Bowa feels at home as Phillies' bench coach
Former manager is focusing on helping first-year skipper Sandberg
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Back with the Philadelphia Phillies as bench coach under new skipper Ryne Sandberg, Larry Bowa wants to make this perfectly clear: Right now, he has no intention of ever managing again.
Not even if some team asked?
"I'd have to say no," Bowa told MLB.com on Friday before the Phillies defeated a split-squad Tigers team, 10-6, at Bright House Field. "I like what I'm doing right now. Who's to say in August what I might feel like? But I love teaching kids. I love what I'm doing. So, I don't see it."
Bowa, at 68, is still a whirling dervish. He led bunting drills on the half-field early in the morning. After clubhouse meetings, he was on the main diamond tossing a full round of batting practice.
Bowa is the bench coach, the infield coach, and among his responsibilities will be advising Sandberg whether to use his new instant-replay challenges of umpire calls during the first six innings of regular-season games.
"I'm the guy who has to tell him yes, no or iffy," Bowa said. "It's going to be really big. It's going to change the game, create a whole new strategy. When do you use it? When don't you use it? It could happen in the first inning, it could happen in the sixth inning. To me, it's like football coaches. You can't go home with two timeouts in your pocket. Obviously you can't challenge every play, but if you think it's going to have an impact, you have to go out there and use it."
Bowa has had two stints as a manager -- once in San Diego and the other in Philadelphia, where he was signed and nurtured as one of the top shortstops in franchise history. Neither tenure ended well.
With the Padres in 1987, Bowa had barely retired from playing and had only one year of managing experience at the Triple-A level when he was given the big league job. That team lost 97 games. In retrospect, it was too much too soon.
"Oh, no question, I could have used a few more years managing in the Minors," Bowa said. "But when Jack McKeon, the general manager, comes to you, what are you going say? 'No, I'll stay in the Minor Leagues.' Hindsight being 20/20, if you turn the clock back, I could have used more time. But you take advantage of those opportunities. I knew the Padres were going to be a young team. But I still learned a lot from it. You learn a lot from these things."
Bowa didn't make it through two seasons.
When the wheel came spinning around again in 2001 and he was hired by the Phils to replace Terry Francona, Bowa was older, but not much wiser. He always has had a short fuse with players who don't put in the maximum effort. Bowa hates losing so much, he wears his heart on his sleeve.
Bowa managed the Phillies for four years and was dismissed despite having a 337-308 record, including three seasons well above .500. It was a repeat of San Diego, where Bowa battled with the players and ultimately lost the support of upper management. It was Charlie Manuel, who was able to take that team to two National League pennants and the 2008 World Series title.
But when even Manuel's voice became distant in the clubhouse, he was replaced last year by Sandberg, the Hall of Fame second baseman, who had climbed the managerial ladder during six years in the Cubs' and Phils' organizations.
Bowa said there are two big differences between himself and Sandberg.
"He has a lot more patience than me," Bowa said. "He might have a much better team than I had."
And this is Bowa's prognosis after watching Sandberg manage 45 big league games last year and working with him for a couple of weeks:
"Ryno is going to be a good manager," Bowa said. "His strong suits? Patience. I don't think he panics. I think he understands how hard the game was. He'll give the players the benefit of the doubt to get out of slumps. He's going to give guys rest. He says, 'We have guys who I don't consider old; I consider them experienced.' You give guys blows. With the history of injuries we've had with guys, he's going to rest them. The fact that he's been through it as an older guy playing makes a big difference."
Bowa can make the comparison. In his various coaching jobs, Bowa has run the gamut. He's worked under managers Joe Torre with the Yankees and Dodgers, Lou Piniella with the Mariners, Terry Collins with the Angels, and Lee Elia, Nick Leyva and the late Jim Fregosi during his time as the Phillies' third-base coach from 1988-96.
Bowa said he learned something from each of these men that he's going to impart on Sandberg.
"I'll help Ryno out in any way I can," Bowa said. "He asks questions, and I'll tell him what I think. He just wants feedback. Basically, I'll just remind him of the options he has in the game. He might be locked in on one area, and I'll try to keep him a couple of innings ahead in the game. Obviously he has the final say, but as the bench coach, my job is to lay out the options, and he'll pick which ones he wants."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.