By LARRY LARUE
The News Tribune
The News Tribune
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. – The last time Larry Bowa managed in the major leagues, Ronald Reagan was president, Ken Griffey Jr. was in high school and Bowa was a 42-year-old who rarely hid his emotions.
There were a lot of years between the time he was fired in San Diego in 1988 and his accepting the managerial job in Philadelphia last week – and too many times his name never came up.
“I’d be lying if I said it never crossed my mind I wouldn’t get the chance to manage again,” said Bowa, who spent last season as the third base coach of the Seattle Mariners. “It’s a strange occupation, there aren’t that many jobs available. What bothered me most wasn’t that I didn’t get a job, but that in all those years, I never got interviewed.”
As many former players here at the General Managers Meetings can attest, Bowa was a tough player with a banty-rooster’s strut and a fierce competitive nature. A five-time All-Star as a shortstop, a two-time Gold Glove winner, a one-time World Series champion, Bowa retired with the highest career fielding percentage (.980) in big league history.
He’s now third in that category, having dropped behind Omar Vizquel and Mike Bordick.
But ask Bowa about shortstops today and there’s no hesitation. There are a cross-section of great ones – Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Vizquel come to mind.
And then, there is Alex Rodriguez.
“Alex is special, and folks ought to try and appreciate watching him play, because he’s one of those guys who comes along every 50 years or so,” Bowa said. “He’s a student of the game, he respects the game, and from the time he puts his spikes on, he’s preparing to beat somebody.”
Bowa has a lot on his mind these days. For one thing, there are players on the Phillies roster that he’s never seen swing a bat or catch a ball. For another, people keep asking him if he’s surprised he got the job.
“I was the ninth guy the team interviewed and I hadn’t managed in awhile,” Bowa said. “But the people in the Phillies organization knew me, they respected me, and they listened to me. They were looking for someone who was a little more aggressive.”
About to jump into the fray with the team he played 12 years with, Bowa cannot help but look back upon his one season in Seattle.
“When I went to work for Lou Piniella, I respected him,” Bowa said, “but by the end of the year I had a lot more respect for him – and I learned a lot. He’s better with strategy, better with preparation, better with people, and he’s a very aggressive manager.
“What you see during the game is a small part of it. Lou’s one hell of a manager.”
And then, there’s that shortstop, the 25-year-old who has been the talk of these GM Meetings because of his free agency. Bowa played for three teams in his career, the Phillies, Cubs and Mets.
He played 2,247 games in the majors, has spent 14 years as a coach, two more as a big-league manager.
Bowa was asked if he had any advice for Rodriguez.
“If he asked, I’d tell him a few things. The kind of player Alex is, the grass isn’t always greener with another team,” he said. “In Seattle, he’s playing for a great GM, a great manager, a franchise trying to improve the team after getting within a couple of games of the World Series.
“No team can guarantee you’ll always be in the playoffs, but if he goes somewhere else, the expectations will change. If he repeats his numbers from last season – and they were great numbers – fans will have expected that and more because he’s the guy with the big contract.
“More than anything, he’ll be expected to make the team win, and no matter how great a player you are, that’s out of your control.”
Bowa’s advice would be simple, he said – stay in Seattle.
“The fans there love him, and the team is willing to move those fences in a bit, which I know he’d like,” Bowa said. “The thing about staying in Seattle is, the fans give him the benefit of the doubt. If he has a couple of bad weeks, they’re behind him.
“You go to a new team, with a lot of expectations, and you have a couple of bad weeks, fans are going to boo you. The media is going to get on you.
“Seattle isn’t going to get out-bid in this process,” Bowa said. “There’s a lot of great reasons to stay, and I hope he does. If he doesn’t, I think I could find room for him in Philadelphia – but if we had to pay him, we probably couldn’t afford 24 other players.”
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