Larry Bowa could be at spring training with the New York Mets, who wanted him to return as a utility infielder. But after 16 seasons as a starting shortstop, even an offer of $300,000 a year couldn't persuade him to be a part-timer.
Instead, the 40-year-old Bowa is starting over, as manager of the triple-A Las Vegas Stars. Though the salary doesn't come close to what what he was earning, Bowa says he doesn't care.
"If the money was important I would have signed with the Mets," he said. "They offered me a good contract, but I just didn't feel I could be a part-time player."
He also turned down an offer by the Mets to manage their class-A team, preferring the Stars, the top farm club of the San Diego Padres.
"This is a great opportunity with expansion coming up in the majors," he said. "To start out at Triple A level is about as good as you can do."
He takes over a team that finished last in the Pacific Coast League Southern Division with a 65-79 record last year, had trouble scoring runs and, at times, seemed disinterested in playing.
Bowa promises that will change.
"I played aggressively and I plan to manage aggressively," he said. "I expect my players to go out and bust their rear ends."
Bowa said his lack of managerial experience shouldn't be a handicap; he's been preparing for the job ever since his 1970 rookie season with the Philadelphia Phillies.
"I never thought I'd last more than a year or two in the big leagues so I always figured I'd get into coaching," he said. "I've learned a lot watching managers during my career. A guy like Chuck Tanner can make a .220 hitter think he's hitting .660."
The fiery Bowa had a rocky final year in the majors, opening the 1985-86 season feuding with Chicago Cub Manager Jim Frey, while rookie Shawon Dunston briefly took over his starting shortstop job.
The Cubs eventually traded him to the Mets, where he ended the season playing only sporadically and batting .234 with 15 runs batted in.
"I made up my mind when I signed the contract with the Cubs that it was my last contract," said Bowa, who earned $500,000 last season.
Bowa proudly points out that his career wasn't built on talent, but on hard work and determination. In 1979, he set a major league record for the highest fielding percentage by a shortstop in a single season at .991.
"I got the most of my ability, I played hard," he said. "I played more games as a shortstop in the National League than anyone, and I always gave 100 percent, whether I was feeling well or not."
That's the kind of attitude Bowa wants his players to have.
"I want to see if a guy has heart," he said. "I've got a briefcase of scouting reports, but I won't go by them. I know if someone read mine it would say he can't run, can't throw, can't hit. I would never have played in the big leagues."