Tuesday, August 14, 2001

As the Clubhouse turns: Rolen takes heat from management

Try this one on for size. A player — a weak-hitting but slick-fielding shortstop at that — hosts his own radio talk show before every game. In this show, the shortstop rips his manager, calls the fans the worst in baseball and challenges his teammates to play better than they are.

In turn, the manager — an old salt of guy — alienates all of his players. He calls them names and tells them that they are an embarrassment to the uniform. The team ends up being so unified in their hatred of their boss that they go out and win the World Series for the first (and only) time in the franchises' history.

Flash ahead 21 years. That shortstop is now the manager and the old salt is up in the front office as the team's special assistant to something or other (thank you old-boy network). This time it's the old salt that's going on the radio and the manager who is alienating his young players.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So here it is one last time before we put it to rest forever. That's barring — at the very least — someone else associated with the Philadelphia Phillies opening their big mouth and sticking their big boot in there.

First, the recap:

Last week, special assistant to the General Manager Dallas Green, told the listeners of WIP that Scott Rolen — who won the Rookie of the Year award in 1997 and owns two gold gloves for fielding excellence at third base — was nothing more than a "so-so" player and that he lacked the "personality" to be a great player. He later reiterated those comments to the beat writers in a loud discussion in the press box before a game against the San Diego Padres.

That little turn of the soap opera dial spawned a story in the Bucks County Courier Times that the Phils' clubhouse is nearing mutiny and if the players put it to a vote on whether manager Larry Bowa should stay or go, Bowa would be a loser in a landslide.

"He can manage. He knows baseball," one player said. "But if we win, it will be just to spite him. Everybody hates him that much."

You would think that a team going through all of this after just completing a three-city road trip where the team went 4-6 with four losses coming on walk-off dingers while falling three games out of first place would be the beginning of the end. After all of Green's chirping about the players, the players whining about the manager and the manager and his coaching staff complaining to each other that the players don't care enough or don't take the losses as hard as they do, there was nothing more than a great big mess.

Call it As the Clubhouse Turns.

So all week this silliness is hanging over the team in its sheer pleonasm, causing anyone who wanders into the Phils' clubhouse to think what move they should make if a rumble breaks out between the players, coaches and media. Maybe that's why the press tends to gravitate toward the bat rack in the middle of the room — in case anything happens, they can come out swinging.

But something quite odd happened while all of this was going on. There were no fights, in fact, the warring factions were very complimentary of each other. Instead of folding up the tent and exposing their pink, rounded belly to the Atlanta Braves letting them run away with the NL East, the Phils got mad. And they fought back like a bunch of wolverines on speed.

Sound familiar?

More than 12 years ago, Bowa lost his job for many of the same reasons his players cite. One player, in a story published by the Philadelphia Daily News Tuesday, said the skipper is on them for even the most minute mistake and no one has a good word to say about him.

"He's a real good baseball man. He knows the game and fundamentals and nobody can get lackadaisical around him," a player told the Daily News. "If you make the same mistakes, he'll stay on top of you."

"The thing is, though, that it's a 162-game season. Guys are going to struggle, and he doesn't always seem to understand that. I think to say that [everybody hates him] might be a little overstated, but his approach might hurt in the long run.

"For a franchise-type player, [Bowa] might be a pretty good reason not to come back. Every player has his story. If you're on his good side, you're fine. But you can get on his bad side awfully quick, especially pitchers. He's definitely different than any manager I've ever seen in the big leagues. If I was a manager, I definitely wouldn't be like that."

Some of the players may not want to admit it, but Bowa has a lot to do with the team's success this season. His predecessor, Terry Francona, was widely liked by all of his players but last year they only won 65 games for him. Already this season, the Phils have won 66 for Bowa — maybe that's because he won't aw-shucks a loss. Last year Francona was almost glib after a loss, giving the boilerplate answer of: "We're still running them out. Our guys haven't quit."

