When Philadelphia Phillies manager Larry Bowa scampers out of
the dugout to make pitching changes, first-year shortstop Jimmy
Rollins joins the ensuing conference on the pitcher's mound. In
such situations baseball etiquette dictates that players fewer
than 40 games into their first full season behave like Victorian
children: They should be seen and not heard, especially if the
call to the bullpen comes in a tense late-game situation.
However, the fact that Bowa, a former shortstop, had played in
four All-Star Games and won two Gold Gloves before Rollins was
even born doesn't stop the 22-year-old from tweaking his
skipper. "You're nervous, aren't you?" Bowa says the mischievous
Rollins will sometimes say to him during these mound confabs.
"Come on, I see you pacing in that dugout. Say it, you're
nervous, aren't you?"
"Hey, look, I played over 2,000 games in the big leagues," Bowa,
in his first season as Philadelphia manager, says he once snapped
back. "I am not nervous."
It was an unconvincing rebuttal, because anyone can see the same
sideline spectacle that Rollins is witnessing game after game.
The ultraintense Bowa spends every inning bouncing around the
dugout like a hyperactive child who's just found where the
Halloween candy is hidden. See Larry pace. See Larry fiddle with
his cap every five seconds. See Larry bark--at his coaches, at his
players, at umpires, at opponents, at himself. See Larry grimace
and knead his face with his hands when things go poorly. See
Larry pump his fists and stamp his feet when things go well. See
Larry's tightly wound psyche riding on every pitch as if there
were a World Series to be won or lost in the third inning of a
game in May.
In an era in which most managers display all the external emotion
and activity of a golem, Bowa is a whirling dervish. How wired is
he? After a tense 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves last month,
Bowa high-fived bench coach Greg Gross so hard that the next day
Gross's hand was swollen and had turned black-and-blue. The
Philadelphia Daily News has been running a contest to guess the
game and inning he is first ejected. (Amazingly, he hadn't been
tossed as of Sunday.) If Bowa continues at the pace he set in the
season's first six weeks, Philadelphia clubhouse attendants will
have to add Ritalin pills to the dugout smorgasbord of bubble gum
and sunflower seeds. "He's a nut," says third baseman Scott
Rolen. "We need to get him a seat belt. He's nonstop high-energy.
You stay out of his way during the game and try not to get hurt."
"He's always pacing and cheerleading and trash-talking, as if
he's itching to get out on the field," says centerfielder Doug
Glanville. "It works. We're all focused from the first pitch of
the game. He gets everybody's attention."
Bowa has been an adrenaline shot into the heart of a moribund
franchise. After completing a 4-2 road trip by taking two of
three games from the Arizona Diamondbacks last weekend, the
Phillies, who in 2000 under Terry Francona were the dispirited
co-owners (with the Chicago Cubs) of the majors' worst record
(65-97), had the National League's best mark (22-14) and a
six-game lead over the second-place Atlanta Braves and Florida
Marlins in the East. It was the latest Philadelphia had been in
first since 1995, and the lead was the Phillies' largest in the
division since '93. That magical season, when they went to the
World Series, also happens to be the last time the Phils
finished above .500.
"I don't see anything flukey about what they're doing," says
former Philadelphia ace Curt Schilling, who after nine seasons
with the Phillies was traded last July 26 to Arizona for first
baseman-outfielder Travis Lee and pitchers Omar Daal, Vicente
Padilla and Nelson Figueroa. Last Friday, in his first start
against his former team, Schilling lost 5-1. "We've played every
team in that division, and so far, top to bottom, I think they're
Philadelphia's fast start has been fueled by what most observers
thought before the season would be its biggest weakness, the
pitching staff. Through Sunday the bullpen, spearheaded by
free-agent acquisitions Ricky Bottalico (1.71 ERA), Rheal
Cormier (2.89) and Jose Mesa (10 saves in 11 chances), was 8-4
and had the league's lowest ERA (chart, above). Meanwhile,
lefthander Daal and righthander Amaury Telemaco made the Phils
the only team in the majors with two 4-0 starters. The stellar
pitching plus solid defense have compensated for a sputtering
offense. Only one regular, Lee (.302, with six home runs and 16
RBIs), was hitting better than .280. The heart of the
lineup--rightfielder Bobby Abreu, Rolen, and catcher Mike
Lieberthal--was batting a combined .233 with 12 homers and 53
RBIs; the three of them had barely surpassed the home run and
RBI totals of Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez. "If you'd
told me in spring training our 3-4-5 hitters would have the
numbers they do now, I'd have said we'd be in a lot of trouble,"
says Bowa. "It's a huge positive that we're winning without them
Philadelphia survives by getting timely hits--its .289 average
with runners in scoring position was the league's
third-best--and by playing with a Bowa-esque blue-collar spunk
and focus that were lacking last year. Take last Saturday's 6-5
victory over Arizona. The Phils jumped to a 5-0 lead in the
third inning, a rally keyed by a two-run double from backup
catcher Gary Bennett, who entered the game in the second inning
after Lieberthal tore his right medial collateral and anterior
cruciate ligaments while getting picked off first. (He's out for
the season.) Arizona tied the score in the sixth, but Cormier,
Bottalico and Mesa allowed the Diamondbacks only three singles
and an intentional walk over the final three innings, holding
the fort long enough for Philadelphia to win in the 10th on
leftfielder Pat Burrell's RBI single on a 1-and-2 pitch.
