Answer Man: Larry Bowa talks helmets, tempers and toilets

The chip Larry Bowa still carries on his shoulder probably started to form earlier than high school, but that's where someone first told him he wasn't good enough — because of his size — to play baseball. Making such a notion look pretty silly, Bowa went on to play 16 seasons in the majors with the Phillies (1970-'81), Cubs ('82-'85) and the Mets ('85). Along the way, he collected a Rookie of the Year trophy, nearly 2,200 hits, five All-Star nods, a couple of Gold Gloves (Ozzie Smith, you're blocking!), a World Series title with the Fightins and a fiery reputation.

Bowa's aura preceded him at managerial stops in San Diego (disastrous) and Philly (disappointing) and remains with him today as third base coach of the Dodgers. Bowa, now 62, still is standing up for himself with sometimes angry, sometimes righteous and sometimes funny indignation. Before a recent game at Wrigley Field, Bowa gave Answer Man a few minutes of reminiscing.

Q: You're doing a lot of good work here, but do you realize how much you're missed on Baseball Tonight?

Larry Bowa:
Ha! I had a good time. I didn't need to take a class, or anything, to prepare for that [laughs]. I just tried to be honest, like I was as a coach. Sometimes it wasn't what people wanted to hear, but it's what I'd feel was the truth.

Q: Did you inherit your temper?

LB: Ha! Well, like you say, it's a temper. I'm very intense with what I do. If you want to call it a temper, or intensity, I look at it as trying to come out and win every time I coach, manage, play. I know you're not going to win every game but I also know that intensity helped me stay in the big leagues as long as I did.

Q: Did you really not make your high school baseball team? Who was on this team?

LB: (Shakes head). Yeah. They thought I was "too small." I don't know anybody that was on it — and none of them made out to be a big-league player. They said I was too small.

Q: Did you have a growth spurt after that?

LB: No, I was always really small, weight-wise [5-10, 140 lbs.]. They didn't give me enough reason to say, "Screw it. I'm not going to play anymore."

Q: You just did your time with American Legion ball?

LB: Yeah, I played summer ball, American Legion. In fact, that's where the junior college baseball coach saw me play. It was in the summer leagues. He says, "Come on out." I says, "For what? I didn't even make the high school team." He says, "You have a good shot at making this team," and I did. I was all-conference two years in a row. Then I signed with the Phillies.

Q: Who was the better "Bull" — Greg Luzinski or Leon Durham?

LB: Wow! And the only reason I'm saying Luzinski is because I played with him a lot longer and we were best friends coming up through the minor leagues. Leon Durham was a very good player but Luzinski — the one thing people don't realize with him — he hit after [Mike] Schmidt, and for a guy to drive in as many runs as he did, as great as Schmidt was ... he picked up a lot of two-out RBIs.

Q: Have you ever been to Steve Carlton's mountainside compound?

LB: No, I haven't. Heard a lot about it, though. He's better now than he ever was as far as communication. I haven't talked to him lately, but I've talked to teammates who have and they tell me he's a lot better.

Q: Do you know whatever happened to Luis Aguayo? I have too many of his baseball cards, and ...

LB: No I don't. He used to be a good utility guy. ... Don't know. The last I heard, someone said he was coaching in the Boston system, in the minor leagues.

Q: Did you feel cheated that Gold Gloves aren't actually made of gold?

LB: Yeah, I did [laughs]! I thought maybe they'd be something special. It's still nice to have won a couple, though.

Q: Why don't more guys choke up like you did?

LB: You know, that's the best question and I've never heard it asked. I don't know if it's vanity. I don't know why. These guys get in situations, in counts when it's called for and they don't do it. If you want to hit the ball the other way, to the opposite field, or a certain direction where it would help if you choked up a little on the bat — they won't do it. I don't know how many players I've tried to tell to choke up. It's really become a lost part of the game and it's something that makes sense to do. I don't understand it.

Q: Why did the Phillies just let Dallas Green stock the Cubs full of good players (you, Gary Matthews, Bob Dernier, Keith Moreland, a throw-in named Sandberg)?

LB: It's a good question, because I know that Dallas and Mr. Giles (Bill Giles, the Phillies owner) did not have the best relationship. At that time — now, it's a lot better — I don't think then it was too good. So I don't know why [they would deal with each other].

Q: How dead certain were you the '84 Cubs were going to the World Series?

