Baseball has changed significantly since Larry Bowa entered the major leagues in 1970 as a rip-snorting shortstop. After a 16-year playing career, a World Series title, multiple run-ins with umpires and front office people, Bowa, 70, is the Philadelphia Phillies’ bench coach. He spoke with The Washington Times about recent rule changes, Dusty Baker and if he would want to manage again.
Question: You were cut from your high school baseball team. Ever go back to that coach to point out the error?
Answer: No, I didn’t. My nephew, [former major-leaguer] Nick Johnson, went to that school, and, guys that came before him said the coach made a speech, and said, ‘I only made one mistake — that was cutting Larry Bowa.’ It’s all good. It probably got me more motivated than ever. They said I was too small.
Q: Those things tend to stick with people.
A: Yeah, you can use it as a motivating factor. No question.
Q: What was your view of Dusty Baker when you played against him?
A: Played the game the right way, obviously. Big-time RBI guy. Didn’t want to see him come up in RBI situations. Better than average outfielder. Never seen him give away at-bats. He was a tough out. I didn’t like to see him hit with men on base. … I just look at Dusty as a great baseball guy, with a good mind. The way he competed against teams that I played with was at a high level.
Q: What do you think of baseball now, with the slide rule, bat flips …
A: I might be the wrong guy to ask.
Q: Maybe you’re the right guy?
A: The slide rule, I think, is a complete joke. And, I’m not advocating trying to kill a guy at second, but, we were taught, since I played Little League, break up double plays. Now, I’m not saying dirty, just break ‘em up clean. There was no ‘within a body length of the bag’ when I played. Guys went out to knock you into left field, so you had to learn to get out of there. That’s why, when we played, they gave us that neighborhood play. Guys were coming after us. They’d say, ‘Get the ball and get out of there.’ The slide that Chase [Utley] did, to me, wasn’t dirty. It was a late slide. He did what he was supposed to do: Break up a double play in a playoff game, down 1-0, with runners on second and third. This was the tying run here. To me, the shortstop was just as much at fault as he was because once you turn your back to the runner, there’s no way that becomes a double play. Get the out — like you’re a first baseman — [and] get out of the way. So, it was a combination of a late slide by Chase, but the inability of the shortstop to recognize that’s not a double play ball. I think that’s what created that.
The home plate [rule]? Catchers? To me, if you want to block the plate, block it. If you don’t want to, go ahead and swipe tag. I guarantee if Buster Posey wasn’t the guy that got hurt, that you wouldn’t even hear about this rule. Now you see catchers catching balls way out in front and diving back. I played against guys — Mike Scioscia and Steve Yeager and Jerry Grote — they’d put their whole body down. Johnny Bench. You had to go through ‘em. There didn’t seem to be any problems with that. But, again, if you look at from owner’s perspective, they want the product on the field, they don’t want them on the [disabled list]. They’re paying guys a lot of money. So, they’re trying to incorporate these rules where we’re going to keep this as safe as possible. I think you’re taking the competitiveness away. Again, I’m not saying dirty. I’m not telling you to knock a guy’s knee. Just slide in hard. If you want to take him out, take him out. The way it is now, it’s very difficult. As a coach, you know, every time there’s a double play against us, I call up and say, ‘Hey, is that a legal slide?’ I would have never thought of doing that [in the past].
Q: Do you feel like they’ve eliminated some of the “fear factor” of the game?
A: There’s no question. There’s no fear factor. The only thing you have to do now is stay on the bag. But, who cares? A guy can’t go anywhere to the right or left of the bag, so you’re not going to get hurt. The fear factor, you’re right, is definitely gone. If you’re a catcher, you know you’re not getting knocked into the seats there because of the rule. Fear factor, sometimes, enables guys to break up double plays because that shortstop or second baseman said, ‘Oh, man, I don’t want to get hit here.’ Just like, to me, for the most part, not all of them because there’s some real good pitchers now that use the up-and-in as a weapon, but you very seldom see that now. I’ve seen so many times where a pitcher throws one up and in and the pitcher goes, ‘My bad.’ I can’t imagine Bob Gibson or Nolan Ryan or Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton saying, ‘My bad.’ It’s just a different way now. As a coach, you’ve got to be able to make the adjustments. If you can’t, then you shouldn’t be in uniform. So, I’ve learned how to deal with all that. I learned how to deal with all the bat flips. If a pitcher is going to sit out there and give up a 450-foot home run, not only does the guy feel bad on that but a guy bat flips him? If he doesn’t want to do anything about it? Let him do whatever he wants then. I know if I was pitching — not because the guy hit a home run — but then he bat flipped me? That would go in the memory bank. But, it’s part of the game now. You roll with it. It’s just the way it is.
Q: Do you think replay has changed the players or coaches rapport with umpires?
A: Yeah, because there’s a lot times where your team’s dragging or you just don’t have any life. You come off a long road trip, you’ve lost five or six, seven games in a row. As a manager, in your own mind, you’re thinking that night. You’re saying, ‘I got to shake these guys up. I’m going to get run on the first bang-bang play at first base. I’m going to go out there, I’m going to stick up for my player whether he was out or safe.’ Sometimes, it used to rile up a team. Now, the only way you can get kicked out of a game is if you argue balls and strikes and you don’t see that very often.
Q: Do you want to manage again?
A: No. I’ve had that run.