But because I like to follow directions in my own way, Dan’s call for 50-to-75 words quickly became 758. That’s a few too many. As a result, I gave Dan permission to rip apart what I sent him in any manner he sees fit and my version of one of my memories of the Phillies’ march to 10,000 losses is printed below:
The very first baseball game I ever saw was at Veterans Stadium between the Phillies and the Mets during the Bicentennial summer of 1976. All I remember was how big and green the place was and how tiny the ballplayers were from our seats somewhere in the upper reaches of the stadium (not ballpark).
I like to think Steve Carlton faced Tom Seaver that day, but I can’t be sure. One thing is for certain though, and that is Larry Bowa played in the game. Growing up in Lancaster, Pa. and Washington, D.C., Bowa quickly became my favorite player. He was a smooth fielder at shortstop with a strong arm and fought for everything he got with the bat. Bowa skills as a hitter were so poor that it was fair to say that every hit he got during his 16 seasons in the Major Leagues was earned. It was a fight and to a kid interested in the uncool, that was kind of cool.
Since Bowa was my favorite player, I naturally assumed that he was articulate, sensitive, intelligent, witty and noble. Isn’t that the way all heroes and adults were supposed to be? Because I lived so far away from Philadelphia and there was no proliferation of sports media like there is now, I knew next to nothing about Larry Bowa aside from the profile of likes and dislikes in the team-issued yearbook. According to the 1980 Phillies Yearbook, Bowa liked The Supremes.
Who would have guessed?
I knew nothing about how his teammates thought he was obnoxious, the opposition hated him or that once in the late 1970s he supposedly lured a writer from the Camden Courier Post into the darkened clubhouse by getting another player to tell him he had a phone call so that he could assault the scribe.
I was a kid who played shortstop for my little league team and loved baseball – what better reason to like Larry Bowa?
So when Bowa was hired to replace Terry Francona before the 2001 season, I was excited. The 2001 season was also my first full year writing about the Phillies for Comcast SportsNet and what could be better than doing that than with my favorite player running the club?
There are certain poignant moments in a man’s life when he can remember still feel the way the sun shined on his skin on a particular day, the way the air smelled at a precise moment, and how time stood still for the smallest fraction. For me those times were when my son was born, my wedding, the first time I saw a Picasso painting up close and the first time I heard Minor Threat.
Then there was the first time I met Larry Bowa. After a couple of days of following the team around in Philadelphia at the beginning of the 2001 season, I finally had a chance to go into his office in the clubhouse at the Vet and introduce myself. I would be one of the guys writing about the club, I told him, and it was going to fun and interesting getting a chance to hear his wisdom and insight on baseball.
Needless to say, he wasn’t too impressed.
He was even less impressed a couple of days later when I asked him a harmless question about pitcher Randy Wolf in a post-game press conference. Knowing that Wolf was working on a strict pitch-count because of an arm injury that limited his work during the spring, I wondered if the pitcher still had enough left to go an inning or two longer than Bowa had allowed.
In retrospect it seemed as if I didn’t phrase the question so succinctly, because Bowa answered my question with a few of his own:
“Are you following what’s going on here? Do you know anything about baseball? Are you bleeping stupid? He was on a pitch-count. That’s why I took him out.”
Oddly, as Bowa was shouting at me as if he was R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, I felt myself leave my body and watch it all from above the fray. At the same time I wondered if I was supposed to answer those questions. After all, he did ask…
What does one say? Kind of; a little; and it depends on who you bleeping ask.
By the end of the 2001 season I took solace in the knowledge that Bowa would one day be fired. I knew then that firing Bowa was the only hope the Phillies had.