Friday, February 27, 2004

Damage Control | Larry Bowa professes in both papers today (Inquirer; Daily News) to be an old-school baseball guy who can't understand why he's perceived as a Captain Queeg in cleats and a warmup jacket, then announces he's simply not going to worry anymore about his portrayal in the media. From Todd Zolecki's story:

"What do I have to prove to people?" he said. "That I care about my players? I don't understand that. That's why I'm talking about perception. What do I have to prove to people? I had to prove myself for 16 years in the big leagues because nobody thought I could play. I did that every year. Why do I have to prove to people that I'm a human being? That I'm not [somebody] that goes around with a whip and slashes people around the neck every day? I don't understand that."

If I could hazard a guess on behalf of the scribes and talking heads: What you have to prove, Larry, is that you can win. Your managerial career has consisted of a completely predictable flameout with a very bad San Diego Padres team, a nice but hardly overwhelming turnaround in Philadelphia, and an underachieving season in which you didn't make the playoffs despite a talented roster.

As his his style, the Daily News's Rich Hofmann, writing today about the Phillies' September collapse, kind of skates around the Bowa issue. He subtly indicts the manager by pinning the blame not on the much-maligned bullpen, whose well documented failures led to the blockbuster acquisition of Billy Wagner last November, but on mental pressure:

"Our starting pitching, from about Aug. 16 on, it seemed like they all hit a wall together," Bowa said. "[Vicente] Padilla pitched the best, but a couple of them -- [Kevin] Millwood and [Randy] Wolf, in particular -- I think they were just trying too hard. They tried to go the extra mile, tried to throw shutouts, put a lot of extra pressure on themselves. It's hard to pitch like that. Sometimes when you try too hard, it backfires on you."

Because of what? Why the wall? Millwood was quoted in the Daily News this week as saying he was mentally tired from having to help some of the pitchers on the staff get mentally prepared down the stretch, the implication being that he felt the need to be a buffer between those pitchers and Bowa and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. Bowa objected to that characterization yesterday, loudly.

"A bleeping lie," he said, more than once. But if not that, then why did they hit that wall?

Well, now, that's a good question, and one that's been addressed here previously. For all of Bowa's newfound carefree attitude when it comes to public perception, his thoughts yesterday sound to me like those of a guy desperate to have people believe that he's an okay guy. But facts are facts -- the Phils' hitters squeezed the bat too tight last September, their starters were completely spent, and a playoff spot that was theirs for the taking slipped to a rollicking, rampaging Marlins squad that was having the time of its life and rode the good times all the way to a World Series championship. If Bowa really wants to come across as having a clue, he should acknowledge that expectations are higher this year and that he's willing to do whatever it takes -- even alter how he approaches the season. It's far more reasonable for one manager who hasn't won a damn thing to offer to change his ways than to expect 25 mostly veteran players whose talent is widely acknowledged to bend according to the manager's will.


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