A Messy House; Phillies Need To Tidy Up Clubhouse

The Phillies are hanging around the National League wild card race thanks to a clean sweep of the New York Mets over the weekend. They seemingly pulled things together, but was it because of or in spite of Larry Bowa? Do the players hate him or have they responded to the fiery approach that Bowa brings? Was Tyler Houston a bad influence and if he was, can the Phillies undo the damage that he did? Lots of questions and we try to answer them all.

Sometimes, a little animosity isn't so bad. Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson may be the classic example of a manager and player who barely co-existed. Through all of the animosity between the two, the Yankees survived and in fact, flourished through the battles. Who could ever forget the image of Martin and Jackson going nose-to-nose in the Yankee dugout? It was the kind of thing that Yankee haters loved to watch and felt good about because it wasn't happening to our team.

Now, a little of that type of animosity has come to Philadelphia. It seemed to have started last week. Larry Bowa erupted after Thursday's game in Montreal – the sixth straight Phillies loss – and let his team know in no uncertain terms that they were not getting the job done. Then, it was a one-on-one match between pitching Joe Kerrigan – he of more than 30 years in baseball – and rookie pitcher Brett Myers. Not unlike Jackson and Martin, the two went eye-to-eye and used every word that they could think of as weapons in their battle.

The next day, the Phillies arrived in New York. Pat Burrell delivered a solid homerun and took the scenic route back to the dugout, bypassing Bowa and his coaching staff in the process. The route left Burrell to celebrate with his fellow players and not get congratulations from his manager. Sometime after that, Bowa and his coaching staff summoned GM Ed Wade to the clubhouse for a little get together. The topic was not Bowa's eruption, the Kerrigan/Myers vocabulary lesson or Pat Burrell trip down the first base line to enter the dugout. Gosh, they didn't even discuss the pending assaulty and child endangerment charges levied against reliever Terry Adams. No sir, the subject of this meeting was Tyler Houston, who the coaching staff perceived to be a bad influence – notice that everybody avoided the word "cancer" - in the clubhouse. It wasn't a coincidence that Houston and Burrell had become close friends.

Come Saturday, Ed Wade had weighed the discussion and without hearing Houston's side of things, made the move; Houston was gone before game time and Nick Punto was on his way back to Philly. Since that move, Houston and Bowa have traded jabs through the media. Yuck!

As Ross Perot (whatever happened to him?) would say; "Let's bottom line this thing".

Bowa now says that the Phillies were warned about Houston's attitude. The fact that he's played for six teams in eight seasons should have born that out, but the Phillies ignored the warnings and signed Houston to a one-year deal. If Houston had all season to work his black magic on the young Phillies players, would one more month have hurt? After all, the guy was a .448 pinch-hitter who bats lefty. How much more could he corrupt the likes of Burrell? The Phillies could have simply let him go after the season since he was on a one-year deal and things might have blown over smoothly. You also might have avoided having Mike Lieberthal come out and say "this move makes us worse." Bad move, Ed. Oh and Eddie, while I'm on the subject. When you release a guy in the middle of a pennant run and you and your manager let the world know it's because he's a bad influence, don't expect to be able to trade him for a serviceable reliever like you told us you were working on doing. It's not gonna happen and we all knew it wouldn't. Next, you need to tell your manager that it's over, you made the move, now let it go. The next time someone asks about Tyler Houston or the next time that Houston says something in the paper, the response is "no comment", not "he's a loser".

Bowa should probably also know that putting the team's star slugger, Jim Thome, in the middle of things isn't a good idea. Bowa hung Thome out to dry when he said "if you don't believe me (that Houston was a bad influence) go ask Thome." Like the classy guy that he is, Thome stayed above the fray, but you can only imagine the look on his face as a throng of reporters herded from the manager's office toward Thome's locker in the Shea Stadium clubhouse. Bad move, Larry.

As for Bowa's eruption, it was probably a necessity. The problem is that it now appears that nobody was listening. The players appear to have tired of Bowa's ranting and raving and Thursday's explosion probably wasn't the reason for the New York turnaround. A team meeting called by Jim Thome, Kevin Millwood and Dan Plesac probably did more for the team in ten minutes than Bowa's entire monologue. The Phillies didn't improve because of Larry Bowa, it was in spite of him. His reenactment of Dallas Green and Paul Owens 1980 "discussions" wasn't in the same realm. The difference is that the players respected both Green and Owens far more than they do Bowa.

The scariest thing to come out of this is a comment from Tyler Houston. "There's no way free agents will sign with them as long as Bo is there." Yikes! Is Houston right? Time will tell. The most valued free agent, Kevin Millwood, has had a front row seat to all of this. If the Phillies offer the same kind of money to Millwood that other teams do during the offseason, but he goes elsewhere, we have only Larry Bowa to blame.

Maybe, it's time for the Phillies to really look in the mirror. Maybe, though that steely stare needs to come from above Ed Wade. It might be time for Dave Montgomery to truly assess his ballclub. They're moving into a new stadium next season, they've got a good team and they're starting to play with the big boys now when it comes to money. Montgomery should consider whether he's got the right people in the right jobs. Ed Wade made some nice moves during the offseason, but was ineffective during the season. He could have made move after move to improve the club and didn't. Larry Bowa is loved by a lot of the Phillies faithful and therein lies the problem. You're going to take a public relations black eye if you fire Bowa, but you have to think about it. That's the problem with hiring a team legend to manage. Let's face it, sooner or later, managers get fired and firing a guy who frequently shows up in a favorable light in your highlight films is never easy.

Past that, Montgomery has to instruct Wade and Bowa – or potentially, the new GM and/or manager – to take a look at this group of players. Can the team tolerate Bobby Abreu's little jogs to first base on a ground ball? Have attitudes run amok? Again, there are a lot of questions for the Phillies to figure out. Sometimes though, when you get your house in order, you discover that certain things simply don't fit anymore. They've grown to be unneeded or even worse, just cluttering and ugly.

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