa is the right man to lead the Phillies into their new ballpark next season.