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Effort Got Bowa This Far; Patience Would Get Him Through It

May 16, 1987|Dave Distel

Larry Bowa wants to win. Desperately. Obsessively. Larry Bowa's nature does not tolerate failure.

During some idle and idyllic moments floating on Lake Hodges last weekend, I pondered what Larry Bowa might have been like, had he literally been in the same boat with me.

You see, my son and I had determined that we would go to Hodges and catch some of those big bass we kept hearing other people were catching. We prepared an excellent menu of plastic, wood and metal gadgets and plastic, rubber and real worms. No bass could possibly reject our offerings.

Indeed, once we were on the lake, we could see some rather good-sized fish in spite of the murkiness of the water. Occasionally, one of these creatures would break the surface with a floor routine worth maybe a 9 on a scale of 10.

Hmmm, I thought, this would be almost as easy as going to the market.

Neither of us caught a thing . . . not even a snag.

One of the charms of fishing--and, to my mind, there aren't many--is the quiet time given to reflection and conversation. We began to contemplate the Padres' plight . . . and the frustrations of Mr. Larry Bowa.

"I'll tell you one thing," I said. "It's a good thing Larry Bowa isn't with us here on the lake. If none of those fish bit his hook, he'd go into the water after them."

And such drastic measures would undoubtedly be to no avail.

Much more can be gained from patience.

That is the lesson this rookie manager must learn as he guides this seemingly ill-fated aggregation through the most miserable of seasons. Patience is the virtue Larry Bowa must dredge from somewhere in his super-heated, competitive soul.

It will not be easy for him, because nothing has come easily for him. He had to be impatient and combative to succeed, because he was always determined to go beyond the horizons his physical skills set for him.

Bowa would not have ascended as high as his high school baseball team in Sacramento had he not been a battler. In fact, he was originally cut from his high school team. He ultimately made it because he would not allow himself to not make it.

That was to set the tone for all that has happened to Bowa in baseball, from signing a professional contract to surviving the travails and travels of the minor leagues to breaking into both the big leagues and the starting lineup at the same time with Philadelphia in 1970. Guts and gusto kept him in the major leagues for 16 years, outlasting athletes whose physical skills he envied.

Bowa could have played a 17th year in the major leagues, but pride . . . and maybe ego . . . comes with intensity. If he was going to sit on a bench, which was what the New York Mets asked him to do in 1986, it would not be as a bit player.

Instead, Bowa would sit on the bench in Las Vegas as the manager of the Padres' Triple-A farm club. It was time for a new career, the next chapter. And this manager would turn up the heat in the Nevada desert.

Larry Bowa managed as he played, teeth clenched and neck muscles rippling. He did not endear himself to Pacific Coast League umpires, frequently lasting about as long as it takes to lose a $5 bill on the craps tables. He had always been quick to fight his own wars, and now, as manager, he took on everyone else's battles.

However, he learned. He settled down. His team settled nicely in place and won the PCL championship. It was another success for the man who would not fail.

This earned Larry Bowa a promotion. The Padres had gone from a tough but mild-mannered manager to a candy-cane-sweet manager to a gentle giant to a tough and irascible manager to a professorial gentleman to . . .

A scrapper. A fighter. A combative over-achiever.

Larry Bowa.

This man has not yet settled in as Padre manager. I have gotten a confused reading, even during spring training. He would rant and rave and criticize one day, placate the next and then repeat the cycle.

This cycle manifested itself again this week, when he blew up one night and ended up jaw-to-jaw with rookie outfielder Stan Jefferson. By the next night, he was rescinding fines, calming nervous pitchers and banishing early workouts.

I get the impression Larry Bowa is fighting his own nature, battling against the combativeness that got him here. This is a war he must win if he is to succeed at his current endeavor.

These Padres are not going to settle down and win the National League pennant this year.

It is time for Larry Bowa, the manager, to say: "OK, fellas, let's have some fun and grow together."

I know that's not his nature, but that's going to be the only way to keep everybody in the boat.

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