Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
Larry Bowa offered some parting shots in a piece in the Inquirer/Daily News/Where Oh Where Is The Bulletin before going quietly into that night.
As usual the topics were as pertinent as flag burning is to the current election. Is Bowa too fiery? Is he too tough on his players?
Who cares if Bowa is fiery and tough? Lots of successful managers are—Earl Weaver and Billy Martin come to mind. Bowa was just not a good manager. He managed the team poorly. Ignored the bench. Demoralized young players with his quick trigger. Had no concept as to how to run a pitching staff. Went with the hot hand in the pen and got burnt repeatedly before trying something new.
However, let’s listen to Bowa’s opinions on the more facile issues surrounding the club, the ones the media can readily digest. As for his being too tough on the players:
I know I wasn't too tough. I know that for a fact. I was told to tone it down a little bit, which [was] for my own good. That was pretty good advice. But they weren't overdisciplined because I basically let them handle their own clubhouse. I didn't have any meetings. I didn't berate them. You've seen me the last two or three years. I haven't ripped anyone in the paper at all.
If you base your relationship with the players based on your ripped-‘em-in-the-papers frequency, it aint good. Bowa does have a point though. He did mellow a bit this year. Now, if he would just learn how to manage with the time freed up from his rip-the-players schedule, we wouldn’t be discussing his temperament.
Bowa then goes on to dare the Phils to win the division next year:
"If they want to make a change and think they can get where they want to go, that's fine. That happens in baseball all the time. The only thing I say is if you're going to make a change, you better win the division next year because we came in second. We came in second, and if you are going to make a change, you better take the next step and win the division."
Go ahead, punk, make my day. Well no, Bo, they don’t have to win the division. They just need someone who is getting more out of the team. Who cares where they finished? They were out of the playoff hunt early: that’s the true assessment of their season.
Bowa continues on this line by questioning whether he was destined to be fired if the Phils missed the playoffs:
"The other thing was at the end of August when a certain writer had something in there that I definitely wasn't coming back. I literally talked to [general manager] Ed [Wade] and he told me they hadn't made up their mind. And from that day on, we went 21-9, so I don't know what changed from that day except we played real good for the last 30 games."
I’ll leave aside “literally talked” (what did they discuss Melville?) and “we played real good” and address the 21-9 record. On the date to which Bowa refers (August 31), the Phils were 65-67 after having led the division at the break. They were 12.5 games out of first, 4 games out of second, and 7 games out of the wild card and had five teams ahead of them for the wild card. Who cares how well they played the rest of the season when the pressure was off? However, if the Phils had decided to can Bowa before the season, I wish that they had followed through with that plan at the time instead of making us endure this season.
But among the blather, Bowa actually made some interesting points. They were interesting not because they were original—they were obvious to anyone who watchedthe club with a passing knowledge of the game. However, coming from a one-time Phillies employee, they piqued my interest. Regarding the trade deadline:
"We needed a centerfielder. And I know Ed tried to get Steve Finley. I know that for a fact because he was talking to them and Finley said he doesn't want to go to the East Coast. [Carlos] Beltran was out there. Probably the best free agent out there as we speak. It was a matter of what you had to give up. The philosophy here is, 'Don't sell the farm for two or three months.' My philosophy is, and I might have a different take if I was a general manager or farm director, my philosophy was, 'If you have a shot, roll the dice and go for it.'... I think the Phillies are conservative. You have to roll the dice and let the chips fall where they may. One player can mean the difference."
He also seems to know what ails the Phils better than president Dave Montgomery:
I thought if I was going to get fired, I thought they would probably make Ed go, too. That's the only thing. Nothing against Ed or the organization, I just thought they were probably going to say, 'They didn't get it done; let's go.' And it didn't happen.
Again it doesn’t take much to better Montgomery. I saw the Whartonite himself try to Dubya himself down on Comcast’s Daily News show the other day by wearing an open collar and speaking with a typically guttural Philly accent. He defended Wade and the administration's approach amid the fluff questions posed by the Daily News braintrust, basically the same tenor and depth as the questions in the Bowa article. He defended the overpriced signing of Pat Burrell all the while blaming it on the media for their criticism following the Rolen fiasco, and the Newsies accepted that. What, two wrongs do make a right? So again, Bowa gave the impression that he was truly underemployed.
Bowa’s cogency dried up before the interview was through, however. Asked whether the Phils would again win a World Series, he Cheneyed the question into a soapbox sermon on Philly fans:
"I do hope they get to the World Series. I do. As bad as the fans can get, we both know, they can be nasty. They can be nasty. But you know what - they care. They're passionate. They wear their emotions on their sleeve and they don't want to see guys that don't leave it all out there. If they get the right mix in here, and, hopefully, the new manager, whoever it might be, the biggest thrill in the world would be to see them raise another banner."
Well, that’s nice. It’s the classiest thing he said. However, for a man who has been involved with Philly baseball for over thirty years, he doesn’t have any idea about what makes Philly fans tick. “Passionate”? The fans were following the Eagles and had given up on the Phils when the NFL camps opened. Yeah, they “don't want to see guys that don't leave it all out there”, but they lack the facility to assess that. They still think Bowa was a good player. They accepted years of Steve Jeltz. They booed Mike Schmidt and Bobby Abreu and cheer Jimmy Rollins’ mediocrity. I heard a snippet of Philly sports radio when I was trying to find the playoff games yesterday and I was told that Brett Myers is a good number four starter, better than what the Marlins have. On what planet? Philly fans have been spoon-fed by mediocrity in their sports teams and sports reporting for decades. How else do you explain Bill “Jabba” Conlin? The Phils fans have no idea what it takes to build a credible club; otherwise, they wouldn’t be contented with just Bowa’s head. They’d aim a bit higher and nab Wade’s and Montgomery’s as well.
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