"That would have been an easy game for us to fold in," Bowa
said. "We blew a five-run lead, we lost our catcher, but we kept
competing. That shows the character of this team."
"Last year," said Rolen, "we probably would've lost that game."
The major difference between this season and last is Bowa, who
was hired last November to replace the fired Francona. The front
office hoped Bowa, a hero of Philadelphia's hallowed 1980 World
Series champions and a coach with the club from 1988 to '96,
would bring with him some box-office appeal. (For the first 14
home dates, however, attendance at Veterans Stadium averaged a
paltry 18,582, 27th in the majors.) More than that, though, the
Phillies' bosses wanted Bowa to light a fire under a bunch of
underachievers. Francona ran a mellow ship with a clubhouse so
relaxed that it was difficult for the players to shake the
inertia of seven straight losing seasons. "It was a little easier
for us to get away with things [like mental errors] last year,"
On the first day of spring training, Bowa announced that he
simply would not accept losing and that he expected the players
to believe in themselves and play with confidence and
aggressiveness. He has stuck to those themes, all but annoying
the Phils into playing well with his constant harping and a
quick hook for pitchers he deems to be struggling. Bowa has even
yanked starters who were pitching with leads in the fifth
inning, thus depriving them of chances to be credited with wins.
On April 17 at Wrigley Field he removed Telemaco in favor of
reliever Chris Brock with two outs in the fourth inning of a 1-1
game against the Cubs, even though the next batter was pitcher
Julian Tavarez. A four-pitch walk and a double surrendered by
Telemaco had helped make up Bowa's mind for him. (The Phillies
would rally with four runs in the ninth to win 6-3.) Five days
later at the Vet, with Mesa trying to preserve a two-run,
ninth-inning lead over the Braves, Bowa replaced him with Wayne
Gomes. Two runners were on and Mesa had a 2-and-1 count on
righthanded-hitting Atlanta catcher Javy Lopez when Bowa came
out to get him. "It's the first time that ever happened to me,"
says Mesa. "I hope it's the last." Gomes got the final two outs
to give the Phillies a 3-2 win.
It's not only the pitchers who feel Bowa's urgency. Earlier this
month he upbraided Lieberthal in the dugout after lefthander
Randy Wolf gave up a hit on an 0-and-2 pitch. Bowa was angry that
Lieberthal called for an inside fastball instead of trying to get
the hitter to chase a breaking pitch away. When Bowa gave the
struggling Glanville a few days off from his usual leadoff duty
and batted him seventh, then second, he used the occasion to get
in Glanville's face about his performance. "I'd be sitting on the
bench, and he'd start yelling at me, 'You want to go back to the
leadoff spot? Show me you should hit leadoff!'" says Glanville,
who at week's end was hitting .360 since returning to the top
slot on May 7 and who hammered two homers off of Schilling last
Friday. "It wasn't negative. He was trying to pump me up, almost
like a football coach."
"Larry's the kind of guy who makes you uncomfortable if you don't
play the game right," says Schilling, who was with Philadelphia
when Bowa was a coach there. "I think he's made some guys over
there realize they have to ante it up a little bit."
The question is whether Bowa can maintain his frenetic intensity
for a full season without snapping--and whether his players can
stand the constant haranguing. "This is my personality, this is
the way I played," says Bowa. "I hate to lose, and it bothers
me, but I can handle it. I know I'm intense. I've always been
If anything, Bowa says he's calmer than he was in his first
major league managing stint, a season-and-a-half turn with the
San Diego Padres that ended with his being fired midway through
1988. In that job, he constantly berated players. The tension
boiled over during a team meeting when Bowa chewed out
outfielder Stanley Jefferson for not showing up to an early
workout; the two nearly came to blows.
"My intensity is just as high, but when I was in San Diego I
wanted to do everything--coach the hitters, the pitchers,
everything," Bowa says. "I wasn't ready for the job. l have
learned to let my coaches coach and not to criticize players in
public or in team meetings. If one or two guys need to be talked
to, why should I berate the whole team? I'll still talk to them,
but I'll do it individually."
"The key is that everything he does is because he wants us to
win," says Wolf, who was 3-4 with a 4.66 ERA through Sunday. "We
can't take anything he does personally."
Some Phillies shake their heads in amusement or bewilderment,
others in annoyance, at Bowa's antics, but most of them say that
his crackling presence has energized them and that winning makes
his high-strung personality bearable. "I don't know what better
start I could be having," says Rolen, despite having gotten off
to the worst batting start of a six-year career, with a woeful
.221 average and a meek .382 slugging percentage. "We're winning.
I've never been on a winning team. If I keep playing like this
right on into the playoffs, I'll take that."
Worst to First
One reason the Phillies had the best record in the National
League through Sunday was their bullpen, a disaster last year
but (with the likes of Ricky Bottalico, left) a bulwark this
season. Here are the league's five worst bullpen ERAs in 2000
and the five best in 2001.
RANK, TEAM 2000 ERA RANK, TEAM 2001 ERA
12. Cardinals 4.84 1. Phillies 3.15
13. Expos 5.17 2. Cardinals 3.18
14. Astros 5.18 3. Brewers 3.34
15. Cubs 5.19 4. Padres 3.54
16. Phillies 5.72 5. Reds 3.66
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
Glanville. "Show me you should hit leadoff!"