Look up “baseball rat” in the dictionary and a mugshot of Larry Bowa will probably accompany the details. Bowa had more grit than ability, but the spark plug lasted a long time in the game, and is still going as a coach. Reliable if not spectacular, Bowa was a sound defensive shortstop and good contact hitter. He won two Gold Gloves in his career and ended his playing days with a sparkling .980 fielding percentage–sixteen points above league average.
Signed as an amateur by the Phillies in 1965, Bowa didn’t make his Major League debut until 1970. Not one to sit and learn on the bench, Larry was a regular once the gate to the Majors was opened to him. As a rookie with the 1970 Phillies, Bowa stole 24 bases and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. Always ready and willing to take the extra base, Bowa tied for the most steals by a National League shortstop in 1971. The scrappy shortstop banged out 162 base hits–a number he would eclipse four times in his career.
Bowa led the NL in triples and sacrifices in 1972. Although he never set the league afire with healthy slugging averages or on-base percentages, Bowa was a valuable player given his defensive excellence. Larry won his first Gold Glove in 1972 when he led shortstops with a .987 fielding percentage. Over the course of his career, Bowa led shortstops in fielding percentage six times. His .980 career mark is the seventh highest mark of all-time and his 6,857 career assists rests ninth on the all-time list
His 1973 season was lost to injury and ineffective play but he was able to return to form in 1974. Named to his first All-Star team that year (Larry would make five All-Star squads), Bowa led Major League shortstops in runs scored and base hits. The following year, Larry was the only .300 hitting shortstop in the Major Leagues. An All-Star again in ’75, Larry paced NL shortstops in runs scored.
The Phillies had built a solid club by the mid 1970s and became fixtures in the postseason of the late 1970s. His first postseason action came in 1976 and Philadelphia repeated as NL East champs again in 1977. Larry scored 93 runs for the Phillies in ’77 but the Dodgers beat them in the NLCS. The Phillies won the NL East flag for the third year in a row in 1978 but again were denied a trip to the World Series when they dropped the NLCS to the Dodgers. Bowa, who struggled mightily in both the 1976 and ’77 NLCSs, hit .333 in the 1978 NLCS.
Bowa was named to his final All-Star team in 1979 but the Pirates won the NL East flag that year. He’d get his fourth try at postseason play in 1980. That year the Phillies were finally able to reach the World Series when they defeated the Astros of Ryan and Niekro. Bowa hit .316 in the NLCS and was even better against Royals pitchers in the World Series. He hit .375 in the Fall Classic as the Phillies won the World Series.
Larry raised his batting average to .283 in the strike shortened 1981 campaign. Before the 1982 season, he was involved in one of baseball’s most lopsided trades when he was dealt with a youngster to the Cubs for shortstop Ivan DeJesus. Although Bowa’s better years were behind him, the youngster that shared a train ticket to Chicago with him was none other than Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. The Cubs would win the 1984 NL East flag in ’84–Bowa’s last year as a regular–but were defeated by the Padres in the NLCS. The next year he lost his job to Shawon Dunston and ended his playing days. Two years later he was managing at the Major League level with the Padres.
G 2,247/R 987/H 2,191/2B 262/3B 99/HR 15/RBI 525/SB 318/BB 474/SO 569/BA .260/SA .320/OBP .300