“As we age, certain parts of our memory remain robust. For instance, our autobiographical stuff ... stays with us,” Strauch told Terry Gross during a recent episode of NPR’s Fresh Air. “Other things, like how to ride a bike, how to swing a tennis racket — habits — do not go away.”
However, Strauch wrote, short-term memory tends to wane. For instance, if one puts something in the oven before going off to work on the computer, it’s probably a good idea to set an alarm or write a reminder. That’s the natural part of aging, Strauch wrote.
If Strauch were to hang around the Phillies with the managers over the past decade, the findings in her book might have turned out differently. After all, both Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel have had the uncanny ability to remember sequences of ballgames as if they were happening directly in front of them. But for actual events that happened to them during their careers as players and managers, well, let’s just say they could get misquoted in their autobiographies.
That’s no knock on either Bowa or Charlie. In fact, the way those guys remember their playing days is kind of humorous. Better yet, it seems as if neither of the managers quite understands that there is this thing called the Internet where information can be retrieved in seconds. Moreover, a short little trip over to Baseball-Reference.com can unfold nearly every single pitch those guys saw in their careers.
In his first big-league plate appearance on April 7, 1970 at Connie Mack Stadium, Bowa popped up to Don Kessinger at short against Fergie Jenkins. On April 8, 1969 in Kansas City, Charlie made his debut as a pinch hitter for Ron Perranoski in the 12th inning. Moe Drabowsky got him to ground out to Jerry Adair at second base in a game where the Royals beat the Twins, 4-3.
See how detailed and easy to find that was?
Oh, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story because sometimes it seems that old, wizened baseball men remember things just a little bit differently than the way it actually occurred. Take Bowa (yes, please take him)… listening to the way he talked about the game one would think that if he wasn’t bouncing Baltimore chop singles into the hard and unforgiving Veterans Stadium fake turf, he was fouling off pitches and getting on base with incredible patience. The truth is much different from the way it was remembered since Bowa posted a career on-base percentage of .300 and never walked more than 39 times in a season once in his 16 seasons.
Perhaps Bowa’s few critiques of Jimmy Rollins’ acumen as a leadoff man was based on experience since the old-time Phillie got on base at a .287 clip during his career when leading off and .299 when hitting second. Both figures are so far below the league norm that it’s as if they were dropped down into a well.
The best non-memory from Bowa, though, was not from the way he played. It was whom he played with. A favorite came during a series against the Orioles when Gary Matthews Jr. was tearing up the Phillies with big hit after a big hit. So when questions about Matthews led to the inevitable one about Big Sarge and whether or not Bowa played with the Phillies’ fun-time broadcaster, the answer was, “No, I never played with him.”
That seemed like a curious thing so we went and looked it up to find that not only did Bowa play on the same team with Gary Matthews Sr. in Philadelphia, but also they played together for the Cubs, too.
Any one that has ever met Sarge knows he’s hard to forget. Shoot, Sarge even knows the President!
Charlie’s mis-memories aren’t as obvious as the Bowa-Sarge one, but there are many more of them. The reason for that isn’t so much that Charlie has a bad memory, it’s that he just likes to tell stories and talk baseball. He’s great at it and anyone who has ever spent just a little bit of time with ol’ Charlie comes away with a great story or memory.
Some call Charlie the Casey Stengel of the modern era, which given his perceived nervousness in front of large audiences and TV cameras, is a good comparison. Take away the cameras and put Charlie on the dugout bench three hours before the first pitch and he’s more like Mark Twain of the Shenandoah Valley. And like Mark Twain, once Charlie gets going he doesn’t stop.
The stories from his days playing in Japan, playing for Billy Martin, growing up in Virginia and mingling with Presidents are the best. So too are the stories about his travels across the world. Just like with Chico Esquela, baseball has been very, very good to Chuck. As a result, it’s been pretty good for some of us, too. It doesn’t really matter if the stories are 100 percent accurate because they are so good.
And aren’t the stories the best part of it?
Anyway, Charlie’s latest mis-memory came earlier this year when he was asked about Raul Ibanez’s rough spring and early slump. The manager said he wasn’t worried about Ibanez finding his stroke because he remembered the time his old teammate Harmon Killebrew couldn’t buy a hit during spring training but went out and hit three home runs on opening day on his way to clubbing 49 during the season to get the AL MVP Award.
Sure, Killebrew hit 49 homers in 1969 and was the MVP. However, he didn’t hit three homers on opening day. Instead, Killebrew had one three-homer game in his entire career and that came four years before Chuck even cracked a big league roster.
Another good one was when he told us about the time he broke up a no-hitter against Catfish Hunter, which isn’t completely inaccurate. The thing is, no one was on no-hitter watch because Manuel’s hit came when he led off the fifth with a single in a game in Oakland on April 16, 1972. Technically, yes, Chuck broke up the no-hitter. He might have been the only one to notice it.
Regardless, the brain is mysterious thing and the way one person remembers an event can be completely different from the next guy. Everyone is like Bowa and Charlie to some degree, because if you get some time and distance away from even a little league game, the circumstances may have played out more dramatically.
Hell, we all probably broke up a few no-hitters…though if we played on two different teams with Sarge we’d easily remember it.
 My term, not hers.