Where have you gone, Larry Bowa?

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This is the first in the guest column series. It is written by Dan Forti. You can check him out at Boulevard NYC, “an ongoing collaborative effort that strives to bring anyone with a creative vision together.”

Having been a die-hard Yankees fan since 1996, not too much surprised me during the 2007 off-season. Posada, Rivera, and A-Rod all threatening to leave, but then re-sign? It didn’t catch me off guard. I was even prepared for Joe Torre’s surprise departure, feeling that it was time for an amicable end to the great Torre Dynasty. However, the one move that I am still surprised about, and upset over, is the loss of our former third base coach, Larry Bowa.

Before his stint with the Yankees, the average fan knew Bowa as the eccentric manager of the Philadelphia Phillies from 2001-04. While his teams had strong players such as Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Jim Thome, and Jimmy Rollins, each year they underperformed. Bowa’s fiery personality and in-your-face style of coaching wore down many of his players halfway through each season, and in 2004 Bowa was let go.

In comparison, Bowa’s playing career was very successful: He won two Gold Gloves, led the NL in fielding percentages in six different seasons, and shared the left side of the infield with Hall of Famer Mike Schdmit. Every person who played with Bowa respected him for his passion for the game, as well as his dedication to his craft.

During the 2005 season, Bowa’s knowledge for the game became apparent through his daily TV appearances on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. Bowa always provided objective and concise analysis, while adding a little bit of his own flare to each show. When Bowa jumped from BBTN to the Bronx, many wondered how his personality would fit in with Torre’s calm regime.

I could never have imagined the impact that Bowa would have on this team. He was the best third base coach the Yankees ever had during the Torre Dynasty. Fans who are watching on television usually have a good idea of whether a runner at third should be sent home (various camera angles and instant scouting reports help). During Bowa’s stay at third, there was not one play that I disagreed with his decision (compare that to Luis Sojo’s miserable performance in the same capacity). He helped the Yankees get those extra runs, which we’ve always needed with our unreliable pitching.

Bowa’s impact could not only be seen during each game, but also during the course of the entire season. Within days of being hired by the Yankees, Bowa reached out to the team’s young second baseman, offering to be a mentor of sorts and to help him reach his untapped potential and abilities. Three weeks later, at 7:30 AM on a Tuesday morning, Bowa was hitting ground balls to Robinson Cano on an infield in the Tampa Complex. Each morning, for over an hour, Bowa would have one-on-one sessions with Cano, working on fielding groundballs, turning double plays, and mastering footwork. Bowa saw the player Cano could be, and recognized that a little of his ‘tough love’ could work wonders for the Dominican kid.

Two years later, Cano has evolved into an All-Star. He is one of the top hitting second basemen in the league, and is an underrated fielder (few others can turn a DP like Cano). Some critics believe that Cano’s early-season slump is so bad because Bowa isn’t there to keep the second baseman’s head straight. Early in his career, Yankee fans have noticed that Cano is prone to mental lapses. But Bowa found a great young man in Cano, and I am confident that the two are constantly on the phone, discussing game situations and methods to endure the mental wear of a 162 game season.

Although Bobby Meachem seems to be an adequate replacement as third base coach, I’m confident that the Yankees miss Bowa’s presence in the clubhouse. Joe Girardi has more intensity than Torre, but will always play second fiddle to Bowa and his ability to fire up a team. His coaching style may never be conducive to be a manager, but the Los Angeles Dodgers have one of the best coaches in baseball.

Photo by Al Lerner

New stadium, on target, to feature familiar Yankee Stadium field dimensions
More on the new and improved Melky
  • Count Zero

    Well done Mr. Forti.

    And I agree — I miss Bowa and I think Cano does too. Unfortunately, I never thought he would stick around when Torre left, so I wasn’t at all surprised. I also question whether Bowa would have been able to co-exist with Girardi — a man who is somewhat similar in personality.

    The worrisome part is that the coaches have more to do with the productivity of the team than people realize sometimes. I always thought the loss of Zimmer was a powerful body blow to the dynasty. This year I was glad we kept Pena and Long, and I think Eiland is an upgrade, but I wasn’t happy to lose Bowa.

  • Cam

    It’s so true though. Even though he was only a coach for a couple of season, you had complete faith in all the decisions he was making over at third. I’m still a little curious about this whole ‘Cano not having Bowa’s tough love so he underperforms’ thing. I can understand that contstant attention in that sense can be good for a player whose mind tends to wander, but it’s not like Bowa was swinging the bat for Robbie. As long as there are cell phones, Robbie will always have his mentor to talk to. Plus I think he’s getting close to coming out of it. The last out he made the other day was a hard ground ball to the left side. He hasn’t been hitting the ball hard the other way all season, with most of his groundball outs being pulled weakly. Once he starts hitting the ball hard the other way, which he showed, he’ll be fine.

