Larry Bowa

An asterisk for the champions? Larry Bowa isn't alone in his opinion

An asterisk for the champions? Larry Bowa isn't alone in his opinion

One of the beautiful things about following sports is that there are certain people that are a part of your life for decades and you never actually know them. Larry Bowa is one of those people for me. I am not old enough to have seen him play. But I remember him vividly as a 3rd base coach for the Phillies, then later as the club’s manager and eventually a coach with the Yankees, Dodgers and Phillies again.

You can always count on Bowa for a passionate and thoughtful response on a baseball issue. That’s why I stood up and took notice when he told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark that the champion of this Major League Baseball season will require an asterisk next to their name in the record books because of it being shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bowa is hardly alone in sharing that view and the logic is understandable. A 60-game slate represents just over 37 percent of the standard 162-game season. As we all know, even the worst teams in baseball typically put together a fair-to-average 60-game stretch during a normal season. So, there is legitimate reason to worry that a mediocre team or two will make their way into postseason. 

But it’s also fair to note that the second wild card, instituted in 2012, has already opened the door to middling teams making the postseason. Furthermore, if we truly want to hold up the value of the regular season, why even have a postseason in the first place? How many times have we seen dynamic teams like the 2011 Phillies or the 2019 Dodgers dominate from April through September only to see their season end in a week’s time because of three losses? 

One could easily argue the path to the truest champion would be for each team to play the other 29 clubs home and away in 3-game series. Best record at the end of the 174 games would be the champion.

Of course, if that happened, the majority of sports fans would question how you could crown a champion without having the finality of the postseason. There would be retired player after retired player saying the true test of a team is the pressure cooker of the October tournament. 

Ultimately, we all tend to assume what we have known is best and the only legitimate path. But it would be in everyone’s interest to wait and see if this season deserves an asterisk. 

Perhaps Bowa will be right and this shortened campaign will not pass the eye or stink test. Then again it might just lead to three months of exhilarating tension as every game matters substantially more than in years past.

Let’s not knock it until we try it.

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Phillies took a little while to get going against deceiving Dodgers in 2008 NLCS

Phillies took a little while to get going against deceiving Dodgers in 2008 NLCS

After dispatching the Milwaukee Brewers in the Division Series, the 2008 Phillies could not afford a champagne hangover. Jimmy Rollins, the man of prophecies, had already stated the club was "geared to win" the World Series, but first, the Phils had to get by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

You can watch the entire series, starting with the Phillies' 3-2 win in Game 1, beginning Monday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Phillies of a previous generation had some history against the Dodgers in the NLCS. The Phils beat the Dodgers for the 1983 NL pennant but lost to them in 1977 and 1978.

The Phillies' loss in the 1977 NLCS was particularly painful. Black Friday the historians called it long before there was another Black Friday in 2011.

Black Friday of 1977 meant nothing to the 2008 Phillies. 

"I didn't know anything about it until earlier this season,'' Rollins said between swigs of champagne after the Phillies ousted the Brewers in Game 4 of the NLDS. "We just have to get ready to play our game."

That was the right approach. The 2008 Phillies needed to be at their best to beat the Dodgers, who were managed by Joe Torre, winner of four World Series with the New York Yankees. Phillies legend Larry Bowa was the Dodgers' third base coach that year.

In the big picture, the 2008 Dodgers were a deceiving club. They won just 84 games, fewest of the eight playoff teams that fall, and 13 clubs had better regular-season records. But the Dodgers went 17-8 in September and at one point won 12 of 13 to overtake Arizona and win the NL West. They rode that momentum into the postseason and swept the 97-win Chicago Cubs in the NLDS.

No team improved its offense more at the trade deadline in 2008 than the Dodgers, who picked up Manny Ramirez after his expiration date had arrived in Boston. Ramirez hit .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs after joining the Dodgers on Aug. 1.

"I've never seen anyone that hot for two months," Bowa said before the series.

Torre added that he did not believe the Dodgers would have won the NL West without Manny, who continued to mash against the Cubs in the first round of the postseason. He went 5 for 10 with two homers, three RBIs and four walks, two intentional, in that series.

Before the NLCS, veteran Phillies reliever J.C. Romero acknowledged the menacing significance of Ramirez in the Dodgers' lineup.

"Any team with Manny changes for the better," Romero said. "If you take the mentality that you don't want someone to beat you, it would be Manny. If there's a situation where he can hurt us, we might take the bat away from him."

Ramirez didn't waste any time hurting the Phillies in Game 1. The Phillies had Cole Hamels, coming off eight shutout innings in the opener of the NLDS on the mound, and 45,839 in the seats at Citizens Bank Park. But the Dodgers struck quickly in the bottom of the first inning and took a 1-0 lead on consecutive doubles by Andre Ethier and Ramirez. The Dodgers added another run against Hamels in the fourth on a double, a groundout and a sacrifice fly to take a 2-0 lead.

