Friday, July 16, 2004

Voting with Their Feet

Asked by a writer to describe the secret to managing a 25-man roster, Casey Stengel is reported to have said, “Keep the ten guys who hate you away from the ten who are undecided.”
Does Larry Bowa know the secret?  If not, he must be counting on very low voter turnout or the five guys Casey didn’t mention.
Bowa was hired in Philadelphia for a variety of publicly disclosed reasons, but only one mattered.  We were told he would light a fire under a team that needed it, restore a solid work ethic to a team that sorely lacked one, and bring back some of the magic from the Phillies glory years when he was their shortstop.  But the real reason he was hired was to punish the team.  That’s right,  punish the team.  The Phillies brass liked what they saw in Bowa because unsuccessful people always seek redemption in bullies and perfectionists.  And make no mistake about it,  the Phillies’ brass were unsuccessful and Larry has always been demanding and abrasive.
Once on the job Bowa wasted no time alienating virtually every young player in his clubhouse, most notably Scott Rolen, who couldn’t wait to get out of town.   Bowa was publicly impatient with a very private man and Rolen would not forgive or forget that treatment.  His reprieve was finally granted at the trading deadline in July, 2002.  Today Rolen is merely considered the best third baseman in the game.  Other youngsters with bright futures such as Randy Wolf and Pat Burrell also felt Bowa’s sting early and often and would be delighted to see him go or, failing that, make their own escapes.   Burrell, a rising star at the end of 2002, fell hard to earth in 2003 enduring a season-long slump of near-Mendoza-line proportions.  Bowa would sit Pat down from time to time purportedly to restore his confidence.  Naturally, Burrell stewed.
During his first two years as manager Bowa never missed an opportunity to name names in the media.  Lately, he has adopted a softer public face, preferring instead to single out entire positions and allow his listeners to come to their own inevitable conclusions.  When Rolen was here he was “killing us.”  Now, starting pitching is killing the Phils rather than so-and-so.  Bowa may consider himself a model of restraint now, but his disapproval has simply taken other forms that still comes across loud and clear to its targets.  This is one perpetually dissatisfied guy.   And though starting pitching is killing the Phils, moaning about it every day won’t get seven innings out of them.
Like many old school managers, Bowa sees little to cheer him up in today’s ballplayers.  He began his tenure in Philadelphia pointing out this guy wasn't tough enough, that one doesn't hang around the ballpark all hours talking baseball, and this other fella doesn't get in the face of the guy who didn't move the runner over to third.  The issue here is not one of why can’t people get along; rather, the manager wonders why the players can’t be just like him!
Can there be any doubt Philadelphia’s major dailies already have Larry Bowa’s professional obituary written pending notification of next of kin?  It’s time to call up those files and update the leads.

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