The Word on Bowa : Twelve Who Know Say He Has a Temper but Plays to Win

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Larry Bowa never made his high school baseball team. Apparently the coach hated Bowa’s father, so he took it out on Bowa and cut him four straight years.

Today, nearly 25 years later, Larry Bowa begins his big league managing career with the Padres.

Twelve people who had to put up with him along the way were recently asked: “How do you think Larry will do as a manager?”


Their answers:


Paul, who played and managed in the St. Louis Cardinal organization, had a nasty temper, and his son Larry kind of copied him. At American Legion games, fans would see Larry screaming and h1869376613off the old block, huh?”

So Paul, afraid he was going to end up fighting some of these spectators, used to watch Larry’s games by himself in right field.

Paul’s rift with the coach at Larry’s high school, Bill Whitehead, started when the two were managing against each other in American Legion ball.

“Maybe he didn’t like Larry, but he made this silly excuse,” Paul said. “Larry played basketball, and it overlapped with the baseball season. Whitehead said he didn’t want basketball players, but then he did let some play. We’d gotten into some verbal arguments when he managed against me, and he took it out on Larry to get back at me. But it just gave Larry more incentive.”

Paul’s comment on Larry as a big league manager:

“Well, when I managed I’d get on umpires pretty bad, and it rubbed off (on Larry). I play to win, and I put that in Larry, I guess. But he never used to swear at home. No, no, no. Just on the ball diamond. I guess he wanted to do so great, he’d get mad at himself.

“But I tell you, if he manages with the same determination he played ball with, he should be great.”



Bandy, who coached Bowa at Sacramento City College, had played ball against Bowa’s father and knew the Bowa family pretty well. So he gave Bowa a shot at making his team, even though Larry, at 5-feet 11-inches, weighed about 140 pounds.

But Bowa was pretty vicious for his size. Once, he was thrown out of both games of a doubleheader. In the first game, he was called out on strikes in the first inning, cursed and got tossed. In the second game, he thought he’d beaten out a bunt in the second inning and again got tossed.

Bandy’s comment on Bowa as a big league manager:

“No one thought he’d do anything as a player. He was so small. But he surprised a lot of people. Here’s a kid who never played high school ball, but he hit over .300 his sophomore year and made all-conference. He’s a tough guy. And I think he’ll instill that in his players.”


Mauch was manager of the Phillies when Bowa signed out of junior college. He never managed Bowa, but watched him flailing away during spring training batting practice and said: “I can see him, but I can’t hear him.”

Mauch’s comment on Bowa as a big league manager:

“His personality attracted me back in the old days. But all he could do was run and catch. If you’d told me he’d get 2,000 major league hits, I’d have said you were crazy.

“But guys that learn how to play the hard way usually have the ability to teach people how to play. I’m sure he’ll be a good manager.”


One night in Houston, Bowa popped out with the bases loaded and then used his bat to break every light bulb in the tunnel from the dugout to the clubhouse. After the game, the tunnel was so dark that the rest of the Phillies couldn’t find their way back to the clubhouse. Owens, the Phillies’ manager, had to ask a security guard to lead them there single file.

Another night, Owens pinch-hit for Bowa in the late innings of a close game. Bowa told writers: “If that’s all the confidence they have in me, they might as well (bleeping) trade me! Go tell him (Owens) that!”

Owens response that night was, “Tell that little (bleep) to go (bleep) in his hat! “If he had got three hits tonight, he’d be out singing and raising hell. He’s all right as long as he gets his hits, and to hell with the ballclub.”

Owens’ comment on Bowa as a big league manager:

“Oh, I go way back with Larry. Eddie Bockman was my scout who saw Larry play. One morning, he called me and said he had 8-millimeter film of a kid he wanted me to see. We had to rent a projector, and it cost 25 bucks to do it. We took the sheet off the bed and used it as a screen. It wasn’t half bad. You could see that the kid could run and had good hands.