LB: [Nods]. Well, you're never "dead certain," but we had a good feeling about it. Winning two games in a best-out-of-five — all we needed to do was win one. We didn't get it done. They beat us. Played better than we did.

Q: Whatever happened in San Diego when you managed, was it all Kruk's fault?

LB: Was it all Kruk's [laughs]? Yeah, let's just blame John. No, I had a young team and I was a young manager and we didn't win. I had the sense that they were trying to develop young players and win at the same time. I told them, "You can't have both, with as many young players as we had." And so, a couple weeks later, they let me go.

Q: How well do you remember the day Eric Show hit Andre Dawson in the face?

LB: Like it was yesterday. Terrible. People should realize, he didn't mean to do it, he wouldn't hit someone in the head like that on purpose. Ball just got away from him. That was a crazy day. We had to get him out of here. It was bad. Felt bad for Andre. It wasn't on purpose. (Show) is not here to defend himself anymore, but it wasn't intentional.

Q: Was Show's the most complicated life you've come across?

LB: Yeah, I would have to say so. Eric was ... a unique person, good competitor. His ending was an unhappy one.

Q: Is there an art to coaching third?

LB: Yeah. You've got to know your personnel, you've got to know the score, you've got to know who's coming up, who's pitching against you — are you thinking you're going to get a lot of runs? Who's pitching for you — are you going to give up a lot of runs? There's some times you take chances when you know a guy might get thrown out — when maybe a pitcher's up next, or a guy that's 0-for-35 on deck. I'm gonna roll the dice. I was told, when I first started this, if you go a whole season without getting anybody thrown out, you're a terrible coach. You've got to be aggressive sometimes. I'd like to send every single one of the guys, but some people can't run and you can't make them run faster. If it's hit to the wrong guy in the outfield who's got the cannon, that's another thing you've got to take into effect.

Q: Have you revised your thoughts on being made to wear a helmet?

LB: No, I still can't see ... I understand their thought process because one guy's been killed. But if a plane crashes do they say, "Nobody flies"? To say a helmet's going to protect you ... the helmet doesn't protect the temple. The helmet doesn't protect the chest. The helmet doesn't protect the neck. There's so many places you can get hit. But you know, in fairness to the league office, it's a precautionary thing. If they think it's safer, fine, but I don't see any merit in it.

Q: Did Pete Rose need to wear a helmet with that haircut?

LB: Yeah, yeah [laughs]. Pete wasn't very good-looking.

Q: The third-base coach's box. Those lines are just guides, right?

LB: They're meaningless. They're different on every field. Now they're the same length, but they start different at every field — some start in the middle of the base, some start in the front. Some start in the back. They're still not the real deal.

Q: What is the point?

LB: I don't understand. I'd almost rather someone in the league office come out and said, "The reason we don't want you down there is so you don't steal signs." Steal signs? You don't even look at the catcher when there's a man on second — your back's to the catcher, you're helping the runner. If you stand even with the bag, or where the umpire stands, sometimes you can't even see the second baseman. You have to position yourself accordingly, and you want to get where you can see both the baserunner and second baseman together. Lot of people don't understand that.

Q: You got thrown out of a game this year — did it feel good a little?

LB: [Agitated in chair]. I got thrown out because [umpire] Ed Montague baited me. If he had just said,"You're out" and walked toward left field, that would have been ... but he came running at me like in a bull rush... Bah. ... I don't think it's ever — it's not for me, anyway — planned, "Oh, I'm going to get thrown out." It's a spontaneous thing. You don't want to get thrown out. It's not good. You know? It happens.

Q: They say that you once destroyed a toilet at Wrigley. You know this place has landmark status, right?

LB: Yeah, I did tear a toilet up. I was in a bad slump. So rather than go crazy in the dugout where someone could get hurt, I went in the back and beat it with a bat. I shattered the s#!^ out of it. I got a bill, though. I paid for it.

David Brown is a regular contributor to Big League Stew and writes Morning Juice, which runs Monday-Friday in the a.m. Answer Man is a regular feature on BLS.

Previous Answer Men:
Hunter Pence - April 10 • Justin Morneau - April 17 • David Wright - April 24 • Erin Andrews - April 25 • Andy Van Slyke - May 1 • Derek Jeter - May 8 • Bob Uecker - May 15 • Bert Blyleven - May 22 • Torii Hunter - May 29 • Joba Chamberlain - June 3

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