This season, losses sting and Bowa takes them hard. When his team loses, Bowa feels the loss like it's something personal. He manages his team like they are a college basketball team in late February who desperately needs a couple of more wins to get off the bubble and get into the NCAA Tournament. It's a nice attitude to have but can be a bit grating if you're a player. How would you like it if your boss pointed out all of your tiniest mistakes and told you that you're costing the company millions because you forgot to dot one "I." Chances are you would lash out.

Barring a collapse where the Phillies fail to win at least 15 more games, Bowa will be the National League manager of the year, just as Green was in 1980. But instead of emulating that abrasive style, perhaps there could be a lesson learned from those halcyon days.

The year following the World Series victory in 1980, the Phils jumped out to a big lead in the NL East. But just before the player's strike in 1981, the team was so fed up with Green that they couldn't take it anymore. Winning just wasn't worth it anymore.

So it had to end like something out of Shakespeare. Green, the only man to lead the Phils to a title was exiled to Chicago and took Bowa and Ryne Sandberg with him. After a NL East title in 1984, Green was on the move again, proving that maybe professional athletes don't need a drill sergeant.

Hopefully, Bowa and the rest of the Phils can learn from the franchises' history. Lord knows a lot of it has been repeated ad infinitum for 13 of the last 14 years around here.

Who's Up First
One thing Bowa has been able to do well is measure the whims and rhythms of who is ready to go on a big hitting surge and who isn't. Take the most recent lineup change for instance.

Just after the All-Star Break, the Phillies were 7-12 with Doug Glanville leading off, Jimmy Rollins hitting second and Marlon Anderson flip-flopping between seventh and eighth in the order. Two weeks ago, Bowa moved Anderson to the two-hole, Rollins to the leadoff spot and Glanville to seventh. Since then, they are 9-4.

The players have benefited too. Rollins is 12-for-47 in the top spot with two homers and three stolen bases. Glanville is 7-for-30, including a 0-for-5 Tuesday night in Milwaukee. Anderson is 12-for-37 with eight runs hitting second and has hit in eight of nine games since being moved up.

Quote of the Week
"I thought I had a so-so series."

— Scott Rolen after going 8-for-11 with three home runs against the Dodgers, which helped him earn National League player of the week honors.

Stat of the Week
Wins in 2000: 65.
Wins in 2001: 66.

Bull's Eye
It seems slugging left fielder Pat Burrell has caught the eye of a former Phils' left fielder who was known to smack a few into the upper deck at the Vet.

Fan-favorite Greg Luzinski was at the Vet last weekend to take part in the Phils' alumni weekend and apparently sought out the young slugger to talk a little ball.

Although much more athletic than Luzinski, Burrell's game is uncannily similar to the Bull's. In his first full season in 1972, Luzinski belted 18 homers on his way to 307 in an often brilliant but sometimes injury-plagued career. He also hit .281 with 68 RBIs and 114 strikeouts.

Burrell also belted 18 homers last season, drove in 79 with 139 whiffs and a .261 batting average. If he picks up the pace, he could match Luzinski's second year homer numbers. In 1973, he smacked 29 dingers with 97 RBIs and 139 strikeouts to go with a .285 average. Burrell's on pace for 23 homers, 95 RBIs and a .270 average.

However, Burrell's 123 whiffs should surpass the Bull's numbers.

During a career that spanned 15 seasons, Luzinski hit .300 four times, hit over 30 homers four times and drove in 100 or more runs four times. Looks like Burrell has a pretty good mentor in the Bull and it's impressive that he was willing to take the time to listen to an old, wise player.

Then again, it's not like Burrell shouldn't know who Luzinski is. After all, Burrell chased all of the Bull's records at Reading during the 1999 season.

On the Horizon
The two games left against Milwaukee on Wednesday and Thursday will be the easiest ones for the Phils over the next few weeks. Friday night, they open a tough, weekend series against the Cardinals in St. Louis before heading home to face the Central-leading Astros for three games and the West-leading Diamondbacks for four more.

Beginning with Tuesday night's 10-4 win in Milwaukee, the Phils face a stretch where they will play 26 games in 27 days and only have three more off days the rest of the season.

Bowa called the homestand against Houston and Arizona "a minefield."

John R. Finger
ComcastSportsNet.com

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