Three hours before game time at Dodger Stadium, the day after the team’s third-base coach, Larry Bowa, was ejected for not standing in the coach’s box and then suspended for three games, 10 or 12 re-porters huddle near the dugout, notebooks, pens and tape recorders in hand. Bowa, one of the best third-base coaches in Major League Baseball, doesn’t look happy. In fact, he appears to be downright angry, surveying the media scene with an unblinking stare and exuding the vibe of an innocent man who’s been wrongly sentenced. Instead of heading to the group of reporters, he takes some one-on-one questions for an interview planned long before the coaching-box controversy.
At 62, Bowa is solid and trim, with thick hands and heavy eyelids. Born in Sacramento, he played most of his career as shortstop with the Philadelphia Phillies, and helped the team win the 1980 World Series. He was always a hard out as a batter, and his .980 lifetime fielding percentage remains a National League record. Bowa was a five-time National League All-Star, and he owns a World Series record for starting seven double plays.
Bowa always wanted to win. One of his two books is called I Still Hate to Lose. Following former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre to Los Angeles, Bowa, who spent two seasons in the Bronx, now brings his intensity and passion for the game to the Dodgers.
“You have to know your personnel,” Bowa says when asked what makes a good third-base coach. “You must think ahead, prepare and be aggressive.” He gets no questions about his ejection but still seems on edge, as if he’s refusing to be suckered into something. Then Bowa is asked about the time he won the World Series.
“Aw, man, that was the thrill of my life,” Bowa says. In an instant, the heaviness is gone, replaced with a wide smile and an obvious fondness for 1980 and his old teammates. “We could hit for power, we could pitch, we could play good defense. We had it all.”
Does he live by a certain code or ethic?
“I was a scrappy player,” Bowa says, “and I actually have a good story for the kids out there. I was cut from the baseball team time after time in high school. They said I couldn’t play. I didn’t listen. I practiced, worked hard and eventually made the team. In the minors, I was known for having a good glove, but I couldn’t hit. So I worked on that. I became a tough out, and I eventually got 2,000 hits, a major milestone.”
Does Bowa apply the lessons from baseball to living a good life?
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“Absolutely,” he says. “You have to respect your teammates. You have to trust them and get along with them. You have to put the good of the team first. I also never take baseball for granted. I’ve seen superstars rounding the bases and tear a knee and it’s all over. So I came out every day and played like it was my last day. That’s something that can be used for life, too.”
After the interview, Bowa hits ground balls to infielders as Joe Torre sits in the dugout for his regular pregame press conference. The beat reporters pepper Torre with questions about Bowa’s ejection. After a pause, Torre says, “When I took the job, Larry was the first person I wanted here. I love his passion, I love his knowledge of the game, and I really love the fact he’s trying to make the players better.” The sportswriters soon switch to a different topic.
Photo by Kevin Scanlon