  • http://www.magicball.net Double-J

    Let’s trade Farnsworth for Bowa, straight up. :-D

    Seriously though, I too was mad to see Bowa go, out of all the base/bench coaches, I felt he had the most to offer. But it sounded (to me anyways) that he wanted to go, especially after Torre left. Similar to, as Count Zero said, with Zimmer, I think Bowa was a positive influence on this team that is sorely missed.

  • zack

    I have a very hard time believing that this team, which looked so flat in the playoffs the last few years and looked so flat at various points throughout the season and that is field with professional players, really misses “Bowa’s presence in the clubhouse” and his “ability to fire up the team.”

    If the team isn’t winning because of that, they need to blow it all up because that is a shameful excuse for their struggles.

    Its possible Cano misses Bowa, but again, if his early unlucky struggles can somehow be pinned on that, which of course they can’t really, than Cano is much less the ballplayer we all thought he is and the Yanks should be very worried about that contract they signed. A player not playing well because he misses the intensity, presence, or some other aspect of one specific coach has no business playing baseball if they can’t quickly get over it…

  • Alex

    Didn’t you just have a post talking about how Cano has been getting unlucky? (Which I agree with)

    Larry Bowa was a very good coach but after scrubing the numbers you can’t argue that Cano’s slow start is because of his absence. It makes no sense. Plus Cano is still playing great defense at 2nd (Look at his Zone Rating)

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      This post isn’t blaming Cano’s slump on Bowa. It just talks about how hard Bowa worked with Robbie from the beginning.

      • My Pet Goat

        “Although Bobby Meachem seems to be an adequate replacement as third base coach, I’m confident that the Yankees miss Bowa’s presence in the clubhouse. Joe Girardi has more intensity than Torre, but will always play second fiddle to Bowa and his ability to fire up a team. His coaching style may never be conducive to be a manager, but the Los Angeles Dodgers have one of the best coaches in baseball.”

        Well if not Cano’s slump then the whole effin’ team’s.

  • Brett

    Very nice article. It certainly makes for a nice story, I just wonder how true it is. Sitting at home, watching on tv or the ballpark and reading blogs, we don’t have a clue what its really like in the clubhouse.

  • yankeemonkey

    I don’t buy the Bowa-Cano thing. Cano had a (not quite so miserable) slump last year, when Bowa was still here. I doubt his departure had much impact on Cano’s hitting ability.

  • My Pet Goat

    “Having been a die-hard Yankees fan since 1996…” Are you kidding me? Unless you’re 20 or younger that automatically disqualifies you as a diehard Yankee fan. My ex-girlfriend from NH became a Yankee fan around then. She can tell you all about Derek Jeter’s dating proclivities.

    And as far as Bowa and Cano, I imagine that an infield coach taking extra time to hit ground balls to a young and recently converted second baseman is, you know, part of the job description and not such a rarity even if its a 7am or 7pm or whenever. Everything else is idle speculation of the sort you’d see drip out of Lupica’s or Mike & the Mad Dog’s collective pie hole. Thanks for the keen insight, buddy.

    P.S. Maybe Cano has a special blanket or binky he forgot to bring with him this season. You ever consider that?

    P.P.S. I doubt Pat Kelly would’ve needed Bowa’s fatherly presence.

    • Joey

      What position was Cano before second base?

      • My Pet Goat


        • Joe

          Robby’s been playing second in the states since he was 18.

        • Joey

          Wasn’t he playing second in the minors before being called up?

      • Joey

        is there another Joey, cause I didn’t ask that… guess I’ll have to find a different name, but that takes creativity (which I don’t really have). nice post btw

        • Joey

          I’m the other Joey, how ya doin’.

    • Mike P

      I agree. You can be a true Yankee fan if you’ve supported the Yankees since you can’t remember. But to be a die hard fan and call yourself one you need to have “died hard” so to speak. I don’t think any Yankee fans have had to die hard since ’96.

      • Chip

        I’m 21 and have been a fan as long as I can remember. I can remember back in ’95 when Jeter came up and I thought he was just the best. I’d argue that living in the mid-west in Twins country that I’ve died hard enough defending the Yankees from the “they buy their championships” philosophy

      • http://knickerbockerchatter.blogspot.com/ Bruno


    • Dan

      I wrote the article. Im 18, born in 1990. I was six at the start of the dynasty. So yes, I did grow up as a die-hard Yankees fan.

  • mike

    great article. i agree with it 100% he was the best third base coach they ever had…

  • whozat

    The way I remember reading it last year was that Cano reached out to Bowa when he heard the guy had been hired. I remember citing that fact repeatedly early in 07 when people would say that Robbie didn’t care. A kid who’d do that DEFINITELY cares was my point.

  • Tripp

    I wonder if there is some bad blood between Girardi and Bowa? I can’t believe that Bowa has THAT much allegance to Torre.

