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Padre with a Passion
Ron Fimrite
May 04, 1987
His young team's struggles have forced manager Larry Bowa to temper his fury with patience
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May 04, 1987

Padre With A Passion

His young team's struggles have forced manager Larry Bowa to temper his fury with patience

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Sheena Bowa watched with some amusement as her husband, Larry, comforted their not-quite-four-year-old daughter, Tori, after the child had fallen from a chair in the family's San Diego home. Neither Tori nor her father had had a particularly good day. Bowa's team, the San Diego Padres, had just blown a game to the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-2, partly because of a misjudged fly ball and a misplayed bunt. It was the Padres' 10th loss in the first 12 games, and the manager, a man not known for his forbearance, had been grousing over the sloppy defeat up to the moment of his daughter's tumble.

Tori, for her part, had attended the game with her mother and had remarked midway through it, "This is the boringest afternoon I've ever spent." She had done little to improve her father's mood afterward by informing him, "Daddy, you got a lousy team." But after the fall, Bowa was at the youngster's side, caressing the tears away.

"Just look at him," Mrs. Bowa said, smiling at the tender scene. "Here's a man so competitive I won't even play tennis with him. He even aired me out while I was taking a lesson. I asked him why, and he said, 'Because you were laughing, not taking it seriously.' But look at him now with Tori. The patience of Job."

Actually, during the first two weeks of the season, Bowa's infamous disposition remained surprisingly stable as the Padres got off to a start that would have tried the patience of the old Biblical whipping boy. But suffering in silence is not Bowa's style, and last weekend after punching just five singles in a 4-2 loss to the Dodgers, the Padres discovered their manager's limits. "We have people who are scared to swing the bat and [who] look for walks," he screamed. "These guys don't know how to win. We've got too many people who are playing for themselves, and people who worry about themselves are losers. L-O-S-E-R-S."

At the end of last week the Padres were 5-15 and averaging only 2.6 runs a game. "You don't win that way unless Mike Scott is pitching for you," Bowa wisely observes. "When you're not hitting, every mistake you make is blatant."

And the young Padres have made some beauties. In a 3-2 loss to the Giants on April 14 (one of six to San Francisco this young season), Bowa called for a pitchout in the first inning with Chili Davis on first base. It was a smart play that should have worked because Davis was breaking for second. But Padre pitcher Ed Wojna threw too close to the hitter, Jeffrey Leonard, who reached out and popped a single to rightfield. Davis went to third on the play and scored on a wild pitch by the rattled Wojna, who, with 131 days of major league service entering the season, qualifies as an old-timer on this fuzzy-cheeked team.

Four days later, in the seventh inning against the Dodgers, Padre reliever Craig Lefferts threw a wild pitch to the first batter he faced, allowing the tying run to score. In that same game, leftfielder John Kruk let a Steve Sax liner sail over his head for a two-base error, and reliever Lance McCullers missed a golden chance to throw a runner out at third when he couldn't get a bunted ball out of his glove in time. Runners scored on both boo-boos. And in that same week, rookie second baseman Joey Cora twice tried to bunt for base hits with two strikes against him. He ran into the ball the first time and bunted foul the second. Two automatic outs.

On April 13, in the team's home opener, Marvell Wynne, Tony Gwynn and Kruk led off the bottom half of the first inning with consecutive home runs, the first time that had been done in big league history. The Padres still lost to the Giants 13-6, and a disputed play during the game gave San Diego fans a fitting introduction to their team's new field boss. Second base umpire Bob Engel allowed the Giants a double play, even though shortstop Matt Williams had thrown the ball away. Engel ruled that San Diego's Tim Flannery had gone out of the base path to break up the play. That brought a raging Bowa out of the dugout; the crowd was stunned by the ferocity of his protest.

The San Diego Union reported the next day that "he jerked head and body violently, following Engel all around the second base area, throwing down his cap and screaming for all he was worth, and remaining on the field, arguing, for more than two minutes after Engel had ejected him."

Bowa said later he was "amazed that anybody should be amazed by my intensity." Besides, it was not so much his histrionics that earned him Engel's displeasure, he said, as his flip suggestion that it would be a feather in Engel's cap to be the first umpire to give him the heave-ho this season. Bowa has lost count of the times he was given the thumb as a player, but through 16 years with the Phillies, Cubs and, briefly, the Mets, he was a crabby nuisance who was the scourge of opponents, umpires, sportswriters and even inanimate objects in ballparks.

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