CD's Connect the Dots ...Foot in Mouth Disease

The 1980 Philadelphia Phillies, fresh off an exhausting playoff series against Houston, were in Game One of the World Series against the Royals. Bone tired, and using an untried rookie, Bob Walk, on the mound, the Phils trailed early 4-0. They had the look of a beaten club, and who could blame them? After singling in the third inning, Larry Bowa immediately stole second base. This incredibly daring do inspired a five-run rally and ultimately, the only World Championship in Phillie history.

Many a Phillie historian, yours truly included, still say that Bowa's daring steal was the turning point in the series. It woke up a sleeping giant, and inspired an entire city. For this play, and others like it over the course of his brilliant career, we will always be grateful. There is no doubt of the affection and love this man inspired as the greatest shortstop during the greatest era in Phillie annuals.

Unfortunately for Bowa, and a city that so wants to embrace him with the same love as manager, the very things that made Bowa such a feisty and successful ballplayer may well end up being the things that cost him his job as manager. Outspoken. Brash. Opinionated. Cocky. Those were Larry Bowa qualities as a player, and to a certain degree, they are still part of his personality today.

Yet, along with those often endearing qualities come some not so appealing traits. An inability to accept responsibility for mistakes. A disturbing habit of criticizing his own players in a very public and demeaning way. An almost paranoid belief that the press is out to get him. And worst of all, a temper that has made him Public Enemy Number One among more than a few umpires around the league.

A walking contradiction, thou art Larry Bowa. Few players embody Phillie red like he does. Few managers have connected a Phillie past with a Phillie present like him. From Bob Boone to Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski to Garry Maddox, Phillie stars from the past have been encouraged to retrace their roots, and many owe their rebuilt allegiance to the efforts of Larry Bowa.

And, it is true that under Bowa's guidance, the Phils have turned a proverbial corner after almost a decade in the darkness. With a career record of 273-250 as Phillie pilot entering Thursday night's tussle with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he has been the most successful Phil manager since the days of his old skipper, Dallas Green.

It is also true that during the Bowa tenure, players like Pat Burrell, Randy Wolf, Bobby Abreu and Vicente Padilla have become stalwarts, while youngsters like Marlon Byrd, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Jason Michaels and Jimmy Rollins have begun to earn their wings.

Proper credit must also be given to Bowa for his influence in bringing in veteran free agents like Jim Thome, David Bell, Tim Worrell and Shawn Wooten. All have contributed to a Phillie team that seems perched on a ledge, ready to fly towards greatness. Yes, friends, Larry Bowa has meant much to the city of Philadelphia and most fans want, oh so want him to be successful. It seems the perfect marriage.

Yet, a nagging cloud hangs over his head, one that refuses to dissipate. Storm clouds, getting darker by the day, and threatening to drown a team in showers just when so many fans and players can actually see the light of day for the first time on oh so long. The saddest part of this story is that Larry Bowa is causing the very cloud he wants to blow away. He threatens to drown in his own paranoia and insecurity. Larry Bowa just does not know how or when to stop talking, and it is this talking that is causing a greater credibility stain by the day.

Examples are legendary, from the first days of his first spring with the club when he was caught off guard making ill-timed remarks about pitchers in general… all pitchers. Since that day, fact or fiction, Larry Bowa has developed a reputation as a manager who just does not like nor understand pitchers. His seeming inability to know when to use, or when to rest a hurler, has resulted in an annual Rite of Summer, the meltdown of an overworked and exhausted bullpen.

Yes, this reputation follows Bowa everywhere, and you can hear the whispers, from Phillie internet chat lines, to often poorly disguised critiques from his own players. Yet, it is not so much the often ill-conceived use of a pitcher that is so galling, rather it is his utter refusal to acknowledge when he is wrong that is his fault line.

The latest example occurred on Monday when ace lefty Randy Wolf took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning against a beaten and tired Colorado Rockies club. With both teams anxious to catch planes taking them over the Rocky Mountain Highs, this was a game the Phils seemed destined to win.

And they well could have if Marlon Byrd had caught a fly ball with 1 out and no one on in the bottom of the seventh. At least that is what Bowa was explaining to the press after the game, a game that saw Wolf removed with a 6-1 lead, and a tired bullpen inflaming the situation and ultimately costing the Phils a 7-6 defeat.

Amazingly, Bowa began talking out of both sides of his mouth. Instead of just saying he made the decision and accepting responsibility, something that would have ended the discussion all together, he not only said that Wolf was removed because his face was beet red and he was dead tired, but then said that if Byrd caught the fly ball, Wolf would have stayed in. Huh?