For five innings, the Dodgers rolled behind sinkerballer Derek Lowe. But in the sixth inning, his pitch count began to soar and he became soaked with sweat on an unusually muggy October night. Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal opened the door a crack when he made a throwing error that allowed Shane Victorino to reach base and Chase Utley, who had been drafted by the Dodgers in the second round out of high school but did not sign, quickly capitalized when he smacked a fat, first-pitch fastball into the right-field seats to tie the game.

Lowe then retired Ryan Howard on a diet of sliders before Pat Burrell, one of the heroes of the NLDS clincher, came to the plate and lined a 3-1 fastball — middle-in and just 90 mph — into the leftfield seats to break the tie and give the Phils the lead. The crowd, which like the Phillies took a little while to warm up, was now in full throat and helped kick the Phils home the rest of the way.

The longball had been a huge weapon for the Phillies that entire season and it was in this game against a team that generally kept the ball in the yard. The Phils led the NL with 214 homers in 2008. Conversely, Dodgers pitching allowed just 123, the fewest in the NL.

Despite allowing a couple of early runs, Hamels was excellent, particularly pitching with the lead for the first time in the game. He struck out Blake DeWitt and pinch-hitter Jeff Kent for the first two outs in the seventh, then got Furcal to ground out for the third out.

For Hamels, who struck out eight, it was a shut-down inning at its finest, a deflating moment for the Dodgers, and a big reason the Phillies won.

Hamels handed off to the late-game partnership of Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge in the eighth inning and they closed it out as the Phillies, with just one inning of offense, rode their pitching to a Game 1 win.

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Phillies' surprising success uncovering undrafted free agents

Phillies' surprising success uncovering undrafted free agents

Ricky Bo!

No MLB franchise since the draft began in 1965 has signed more undrafted free agents who became All-Stars than the Phillies, according to this interesting piece at Baseball America.

The Phillies had five (tied with the Pirates and Mets), though only two of them reached the All-Star Game as Phillies.

One was Phils legend Larry Bowa, who made the NL All-Star teams in 1974, '75, '76, '78 and '79. Bowa played 12 of his 16 seasons with the Phillies and has been in uniform as a player, manager, coach or front office member for 35 years. A true Phillies lifer who is always around the team and, even at 74, still has the zest and ability to throw some BP.

Your one and only Phillies Pre/Postgame Live analyst Ricky Paul Bottalico is another. He was signed by the Phils as an amateur free agent in the summer of '91 and five years later, he pitched a scoreless inning in the All-Star Game in his home ballpark, the Vet. 

Ricky Bo actually thought he was toward the end of his baseball career when he was signed out of a beer league.

"In a strange way, I was on my last legs playing baseball," Bottalico said. "I was a catcher, all-state catcher in high school, catcher in college. I didn't think about pitching until really, accidentally. One of our pitchers got hurt, we had a mid-week game, there weren't enough pitchers, I decided to pitch and struck out like 12 in a row. I didn't know how hard I threw. I had no idea. 

"I didn't care about scouts, I thought it was too late for me to even be scouted. I mean, I got signed out of a beer league. That's no joke. The Hartford Twilight League. I got signed out of a beer league. They asked, 'Do you want to sign a contract?' I was like ... yes, yes I do. Let's see what happens. I was 19 years old when I started pitching. I wasn't thinking about going pro at that point."

Do you see yet why I call this man the real-life Kenny Powers?

The other three players signed by the Phillies as undrafted free agents who went on to become All-Stars with other teams were right-hander Andy Ashby, infielder Toby Harrah and 1B/DH Andre Thornton.

Third baseman and Philly native Rick Schu did not make an All-Star team but he did compile nearly 1,000 plate appearances as a Phillie, hitting .250 over five seasons.

Ashby made the NL All-Star teams in 1998 and 1999, his final two full seasons with the Padres. That was more than a decade after the Phillies signed him as an amateur free agent. After those two All-Star seasons, Ashby was reacquired by the Phillies in November 1999 for Adam Eaton, Carlton Loewer and Steve Montgomery. 

Ashby lasted 16 starts with the Phillies, had a 5.68 ERA with an ugly strikeout-to-walk ratio and was traded to Atlanta for Bruce Chen and Jimmy Osting.

Thorton, as a Cleveland Indian, made the AL All-Star teams in 1982 and 1984. He had been signed by the Phillies in the summer of 1967 and was traded to Atlanta five years later with Joe Hoerner for pitchers Jim Nash and Gary Neibauer. Nash and Neibauer made a combined 18 appearances with the Phillies. Good trade.

Harrah made the AL All-Star teams in 1972, '75, '75 and 1982. The Phillies signed him in 1966 but lost him to the Washington Senators a year later in the minor-league draft.

This year, the draft (June 10) will be only five rounds. Many, many undrafted free agents this summer will go on to have long big-league careers.

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