I was an outsider.
I grew up as a Phillies Phan in Reds Country in the 1970s.
Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton were my guys, but I also had an obsession with shortstop Larry Bowa. He was small and feisty and played great defense. In T-Ball, I played shortstop and wore his uniform number proudly.
When I was eight years-old, I went to Philadelphia on vacation and acquired a replica Phillies uniform. Upon my return to southwestern Ohio, I convinced my mother to put a big number 10 on the back for Bowa. I’m guessing not a lot of kids in the Cincinnati area were rocking fake Larry Bowa uniforms in the late ’70s but I definitely was. I wore that uniform to every Reds game I went to until I grew out of it. If the Reds were playing the Padres, why not wear a full Phillies uniform?
Opportunities to see Bowa and the Phillies were rare at the time but three Phillies/Reds games stand out for me, especially as it pertains to Bowa.
May 10th, 1980
This game had it all. It was a beautiful spring day and the pitching matchup featured future Hall of Famers going head-to-head. Tom Seaver started for the Reds against Steve Carlton for the Phillies. Somehow I got down to field level before the game and got to watch Carlton warm up.
Once the game began, my buddy and I were back in the upper deck and decided to take a stroll around the concourse. The announced attendance was just under 29,000 so the wisdom of walking an empty upper deck concourse escapes me but as we were walking in the top of the 5th inning I heard Riverfront Stadium P.A. announcer Paul Sommerkamp say, “Now batting, the shortsop, Larry Bowa.”
I shot up the ramp in left center just in time to see Bowa send a line drive right at us. Left fielder Dave Collins and center fielder Sam Mejias collided going after the ball and collapsed to the turf. Right fielder Hector Cruz had to come over to field the ball but he was way too late. My man, Larry Bowa, had himself an inside-the-Park homer and the Phillies led 2-0. The Reds ended up winning the game 5-2 despite Bowa’s heroics.
August 28, 1977
My second Bowa memory isn’t quite as sweet. In fact, it still haunts me. I was nine years old and my mom took me to see my Phillies. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good day if you weren’t rooting for the home nine. Phillies starter Randy Lerch gave up six runs in just an inning and a third, and by the time Bowa came up in the top of the 8th inning the score was 9-0 Cincinnati.
Bowa hit a bouncer to second and umpire Satch Davidson called him out on a close play at first. Bowa went ballistic and got tossed. Now my team was losing and Bowa had just been run. I cried. My mom did what she did to console me, as did some guys sitting near us who tried to cheer me up by assuring me that the Phillies would end up playing the Reds in the playoffs and I’d get another chance to see Bowa at Riverfont that season. Little solace at the time. Turns out they were wrong anyway. The Phillies lost in the NLCS to the Dodgers that year.
The next day in the Cincinnati Enquirer, there was a photo of Bowa yelling at Davidson. Veins were bulging in his neck and the photo perfectly captured his ire. The caption read, “Big Temper for a Little Guy.”
June 22, 1977
But my favorite Larry Bowa vs. the Reds moment came just a few months prior to his meltdown at Riverfront. In June, the Reds were in Philadelphia and it was a rare instance where the game was televised. In the days before cable TV, there were just a handful of games on and I was front and center for this one.
In the bottom of the 7th inning, the Phillies held a slim 10-9 lead in a game that had featured six home runs to that point. Tom Hume started the inning for the Reds and loaded the bases, prompting Sparky Anderson to pull him in favor of veteran Joe Hoerner. Hoerner faced Ted Sizemore and uncorked a wild pitch, which allowed Greg Luzinski to score and move everyone up 90 feet.
With a base open, Sparky opted to walk Sizemore intentionally to face Bowa. Big mistake. Acting manager Bobby Wine told Bowa to be ready for a squeeze. But he also thought the Reds may be anticipating one so he gave Bowa the green light on the first pitch. Hoerner threw a fat one right down the middle and Bowa hammered it over the boards in left for a grand slam.
Larry Bowa hit a total of 15 homers in his career and that slam came in a May game nearly 40 years ago. I remember it like it happened last night. And by the way, I still have that uniform.
What are your favorite memories of your favorite players?