    Good article though.

    • Mike P

      I think almost everybody in baseball likes Torre alot. Especially the older guys. Bowa would have far more in common with Torre that Girardi (who’s just a kid by their standards). Not to mention working with Torre for a couple of years.

    • My Pet Goat

      Meacham was Girardi’s 3b coach in Florida. And keep in mind, Bowa’s a prick. Why would Girardi want a hard-ass former manager in his clubhouse?

  • jsbrendog

    you’ve only been a yankee fan since 96? do you constantly get accosted about being a bandwagon fan?? do you know the heartbreak of seeing such stalwarts every day as alvaro espinoza and pasqual perez and mel hall or steve the condo balboni trot out there everyday?

    in reality i kid, nice article. the pain of yankee fandom from 1988-1993 made 1996 feel like a month and a half of xmas nonstop

    bowa is awesome. did anyone see him flip out and get suspended for three games like the first week of the season? he’s just entertaining. I see him being like the braves minor league guy who did the whole army crawl on the pitchers mound, but more standing and yelling in peoples faces and throwing bases and doing anger pirouhettes

    • Dan Forti

      Im 18, so I was 6 in 1996. Thanks for the complements. And concerning his flip out early in the year, it was entertaining, yet a little bit uncalled for. He was challenging a rule that could possibly keep him safe from a foul ball – as unlikely as that is, the Rockies lost a coach last year from being hit in the head with a foul ball at first base.

  • zack

    I think people have to put “pain” in perspective. the Yankee lean years were not so long nor so lean. Most teams in baseball would kill to have basically two decades out of 100 be crappy and the rest pretty darn good. So yes, many fans cut their teeth on the late 80s and early 90s Yanks’ mediocrity, but thats a far cry from being a fan of the many teams who only occasionally rise out of the shadows to compete…

  • chris

    a little off topic, but why is the team also sending down Kennedy? On the heals of Hughe’s going on the DL and down the road proobably making a lot of “rehab” starts, the team now sends down IPK?

    Has the team cmpletely abandoned the Big Three in the roation? I didn’t like the idea to begin with, but finish what you started. Leave this kid up and let him pitch. His best attribute is his intelligence and he will figure, but he needs time. He is exactly the type of pitcher that you could see struggling in his first year as he doesnt have a dominant pitch, but he also seems the type to eat innings and give up 2-4 runs in 5-7 innings.

    Seems like 1 month in and the team is walking away from the idea which is a shame and is going to damage the 2009 team.

    I honsetly think that the best thing to happen to this team is for them to be out of the running by august 1st so they can just let the kids pitch – the big three plus the most deserving starte from the minors with Mussina being converted into a lawn chair/long man in the pen

    • Chip

      The best thing for this team is to win the World Series with Joba, Hughes and Kennedy dominating. There’s a point where running him out there to get shelled every 5th day hurts his confidence. He gets hit so he tries to nibble and then walks the entire park. Let him figure out what he had last year down in AAA and we’ll try it again

    • http://knickerbockerchatter.blogspot.com/ Bruno

      “but why is the team also sending down Kennedy?”

      If you’re asking this question, obviously you haven’t SEEN him pitch THIS year. He looked like a AAA pitcher, afraid of contact and walking everyone. That’s a BIG NO-NO in the Majors. Notice Rasner ATTACKED hitters.

  • chris

    its not little league an isnt 1 year out highschool. i hate this idea that a pitcher gains confidence by pitching to AAA hitters

    doesnt he lose just as much confidence by getting sent down in the first place than he would getting hit in the majors. The only argument I see with him being in AAA is that he didnt spend a full year to learn, but the Yanks made the desicion that he didnt need that. Besides, he is a finesse pitcher who relies on his brains. outsmarting AAA batters does him no good. He needs to lean the players, ballparcks, and umpires in the majors to get better

    so now they are going back on IPK after a month after they told the world how much confidence they had in him.

    sorry, but this stinks of panic to me

    • http://knickerbockerchatter.blogspot.com/ Bruno

      /\ see above

    • Count Zero

      I think you’re both making valid points. IPK isn’t going to learn much of anything at AAA, but he does need to re-learn what he seems to have forgotten in four short weeks. Namely, that you can’t get guys out by throwing more balls than strikes. A couple of weeks of pitching to guys who don’t hit mistakes as well as major leaguers could help with that.

  • godfather

    maybe kennedy is going down to find out how to wear a uniform…should think even usc would teach that…i’d love bowa being around because he wasn’t a rubber stamper…a little fire never hurts

  • paul in philly

    Sheet, we miss Bowa here in Philly

  • paul in philly

    he was our ss from 70-81, our 3rd base coach 88-96, and our MGR 01-04
    he belongs in the Phillies orginization somewhere…..