With the Phillies having the worst record in baseball at 22-46, one might expect some volcanic eruptions from fiery bench coach Larry Bowa. But amidst this frustrating season, he has exercised remarkable patience.
At 71, the five-time Phillies all-star shortstop isn’t mellowing. He is as detailed as ever and his intensity never wanes, but Bowa understands the Phillies are undermanned. Still, that doesn’t mean it has been easy to cope with the constant losing.
“It’s been tough,” he said in an interview over the weekend when he was asked about his take on the team.
What has pleased Bowa the most is that he doesn’t see a defeatist attitude. The players are open to instruction and putting in the extra work.
“These guys are trying, they are giving every ounce of effort that they possibly can and sometimes that old cliché ‘you are trying too hard’ that could come into play here,” he said. “I think every one of these guys is giving a tremendous effort.”
Of course nothing makes up for talent, which is why Bowa and the entire coaching staff have no other choice but to exercise patience.
Bowa says he can relate to the players who are struggling. In his first full season, 1970, the Phillies were 73-88. Their records over the next three years were 67-95, 59-97 and 71-91.
In Bowa’s first four seasons he never hit higher than .250 and bottomed out at .211 in 1973 before seeing his career take off.
“I couldn’t buy a hit, I couldn’t even spell hit,” he said. “This game isn’t real easy.”
He also hears the cries for bringing up the young players and says the transition will be challenging regardless of minor league success.
“Whoever comes up here, with the exception of a [Mike] Trout, a [Bryce] Harper, a [Derek] Jeter, you are going to struggle,” he said.
Actually, even Trout struggled, hitting .220 with a .672 OPS in 40 big league games in 2011. After that he transformed himself into the best player in baseball.
One of Bowa’s pet peeves is teams that try to shield young players from failure.
“This isn’t old school, but I hear people in all of baseball say, ‘we don’t want somebody to come up here and struggle,’ ” he says.
Bowa says that is all part of learning the game.
“If you think you are going to prevent that, you are crazy, you haven’t been in baseball long enough,” he said. “If a guy goes 2 for 20 I want to see how is makeup is, will he hang his head. I want to see guys who say, ‘I will fight through this.’ ”
That said, Bowa says those who are clamoring for prospects to come up from the minors have to be aware of what a steep climb it is even from triple A.
“I don’t want to hear there isn’t a big difference between triple A and the big leagues because there is a major difference,” he said.
Bowa says that he can tell in a relatively short period of time who can and can’t play in Philadelphia.
“There is a difference in playing here and playing in, say, San Diego,” said Bowa, who managed in both cities. “You’ve got to be mentally tough here and you have to bring it every night and if you don’t you are in the wrong city. These people don’t ask a lot but they can tell when you are giving the effort for 27 outs and nine innings.”
His two main observations on the Phillies certainly aren’t revelations. The hitting has been inconsistent and the pitchers aren’t challenging enough hitters.
“I don’t want to say they are pitching away from bats, but they want to make perfect pitches all the time,” Bowa said. “You look up and it is 2-0, 3-1 and when you play in the big leagues at those counts, the hitters are going to hurt you.”
On a maddening inconsistent offense, Bowa yearns for more players like Howie Kendrick, who got his 1,500th career hit in Sunday’s 5-4 loss to Arizona. Kendrick was out from April 16 until returning May 29 with a right abdominal strain. He is hitting .324.
“Howie Kendrick to me is a professional hitter who gives you great at-bats and having a guy like that out of the lineup so long, was tough,” Bowa said. “I am not saying one guys means everything, but any way to elongate the lineup and take pressure off guys is good.
Still, Kendrick will be 34 next month and doesn’t appear part of the Phillies long-term plans.
Second baseman Cesar Hernandez (.277) was placed on the DL June 11 and the Phillies expect him to miss six weeks with an oblique strain.
A lack of consistency has plagued the offense all season. Manager Pete Mackanin has seen the Phillies score 263 runs, which was next to last in the National League entering Monday.
“Pete has had to juggle the lineups to get guys in the right mix,” Bowa said. “And it is hard when you get guys who have not been real consistent. Consistency to me is the definition of a big-league hitter.”
Bowa also tries to keep things in perspective.
“The final product is not right now,” he said. “There may be some guys now that won’t be involved in the final product, but that is for the front office to figure out.”
Despite the disappointing season when the Phillies have regressed from a 71-91 team of a year ago, Bowa, still enjoys coming out every day, teaching the game to a young team.
“I love it,” he said. “Losing, that isn’t fun, but working with this group is truly enjoyable.”