“I was thinking it would cost $5,000 or $10,000 to sign the kid, and Eddie says, ‘I think we can sign him for $1,000.’ I said, ‘. . . Go ahead and sign him. We need bodies.’

“I think we ended up giving him $1,500. I figured he’d need money for clothes.

“But, what I’ve seen is that Larry has matured. I even saw it when he was with the Cubs. I think maybe it happened when he had a child. In the old days, he was a needler. (Greg) Luzinski said it was a good thing Larry was a little punk or he would have killed him.”


When Bowa retired after the 1985 season, he wanted to manage in the Philadelphia organization. He asked Giles, the team’s president, for a minor league job, but Giles wouldn’t give him one. When Bowa played, he and Giles used to argue through the press. And Bowa used to start trade rumors. Also, just to get on Giles’ nerves, Bowa often would stare up from the field at the executive box--glaring at Giles.

Giles’ comment on Bowa as a big league manager: “Oh yeah, we had a little to-do every now and then. He’d stare up at me, sure. He and I have a love-hate relationship. But I just had him over for dinner recently. His wife and my wife are buddy-buddy. And, you know, I enjoy Larry. We’d have a great time on the Phillie caravans. We’d go out and have a few belts.

“I think Larry’s going to be a very appealing manager for the fans. His makeup is enthusiasm, and he’s one of the hardest-working people around.”


Stark, a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, covered the Phillies from 1979 to 1982. One day, he recalls, Bowa was in a slump, and the Philly fans were booing him. After the game, Bowa screamed in the clubhouse: “They’re the worst (bleeping) fans in baseball!”

Stark’s comment on Bowa as a big league manager: “I would think that as long as he can keep his emotions from getting the best of him he’ll be a great manager. No one worked harder to be a good player than him or took one game as seriously as him. On those amazing Phillie teams, most of the players said it was best not to get too high or too low because it was a long season. But Bowa wanted to go 162-0. And I guess that’s a great attitude for a manager. A manager shouldn’t expect failure.

“Even though they’d boo him once in a while, he was so popular, he was the Phillies. If he ever came back here to manage, it’d be the greatest PR move ever.”


Whicker, a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News, traveled with the 1979 and 1980 Phillies. He remembers how Bowa used to second-guess the Phillie manager. He used to create havoc in the clubhouse too. When Bowa was traded to the Cubs, Whicker quoted Phillie pitcher Dick Ruthven as saying: “I’m glad Mr. Neurosis isn’t around anymore.”

Whicker says Bowa idolized the league’s better players, and he’d joke with them. Cincinnati’s Dave Concepcion might have made an error the night before, and Bowa would come up the next day and say, “Hey, Davey. Did you change your name to Elmer? Because in the paper today it said ‘E-Concepcion.’ ”

Whicker’s comment on Bowa as a big league manager: “The established players will love playing for him, because he has such respect for them. But we’ll see how he does with the young kids. I think he’ll be successful. But I don’t know about three or four years from now, because he can grate on you.”


Green managed the Phillies to the 1980 World Championship and later went to the Cubs and traded for Bowa.

Green started 1980 as the Phillies’ general manager but came down during the year to manage the team. At the time, Bowa pulled aside Jayson Stark and said: “What’s Dallas ever done as a manager? Why in the hell are they doing this?”

One day, in the midst of the pennant race, Green benched Bob Boone, Gary Maddox and Luzinski and used fresher guys such as Keith Moreland, Lonnie Smith and Del Unser. Bowa ripped Green again, claiming Green didn’t want to win.

Green’s comment on Bowa as a big league manager: “Yeah, he’d rip me. But that’s Bowa. He didn’t like the way we went about it, but his way didn’t work. I told all the guys what I was going to do. That’s part of (Bowa) growing up, I guess. We don’t all know everything about baseball. But Larry, he’s been taught baseball by a lot of people.

“When you deal with Larry Bowa, you’re talking about a love-hate relationship. He says what’s on his mind, and sometimes not very tactfully. There’s probably a lot of people that don’t understand him or care for (his approach), but I think he’ll be an outstanding manager.”


