Monday, April 05, 2004

Lashing Larry | There are a couple of interesting takes on the Larry Bowa situation in the Inquirer's baseball preview today. Jim Salisbury tackles it head-on in a piece headlined "Is Bowa the manager to make it happen?" Bowa, not exactly a guy you'd call self-aware, professes not to know why so many people in baseball think he's on the hot seat, though Salisbury is quick to tick off the reasons:

The complaints about Bowa are well-known: He is moody. He harps on the negative. He makes some players tense. He is difficult to play for.

Whether the complaints are valid, there is a feeling in the organization that if Bowa's personality becomes an impediment to the team, a change could be made. There is too much invested in the team -- there are high hopes, a team-record $92 million payroll, a new ballpark, and a town ready to embrace a winner -- to let it slip away because of poor relations between the manager and some players.

Unfortunately, none of Bowa's critics would go on the record -- nor, significantly, would any of the phantom "organization" types whom Salisbury feels are looking for a reason to drop the axe. Jimmy Rollins and David Bell, though, praise Bowa's passion and say they know not to take his dugout histrionics personally. Meanwhile, the manager's nightstand reading pile includes books by UCLA hoops coach John Wooden and sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman on "dealing with disappointment better." Somebody call Dr. Phil.

Elsewhere in the section, columnist Phil Sheridan sees a half-full glass, Bowa and all. Acknowledging the manager's flaws, Sheridan nevertheless envisions a new beginning, and urges everyone to wait and see what happens:

. . . [I]t is the manager's personality that draws the most scrutiny. There is a perception that he is the most volatile element in the mix, that he could cross the line from spark plug to blasting cap at the wrong moment and blow the whole thing apart.

That perception -- and, yes, there is a basis in fact for it -- has led to speculation that Bowa goes into the season with no margin for error. People have gone so far as to name Charlie Manuel, who is already on the payroll, as his likely successor.

"I don't pay attention to reports like that," [GM Ed] Wade said. "It starts with local reports, then goes national, then comes back to the local media."

He's right. There is a kind of echo chamber at work. But that doesn't mean there isn't some truth in all the noise.

Here's the thing: All of that speculation assumes things will go wrong and Bowa will take the fall. That's understandable, given the Phillies' bleak history. But why not go the other way? Why not look at the new ballpark as a chance to break with that history?

Sheridan's optimism is admirable, but he's been around Philadelphia sports long enough to know we're not much capable of it. And when you factor into the mix that Bowa's managerial track record is less than sterling, I think it's prudent for Wade to keep him on a short leash. To answer Jim Salisbury's question, no, I don't think Larry Bowa is the manager to make it happen. I don't know whether it's Charlie Manuel or Bob Boone, either, but Bowa's legacy is one of helming underachieving teams, and unless and until I see a change in how his players respond to him, I'll be skeptical of his ability to lead a champion.


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