Baseball Digest Birthdays: Larry Bowa

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Before the Derek Jeters and Alex Rodriguezes of elite shortstops, middle fielders was known for their incredible defense rather than offense. By the time Larry Bowa’s career ended, he had earned his place among the best shortstops of his era, and he more than held his own in offensive categories. The 16 year veteran turned 65 on December 6th.

Larry Bowa was signed as a amateur free agent by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1965 after not getting picked in that year’s draft. The Phillies were the only team tracking the infielder, and signed him after watching him play with a Winter League team. By 1970, Bowa had landed the everyday job as the team’s shortstop, a spot he wouldn’t relinquish for more than a decade.

Bowa won his first of two Gold Gloves in 1972, and was joined on the left side of the infield when Mike Schmidt became the every day third baseman in 1973. Over the next six seasons, Bowa was elected to five all-star games while helping bring the Phillies back to the postseason for the first time in 25 years.

In the December 1978 issue of Baseball Digest, Larry Eichel wrote a feature about Bowa’s impact on the late ’70’s Philadelphia Phillies. Click here to check it out!

In a supporting role behind the offensive power of Mike Schmidt, Bowa and the Phillies had three straight National League Championship Series appearances from 1976-1978. After a down year in 1979, the Phillies reached the 1980 World Series and defeated the Kansas City Royals to win the first World Series title for the franchise. The team would continue to have some success for a few more seasons, but without the steady play of Larry Bowa, who had worn out his welcome in the City of Brotherly Love.

Bowa was traded by the Philadelphia Phillies along with a young shortstop by the name of Ryne Sandberg to the Chicago Cubs for veteran shortstop Ivan de Jesus. Though Bowa’s career peak had already been reached, Sandberg went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Cubs. Bowa spent three plus seasons with Chicago, helping the team reach the postseason in 1984, their first appearance in nearly four decades. By August of 1985, however, Bowa’s time was up with the Cubs and he was released. Though picked up by the New York Mets to end the season, it was the final year as a player for the then-all time leader in games played by a shortstop. He also retired with the best fielding average in a career and single season(1979), along with ranking among the top five in several defensive categories for shortstops.

Larry Bowa was not out of baseball long, as he assumed the role of manager of the San Diego Padres in 1987. His fiery personality unfortunately led to his dismissal less than two full seasons into his new job. The Padres went 81-127 under Larry Bowa. 12 years later the Philadelphia Phillies called Bowa back home, naming him as manager for the 2001 season. Unlike his time in San Diego, the Phillies won 86 games in the first season under the new manager, earning Bowa Manager of The Year honors.

Despite winning at least 85 games in three of his four seasons with Philadelphia, Bowa was fired with two games remaining in the 2004 schedule. He went on to work as a baseball analyst and a coach with several teams, most recently serving as third base coach with Joe Torre and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Also Celebrating A Birthday Today:

Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri, member of the famous New York Yankees “Murderer’s Row”, the second baseman is the only player in history to hit for the natural cycle(single, double, triple, home run) that ended with a grand slam! He was born on December 6, 1903.

Hall of Famer Jocko Conlan, the only umpire in the Hall of Fame who also played in the major leagues. Born in 1899, Conlan had a .263 average over two seasons with the Chicago White Sox before becoming an umpire!

Veteran righty Kevin Appier won 169 games over 16 seasons with the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, New York Mets, and Anaheim Angels. He won a World Series title with the 2002 Angels. He was born in 1967.

1987 National League Cy Young Award Winner Steve Bedrosian was born on this day in 1957. “Bedrock” also won a World Series title with the 1991 Minnesota Twins.

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