Bowa hit .250 that first season and played more games at shortstop than anyone else in the league. He lasted another 15 seasons and set the league record for most games played at his position—2,222. Only Luis Aparicio, with 2.581 games in the American League, spent more time at short. Bowa holds the major league record for career fielding percentage by a shortstop (.980) and has the highest percentage for a season (.991 in 1979). He holds National League records for fewest errors in a season by a shortstop playing 150 games or more (nine in 1972) and for most years leading the league in fielding percentage (six). His lifetime batting average was .260, but in the 1980 World Series, won by the Phillies, he hit .375. "I was," he says, "a pesky hitter."
Bowa could have played for yet another world champion last year. He was still under contract to the Mets, who had signed him as a free agent at the end of the '85 season and wanted him as a utility infielder in '86. Bowa, then 40, didn't like the idea. "I'd always been an everyday player," he says. "Anything else wouldn't have been me." So he accepted McKeon's offer to manage Las Vegas and immediately won the pennant.
It is being said all over again that he won't make it. He didn't manage long enough in the minors. His temper will do him in. But nothing gives Bowa greater pleasure than proving his detractors wrong. "It's a motivating factor for me to read that Larry Bowa can't do this or can't do that," he says. "I like being the underdog. It makes you dig deeper within yourself. It's true I've always had a bad temper. But it's much more controllable now. I'm not one to hold a grudge and keep a player in my doghouse. Anyway, it seems I'm always having to prove myself in some way. Now I have to prove I can manage. I will. I'll persevere."
Bowa knows he's still learning on the job. He can be a stickler about players showing up late or missing signs—he fined Gwynn $100 for missing a hit-and-run sign on April 16 even though Gwynn got his fifth hit of the day on that at bat—but he is proving to be flexible. He was wrong, he now admits, about Jefferson, a player of great ability and seemingly equal fragility. Bowa was annoyed in spring training because the talented young centerfielder was missing too many games with seemingly minor injuries. He openly questioned the rookie's dedication. Then, in the first week of the season, a deeply concerned Jefferson came to Bowa's hotel room in San Francisco. Bowa was surprised and touched by what he had to say.
"He actually came in to apologize to me for being so low-keyed," Bowa recalls. "He told me that despite the way it looked, he really did want to play every day. He said he was anxious to prove that he could do it even though his ankle was hurting. And I know now that he was hurting. I realized as we talked that though some players" actions and mannerisms might not suggest they're giving one hundred percent, they actually are and you should recognize it. I knew right then, talking to him, that he was a gamer. So I told him, 'Stan, what you need is a little of me in you.' Then I laughed and said, 'And what I need is a little of you in me.' He said, 'Yes, that would be a good combination.' You know, I think we're gonna be all right, after all."
Not right away, of course. But, then, Bowa knows all about perseverance.