Frey and Bowa were not close. Frey, who managed the Cubs, once said of Bowa: “Larry Bowa is the most selfish player I’ve ever managed.”

And Bowa once said of Frey: “He’s the worst at not communicating of anybody I’ve ever seen.”

In Bowa’s final year with the Cubs, Frey replaced Bowa with rookie prospect Shawon Dunston. Bowa steamed.

Frey’s comment on Bowa as a big league manager: “I’ve said this before, that you shouldn’t discount anyone as a manager who has a lot of enthusiasm, and he has enthusiasm. He always had a lot of energy.

“Listen, Jim Frey has never, ever said anything bad about Bowa. He (Bowa) was upset because he wasn’t playing every day. As I’ve said, you can’t discount someone who tries hard. He tried hard as a player, and managing ain’t no different than playing.”


Vukovich grew up with Bowa in Sacramento, played with him in Philadelphia and coached him in Chicago.

Vukovich and Bowa, close friends, argued continually.

“If I went five days without an argument (with Bowa), something was wrong,” Vukovich said.

Some managers consult computers when making out their lineups. If ever Bowa was benched, Vukovich says Bowa would make snide remarks such as, “I guess the computer’s broke today” or “I guess I look tired today.”

With the Phillies, Bowa was always calling Luzinski a “fat hog.” One day, Luzinski finally took a swing at Bowa, but missed and hit Vukovich.

Vukovich’s comment on Bowa as a big league manager: “As a kid in Legion ball, I’d say he got kicked out every 10 days. And he’d curse. How bad? I’d tell you, but my little girl is here with me. Part of it was the fact that he struggled. He never made the high school team, and nobody was giving him a chance to play professionally. He felt everybody was against him. Well, he fought everybody and ended up winning.

“I think he realized his size saved his life 100 times. Nobody wanted to beat the (bleep) out of him, because he was so small. But he was an antagonistic little guy.

“In Chicago, he just never wanted to take a day (off). He was getting to the point where he needed to take days, but every time he wasn’t in the lineup it was World War III.

“As a manager, I think he’ll show the guys he’ll be flexible enough to adjust to their personalities. He won’t holler at Goose Gossage like he did some kid at Triple-A. This guy is no dummy. Listen, he’ll be a great manager. He’s won at everything. He’s been a scrappy guy since we were kids. I’ve told him he’s a lucky twerp. He managed one year in the minors, and here he is again, in the right place at the right time.”


Cutler is president of the Pacific Coast League, where Bowa managed the Las Vegas Stars last season.

Cutler had to suspend Bowa twice, after he had consecutive run-ins with a female umpire named Pam Postema.

“He probably couldn’t have gotten any nastier,” Cutler says. “I don’t know what else he could have said. He said all the choice words.”

Another time, Bowa kicked dirt at another umpire, and some of the dust lodged in the umpire’s eyes. He was out for two weeks.

Cutler’s comment on Bowa as a big league manager: “Well, she (Postema) was assigned to his first few games. He was fiery, and I could understand it. But these Triple-A umpires had been here a while and couldn’t let him start out that way. It was kind of like breaking a horse. We couldn’t let him do the things he was doing.

“I sent him a letter and told him this couldn’t continue. But, really, in the second half of the season, he settled down and only got thrown out once. It was his first year of managing. I’m sure he learned he can’t handle umpires that way.”


McGraw, a relief pitcher, played with Bowa in Philadelphia.

When the Phillies traded Bowa to Chicago, McGraw said: “I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the guy. It’s too quiet here in the clubhouse.”

McGraw’s comment on Bowa as a big league manager: “Larry Bowa is only happy when he’s mad. On the field, he was consistently great. And in the clubhouse he was consistently noisy.

“I predict he’ll be manager of the year within five years. But if I’m wrong in that prediction, they’ll be coming out with a movie in his sixth year that’ll be called ‘Larry Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ ”