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Larry Bowa Sees Red There's playoff fever in Philadelphia, where the combustible manager has his disgruntled Phils headed for a wild-card berth--or a colossal flameout

Sept. 15, 2003
Sept. 15, 2003

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Sept. 15, 2003

Larry Bowa Sees Red There's playoff fever in Philadelphia, where the combustible manager has his disgruntled Phils headed for a wild-card berth--or a colossal flameout

In between outbursts of joy and rage, manager Larry Bowa typically
watches his Philadelphia Phillies from a standing position, with
his arms folded and his head tilted back, chin up, the brim of
his cap pointing at the dugout roof. It's as if he must peer over
a thick wall, or something even more insurmountable than that:
his outsized reputation for combustibility. He knows the ESPN
cameras love him and admits that a quarter of his own players
loathe him because of his dugout histrionics. (The Phillies'
broadcast network, Comcast SportsNet, bowing to a request from
the club, has curtailed the use of its Bowa-cam.)

This is an article from the Sept. 15, 2003 issue Original Layout

"It's getting to the point that I've got to know when we're in an
ESPN game," Bowa says. "Their camera's on me more than on the
hitter or pitcher. So I try to just sit there, and when some big
part of the game happens and I'm caught up in the emotions, I've
got to walk up the runway, because I don't want people to see
what I'm doing.

"If a guy pops up with the bases loaded and I go, 'Goddam,' I'm
not mad at him," Bowa continues. "I'm mad because the Phillies
didn't score three runs. Some people take it personally, no
question."

You have to go back to Ben Franklin's kite to find a more obvious
lightning rod in Philadelphia than the 57-year-old Bowa.
Depending on whom you talked to, it was either because of Bowa or
in spite of him that at week's end, the Phillies held the
National League wild-card lead by one game over the Florida
Marlins with 19 games to play.

Just when it appeared as if the near-mutinous players might
implode following two contentious meetings, a public snubbing of
Bowa by one player, a public scolding of Bowa by another and a
1-9 funk, they suddenly ripped off a 9-1 run, including Sunday
night's 5-4, 11-inning win over the New York Mets.

"Like sands through the hourglass, so go the days of our lives
... and us," cracked pitcher Randy Wolf during the better part of
Philadelphia's soap-operatic swing. "Every day it's been
something else. But you know what? When you lose, everyone's got
a memory like an elephant, and when you win, everybody develops
Alzheimer's. And there's a lot of Alzheimer's now."

In that 9-1 run the Phillies wrote a primer on the restorative
powers of starting pitching as Wolf, Kevin Millwood, Vicente
Padilla, Brett Myers--the franchise's first quartet of 13-game
winners in 30 years--and Amaury Telemaco combined for nine
quality starts. The rotation covered for a lineup that was
missing infielders David Bell (bulging disc in his back) and
Placido Polanco (tight left quadriceps) and for a bullpen in such
flux that during the first five games of a six-game winning
streak, Bowa used five different relievers to start the ninth
inning, each time with a lead.

After Philadelphia beat the Mets on Saturday night, 9-6, for the
fifth of those wins, the clubhouse dry-erase board read YES WE
CAN and rightfielder Bobby Abreu gushed, "We're playing so great
right now. The clubhouse ... everyone is so happy. You can feel
the winning feeling."

Only nine days earlier the clubhouse had the feel of a Jerry
Springer set. After a 4-0 loss in Montreal, the Phillies' ninth
defeat in 10 games, Bowa ripped into his team for its poor play
and and lackadaisical approach. His shouting could be heard
through the closed doors. "If anybody here is not embarrassed by
the way we're playing," Bowa told the players, "then you should
get up now and leave and go get another job."

"People make a big deal out of this," Bowa says. "What a joke.
But obviously because of me and my personality, it's got to go
worldwide. First of all, I haven't thrown anything all year.
Anything. I have not tipped over a spread. I had that one
clubhouse meeting."

After the players boarded their bus to the Montreal airport for a
flight to New York--Bowa, his coaches and support personnel rode
on a different bus--they held a meeting of their own. Three days
later Tyler Houston, the team's best pinch hitter, told the
Cherry Hill, N.J., Courier-Post, "Bo's meeting was the last straw
with Bo. We had to have a players' meeting because of him. A lot
of guys felt like he was giving up on them. So the players
decided we have to win for ourselves."

Bowa calls the discussion on the bus "their little meeting,"
adding, "If that meeting ignited [the players], I'm glad. If it
took my meeting for them to have a meeting, I'm glad. I just
wonder why it took them so long to have a meeting."

