LOS ANGELES – He already was wearing a helmet he hates and has been ordered to stand in the little white box or go home, and Larry Bowa, the Los Angeles Dodgers' combustible third-base coach, hadn't even started getting mad.
Bowa was fined and suspended for three games by Major League Baseball on Wednesday, fewer than 24 hours after refusing to abide by a new rule that confines him to arbitrary lines drawn by scattered groundskeepers, enforced by umpires who have enough to keep track of.
Having solved so many of the sport's ills, baseball – its GMs, its rules committee, its disciplinary office – has turned to hyper-legislating the Bowas of the game, starting with what they wear on their heads and down through where they position themselves in foul ground. The movement not only overreacts to the tragedy of last summer – when minor league first-base coach Mike Coolbaugh was struck and killed by a foul ball – but also potentially puts third-base coaches in greater peril.
"By rule," San Francisco Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery said, "we're trapped. I feel unsafe where they have us."
In many situations, third-base coaches position themselves closer to the plate and further into foul ground, both to broaden their sightline and lessen the chance of being struck by a foul ball. According to the rule – and umpire Ed Montague's orders during Tuesday night's game against the Giants – Bowa could stand no farther up the line than the front end of the box, which led to the obligatory disagreement, which led to Bowa's typical uninhibited reaction, which led to MLB's announcement Bowa would be ineligible for three games for "his inappropriate and aggressive conduct, which included making contact" with Montague.
Bowa, slightly less agitated by Wednesday evening, since has arrived at several conclusions.
One, the rule still is ridiculous and written by men in silk ties who have no business regulating his job.
Two, Bob Watson, the MLB vice president who handed down the punishment, has it out for him and has for years. "I have no idea why," Bowa said. "He's got an agenda against me for some reason."
Three, and we'll let him take this one, "You've got guys who tested positive for steroids, who admitted they took them. No suspension. I get three games. … Something's not right."
Bowa, of course, is the guy who would not wear a helmet in spring training, who said MLB could fine him every day for the rest of the season and he still wouldn't wear one. And then he was wearing one the next day. Even Bowa sorts through some of the fights.
For a moment, however, he spoke for many of his brethren – the fraternity of third-base coaches – and continues to take the fight to the establishment over the latest foul-ground rules. Third-base coaches often are the most active bodies on the field, vying for angles and insights, buying time and prodding runners, often more than one at a time. According to the added element to Rule 4.05, the coach must stand his ground – in a box that is not standardized from ballpark to ballpark – "until being passed by a batted ball."
The rules committee intended its edict to promote safety (not an entirely indefensible position), while also eliminating opportunities for coaches to steal catchers' signs and confuse infielders. Of course, a coach darting along the line while wearing a cotton cap is far less confusing than a coach darting along the line while (now) wearing a helmet, but, you know, these things are imperfect. And, within reason they still can dart, only with the coaches' box as the mandatory starting point.
All that being said, according to the original rule, a coach can be directed to stand in the coaches' box only at the complaint of the opposing manager, which Giants manager Bruce Bochy did not impose Tuesday. Still, umpiring supervisor Steve Palermo said, Montague was within his jurisdiction repositioning Bowa.
"Larry kind of extended his liberties around the coaches' box," Palermo said. "That's Eddie's discretion."
Bowa's suspension, however, would appear to settle the argument for only a few days. Rich Donnelly coached third for 16 years in the major leagues and 10 in the minor leagues and seemed to speak for the majority when he said Wednesday the league has overstepped its authority in boxing up its coaches. In fact, he stumped for complete elimination of the boxes because they are not uniform and, to no great consequence, they are ignored anyway.
"For him to do his job, he has to operate at different places," said Donnelly, who estimated in a three-hour game he would spend maybe 20 seconds in the required area. "The box is 100 percent useless."
He added, "They must be awful bored in those offices. We third-base coaches, we know what to do out there. We don't need to be told where to go. We know what the risks are. The boxes, the helmets, the whole thing is absurd. The suits are making all the rules. It's ridiculous."
Donnelly sighed and laughed.
"Oh boy," he said. "Seems like Bowa and I are always in trouble."
In the hours before he would begin his suspension – coaches have no means of appeal, and Bowa said Watson had not returned his call Wednesday afternoon – Bowa struck his usual pose; chest out, shoulders back, chin in, defiant, Luca Brasi to Joe Torre's Don Corleone.
"It's ludicrous," Bowa said. "That's what it is."
- Larry Bowa