Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg have been close friends since being traded together to the Cubs for Ivan de Jesus in 1982. (USA Today Images)
There was a familiar face in the Phillies’ dugout before Wednesday’s game. Larry Bowa was back in the spot he manned from 2001 to 2004 when he managed the club.
Nine seasons have passed since Bowa was fired as skipper. Charlie Manuel spent nine seasons at the helm and enjoyed more success than any manager in Phillies history.
But times change. The Phillies became older and banged-up the last two seasons. The success stopped and Manuel paid the price when he was let go last month.
It’s only a matter of time before Ryne Sandberg, long the heir apparent to Manuel, sheds the interim label and is officially named Phillies manager.
Once Sandberg is in the saddle, he will need to build a coaching staff.
You know where we’re going with this.
Bowa was a star player, a World Series-winning player, a coach and manager with the club. After all these years, he remains a Phillie at heart. And he has a close relationship with Sandberg, having mentored him when they were teammates in the Chicago Cubs’ infield.
Could Bowa, still spry with his 68th birthday approaching in December, end up on Sandberg’s staff?
Nothing is guaranteed. But it’s possible. It has been talked about in the organization.
Sandberg, properly noting that he’s still an interim manager, has deflected questions about the possibility. Bowa was vague when asked about it as he visited with his old teammate Wednesday. But it’s pretty clear he’d jump at the chance to wear Phillies No. 10 again to be Sandberg’s third-base, first-base or bench coach.
“Let’s just say this: I like what I’m doing,” said Bowa, an analyst for the MLB Network since 2011. “Do I miss the game? Yeah. I miss a lot of parts of it. But that’s something that Ryno and Ruben Amaro and David Montgomery have to figure it out.”
Bowa did not leave the organization on good terms when he was fired in 2004. Some players whined about him being too tough. He sparred with some organization officials on the way out the door. But that’s Larry. He’s always been feisty. He had less than amicable partings with the organization in the past and always seemed to find his way back. Can it happen again? The feeling here is this: He’s probably not high on upper management’s list of coaching candidates, but if Sandberg feels strongly about it and pushes for it, it could happen.
Bowa was the Phillies' shortstop when Sandberg came to the majors with the club in 1981. Before the 1982 season, they were traded to the Cubs for Ivan DeJesus. Sandberg was a throw-in, wisely plucked from the Phillies’ system by Cubs executive Dallas Green, another feisty baseball man who roamed the big-league landscape before finding his way home to Philadelphia.
Sandberg has long credited Bowa for being a positive mentor as he learned to play second base – and become a Hall of Famer – in Chicago. He mentioned it the other day.
Sandberg and Phillies officials have to decide whether that mentorship could be rekindled with Bowa serving as part of Sandberg’s support system.
Bowa said working under Sandberg would not be an issue. He’s worked under guys like Joe Torre and Lou Piniella with success. Both men give him high marks. Torre swears by the guy.
“As a coach you’re an assistant,” Bowa said.
Bowa last coached under Torre for the Dodgers in 2010. He moved to the MLB Network in 2011. Ever the baseball junkie, he watches games non-stop. He offered some opinions on these Phillies:
On Roy Halladay becoming a consistently effective starter again:
“I think if he gets the arm strength back, which is going to take time, he can. Is he going to throw 93-94? Probably not. But he’s so competitive and he’s got a good curveball and a good changeup. I see him being very serviceable. And I don’t mean as a No. 5 guy -- a two or a three in a rotation -- but it all depends on getting the arm strength.
Is Halladay a fit for the 2014 Phillies?
“Yeah. But I think it’s up to him because he still wants to play on a team where he has a 90 percent chance of going to the World Series. Can this team go? Yeah, if they make some changes, but there’s no guarantee.”
Getting a healthy Ryan Howard back is one big change, according to Bowa.
“This is a middle-order, 30-to-40 homer-guy,” Bowa said. “He’s a force. Like Ryno said, you’ve got to come in shape. And I understand with the Achilles he couldn’t do a lot of work because that was just healing. To me if he comes in shape it would add so much to this offense it would be unbelievable.”
Is it time to platoon Howard with Darin Ruf?
“If Ryan is healthy, I don’t do that,” Bowa said. “I think if Ryan is healthy, you put him in the middle of your lineup and let him whack it all over the park. I’ve seen him go 0 for 20 and I’ve seen him go 10 for 20 with five home runs. He’s one of those guys that can put the team on his back and carry it. You’ve got to stick with those guys. If he’s healthy, he’s got to play every day.”
Finally, Bowa offered this opinion on Sandberg, the manager:
“His work ethic was second to none as a player and it has never changed. If it says be there at 4 you better be there at 3:30. He pays attention to detail. The one thing he wants is for you to play the game the right way. Hopefully he’s here a long time and you’ll see that quote a lot.
“I don’t want to jinx him. I think he’s done a tremendous job and he’s ready to manage in the big leagues.”
Will Bowa come along for the ride, a Phillie once more?