The next night Phillies leftfielder Pat Burrell hit a home run at
Shea Stadium. Returning to the dugout, he didn't enter at the end
near home plate, where Bowa was, but snubbed the manager by
entering in the middle of the dugout. Houston later called it "a
staged thing," saying that at the meeting on the bus, veteran
players "were endorsing players doing stuff like that."

"The thing that bothered me the most is that I've stuck with Pat
all year," Bowa says. "He's got the fourth-most at bats on the
team, [even though] he's hitting .200. And I'll still stick with
him. He's a good kid. He's got to learn to be his own man. He's
getting better at it." After a breakout season last year (.282,
37 homers, 116 RBIs), Burrell, 26, has endured a seasonlong slump
(.207, 20, 59) despite the lineup support of free-agent addition
Jim Thome. When told of Bowa's remarks, Burrell said, "No
comment. Right now what's important is for the team to win games,
not any individual situation."

Behind Burrell's homer and Millwood's pitching, the Phils beat
the Mets 7-0 that night. Millwood called it "the biggest game of
the year. If we don't win that one, there's no telling what would
have happened to us."

The Phillies cut Houston the next day. Though Bowa says he
considered Houston to be the ringleader of the players' meeting,
G.M. Ed Wade says the meeting had nothing to do with Houston's
release--although he acknowledges that Houston was released
because he was considered a poor clubhouse influence. Bowa
implied that Houston was a malcontent. That prompted Houston to
tell the Courier-Post, "Bo doesn't give a crap about his players.
Bo only cares about himself. You see it in the negativity and
disrespect that he has for his players, the way he speaks to his
players. He's the first one to slam you, embarrass you, throw
stuff in the dugout, throw his hands up in the air."

Bowa returned fire, calling Houston "a loser" and said, "There
were 15 guys doing backflips when we let him go." Bowa does admit
that "there are five, six or seven guys" in his clubhouse who
don't like him. "That's normal," he says. "I don't really care.
My job is to manage the baseball team in a way that's best for 25
guys. I would love everyone to say, 'God, he's a great guy.' But
you know what? There are going to be times during the season when
a guy doesn't like what you do."

"Listen," reliever Dan Plesac says, "playing here is like [being]
a high school basketball player [and] signing to play at Texas
Tech for Bobby Knight. You know what you're signing on for. There
are no surprises. [Bowa] wears his emotions on his sleeve. I can
tell you he's been great with me. In all honesty, what's been
going on has not been nearly as bad as it may seem from the
outside."

Even when the Phillies began winning again, their troubles
continued. After Jose Mesa blew consecutive saves last week,
inflating his ERA at the Vet to 7.76, Bowa yanked him from the
closer's role. He says he'll manage through the wild-card race
with a bullpen by committee. Lefthander Rheal Cormier, who earned
his second save in 358 career relief appearances on Friday, and
righthander Turk Wendell were Bowa's first options to close
games.

Meanwhile, Marlins manager Jack McKeon, noting the unrest in
Philadelphia, said last Friday that Bowa was "panicking." Under
McKeon the Marlins are 6-0 against the Phillies this year, and
the wild-card rivals play six more times. Philadelphia is 15-19
against the four teams remaining on its schedule, the Braves,
Pirates, Marlins and Reds. But the Phils do play nine of their
final 12 games at the Vet, where they are 45-27, including 16-2
since July 29.

Bowa, a scrappy, beloved player for 12 years in Philly, is signed
through next season with a club option for 2005. Wade has
repeatedly offered unqualified support for his manager, saying
that Bowa is the right man to lead the Phillies into their new
ballpark next season.

Over the past 85 years only one manager who lasted more than 400
games with the Phillies, Danny Ozark, has had a better winning
percentage than Bowa's .525. Now Bowa is trying to guide the
franchise into the postseason for the first time in a decade
without a closer, two starting infielders or consistent power
from Burrell. He knows the baseball world is watching.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS THE TEMPEST Bowa doesn't kick up a fuss only with umpires. After the Phils lost nine of 10, he chewed out the whole team.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY RICH PILLING/MLB PHOTOS [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS DOWNSLIDE Though Bowa stuck with the struggling Burrell all season, the manager was snubbed by his leftfielder.

Tom Verducci's Insider, every Tuesday at si.com/baseball.

"Listen, playing here is like [being] a high school basketball
player [and] signing to play for BOBBY KNIGHT," Plesac says.
"You know what you're signing on for."