Philadelphia Daily News - August 29, 1980

What’s Wrong with Bowa?


By Bill Conlin


SAN DIEGO – Rick Monday hit the left-center gap with a line drive in the first game of the Dodger series. Monday no longer runs well and it was obvious when Larry Bowa took the relay throw that there would be a play at third base.


Over nearly a decade, the Phillies' shortstop had established himself as one of the most deadly medium-range throwers in the history of the game. A typical Bowa throw to Mike Schmidt would have had Monday dead to rights. But this one hit the Los Angeles outfielder and he was safe with a triple.


In the sixth inning, catcher Steve Yeager stroked a hard one-hopper to short. It was not an easy play, but for Bowa over the years it has been routine. Nobody who ever wore a glove could match Larry's ability to handle the hard, short hop. It was a double-play ball, but be didn't catch it.


In the seventh, Davey Lopes lined a lead-off single. The next hitter was Jay Johnstone and third base coach Danny Ozark flashed the hit-and-run sign. Lopes broke for second and Bowa moved to cover the bag. Johnstone bounced a medium-speed ball to the spot Bowa vacated, but the shortstop had time to change direction and make a play.


ONCE MORE, IT was a difficult chance for an average shortstop. But Bowa, the all-time fielding percentage leader at his position, the prototype AstroTurf shortstop, gloved the ball and dropped it.


The two-time Gold Glove winner – he should have won at least two others – committed just six errors last season. He fell just 17 chances shy of the mandatory 700 which would have established a single-season record for fewest errors, shortstop. His .991 percentage was a major-league record. He was not charged with an error at Veterans Stadium.


With nearly six weeks left in the season, Bowa already has committed 13 errors. He is 34 years old, but it is hard to believe his skills are fading as rapidly as they appear to have faded in the past year. He has a lean, rawhide body built for a long career. Although he has lost a half-step of speed, his experience and knowledge of the hitters should more than compensate for any loss of range.


Bowa has not shared his thoughts with the media at large since his name was erroneously linked with the penny-ante drug probe which dominated the headlines during and after the All-Star break. After years of cooperating with the press in good times and bad, he felt he had been stabbed in the back, that the clean bill he received in the investigation of a Reading team physician came too late to prevent the soiling of his public image, an image which included off-season work with Garry Maddox and Mike Schmidt at the Child Guidance Center. He announced he was through talking to the press, a vow of silence which has made baseball players the largest group of non-talkers this side of the Trappist monks.


HE IS A high-strung individual even in ideal circumstances, with a high threshold of pain and a low boiling point, so it is difficult to determine whether he's hurting physically or emotionally. One thing is fairly certain. Larry Bowa is not a happy ballplayer these days. You don't have to talk to him to see the anger in his eyes.


Dallas Green is worried about him. So are his teammates. No matter how they feel about his often abrasive personality, they know Bowa is the solid glue that holds the infield together.


"I think Bowa has an awful lot on his mind," Green says. "I'm just not sure it's all baseball. It's probably affected his thinking. We'd like to say we can overcome those things and play our game. Some guys can do it and some guys apparently can't as far as personal problems and not letting them affect what's happening on the field. There are also the individual problems we've been having on the field. You've got to do what you can, do your best at all times and hope the other things will come with time and patience."


Early in spring training, Bowa angered a lot of front-office people, including owner Ruly Carpenter, by complaining that at least six big-league shortstops were making more money than he makes on his current contract, which runs through the 1982 season. Bowa was hurt when Green moved him out of the No. 2 spot in the order, a spot where he had batted as high as 305 and scored as many as 93 runs. He has been hitting seventh most of the season and he is currently at .254 after falling off to a .241 average last season, second-lowest of his big-league career.


BOWA TAKES GREAT pride in the dedication and hard work which helped him beat an early rap that he was a Little League hitter. In 1978, he collected 192 hits, only six less than his idol, Pete Rose, and he is proud of that.


But the Phillies currently lead the league in team batting average and runs scored. The problem hasn't been offense. Key defensive lapses have probably cost the Phillies more games than any single factor. Errors of commission and omission, like Bowa's failure to cover second on a double-play ball to Manny Trillo last Saturday night.


What the club needs now is a defensive brilliance from Bowa which can infect the rest of the infield. When measured against some of the sieves who play shortstop in the major leagues, Bowa still ranks with the very best. Fourteen errors at this stage would be a helluva year for most shortstops, but Bowa is not most shortstops. For a decade he was a Stradivarius among fiddles.


"He believes in his heart he's a much better hitter than he's shown," Green says. "And there were times this year when he hit the ball as sharp as anybody on the team and came up with nothing because balls have been at 'em, caught, or somebody makes a helluva play. I'm sure in his mind it just looks like the world is against him. I don't think that's the case. I think everybody's rooting for him. We've got to have him playing well to stay in contention and we've got to have him playing Larry Bowa baseball."