This hurt his credibility with Wolf and probably many other Phillie players, but what occurred next made the story even stranger. It turned out that Wolf's elbow began bothering him in the seventh inning, on the 96th pitch, to hear Wolf tell it. This injury, though minor, is enough of a concern that he will miss a start on Saturday.

Larry Bowa then made an absolutely flabbergasting statement, one to the effect that he knew of Wolf's injury and that was why he was removed. He defensively was quoted as saying that now "all those tire marks on my back, you could just eliminate them." He was insinuating that in proper managerial form, he was removing Wolf to guard against further injury.

Well, this was certainly news to Wolf, who claimed that no one but he knew of the pain in his elbow, and that if indeed Bowa was taking credit, he must have the clairvoyance of a Nostradamus. He then made a wry comment to the effect that if Bowa has these remarkable abilities of precognition, then the Phils are blessed to have such a manager.

Clearly, the gulf between manager and player was a wide one, and given Wolf's respect with his fellow players, it could get wider. Managers must remain dignified and responsible, no matter the ill winds that threaten to blow a team off course. When we hear of dignified managers, we think Joe Torre, Felipe Alou, Bobby Cox. Unfortunately for the Phils, Larry Bowa's name never surfaces with these names.

Yet, in my mind, this was not his worst verbal gaffe in a week has seemed much like any other in regards to Bowa Verbal Bloopers. In my mind, his worst one occurred when he was asked about a replacement for injured first baseman, Jim Thome. While commenting that Shawn Wooten could do the job, he was then asked about using rookie Chase Utley at first base.

In point of fact, Utley had played a bit of first base this spring and had accredited himself nicely. Yet, despite his wonderful spring play, and the certainty that he was one of the best 25 players in camp, he was optioned to SWB, a move that had to bother him emotionally.

Make no mistake about Utley, he has his detractors where defense is concerned, but offensively, he is a veritable hitting machine, and when Placido Polanco reinjured his thigh muscle, Utley was recalled. All he has done since the recall is drive in eight runs in the past four days, and firmly establish himself as another offensive cog in a wheel that seems to be spinning on all cylinders.

However, word is surfacing that when Polanco is ready to return to action this weekend, the ill-fated Utley will once again be asked to keep a stiff upper lip on his way back to Scranton. This move could do irreparable damage to a youngster who has clearly shown he belongs in the big leagues.

With this as a backdrop, Bowa was asked this week about using Utley at first base and his comments were that this would not happen because Utley was an untried first baseman and this might do untold damage to his psyche. What? Let me get this straight…an unfair return to the minor leagues will harm Utley not at all, but being asked to play first base at the big league level for a few days might cause him irreparable mental damage?

These are the sorts of ill-advised comments that cause Bowa such grief. Not only do Phillie faithful see through the nonsense, but also Phillie players undoubtedly roll their eyes and realize that he probably doesn't even realize the damage in his words. In fact, it is my opinion that if Bowa should eventually lose his job, it will be his words, and not his deeds that will prove his ultimate downfall.

Can this situation turn itself around? Will LB, as he is known around Philadelphia, regain the credibility he had when he was trumpeted back in 2001 as a potential savior for a franchise in utter need of one? As with most self-inflicted wounds, the healing depends on the patient's desire to get better.

There is little doubt of the loyalty that GM Ed Wade has for Bowa, and many of his players still affectionately defend him. Players like Bell and Doug Glanville, players whose opinions matter, still swear by Larry Bowa. The team has been playing better of late, and may still achieve the greatness often predicted for it by the prognosticators.

Larry Bowa may still get the chance to again ride down Broad Street in a Victory Parade, much as he did in 1980. His pugnacious, take no prisoners attitude may still be the elixir that stirs a Phillie team to overcome the Marlins, Astros and Cubs. He still has a chance to see his name among the lights of Phillie Greatness… as both player and manager.

The choice will ultimately be up to him. If he can contain his habit of ill-advised comments that both damage his credibility with the press and the players, then he has a chance. If, however, he refuses to acknowledge his mistakes, his weaknesses, his verbal foibles and change his ways then the prognosis is poor.

Larry Bowa, our very own shortstop whiz Larry Bowa, will end up suffering from a terminal case of Foot In Mouth Disease, and we Phillie fans will all be the worse for it.

Columnist's Note: Please send any comments or suggestions to and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast

Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories