My Top 3 Larry Bowa Moments

I was an outsider.

A malcontent.

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.

Larry Bowa
1980 World Series

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.

BowahitOnce 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.

Larry Bowa hitsIn 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.

Larry Bowa Jersey
My Larry Bowa jersey.

 

What are your favorite memories of your favorite players?

You Forgot How Good J.R. Richard Was

In December of 1979 the Houston Astros made Nolan Ryan the first million-dollar man history. Ryan won 324 games, threw 7 no-hitters and would lead his league in strikeouts eleven times en route to amassing more strikeouts than any other pitcher who ever player. But in 1980 he wasn’t even the best pitcher on his own team.

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in 1980, Richard and Ryan gave the Astros both reigning strikeout champs.

That honor belonged to James Rodney Richard. He stood 6 foot 8 inches tall and regularly hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball. If that wasn’t enough, he also possessed one of the league’s most devastating sliders. As a senior in high school, he allowed ZERO runs and was selected in the first round of the draft by the Astros in 1969. The 1971 Astros Media guide listed him as a “giant youngster who has an overpowering fast ball, but who obviously lacks control.”

J.R. Richard made his debut against Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants in September of 1971. Apparently he wasn’t intimidated as he threw a complete game shutout and struck out 15, including Mays three times.

As his career progressed, control was still an issue. He led the league in walks three times and set a major league record in 1979 by throwing six wild pitches in an April 10th game against the Dodgers. He also struck out 13 Dodgers that day, allowing just six hits in a complete game 2-1 win.

From 1976 through 1979, he was one of the top pitchers in the National League, amassing a 74-51 record with 1,044 strikeouts in 1,125 and two-thirds innings and a 2.89 ERA. Only Steve Carlton won more games during that four year period in the N.L.

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Richard was dominant in 1980

In 1980, he was even better. Richard got the nod on Opening Day against the Dodgers and was perfect through six and a third innings before Rudy Law singled in the seventh. J.R. went eight and struck out 13 before giving way to Joe Sambito who earned his first save.

“It was coming out of a cannon,” said Law. “I’ve never faced anybody who can throw the ball like that, it was unbelievable. He’s one of the greatest pitchers in the major leagues. I don’t look forward to facing too many more like him.”

What made his Opening Day start different was that the 98 MPH fastball and the 13 strikeouts went with zero walks, something he was able to do just three times in 1979. To begin the season that way was a big boost for him.

“I think this was the best night I’ve had since I was in the major leagues,” said Richard. “Just getting the ball over the plate was my secret.”

On April 19th, more than 50,000 fans packed the Astrodome to watch Richard outduel Bob Welch in a 2-0 Astros win. Two starts later, Richard beat Tom Seaver 5-1 in Cincinnati to run his record to a perfect 4-0. But the undefeated record doesn’t pay justice to how dominant he was. In 37 and two-thirds innings, the big right hander surrendered just 13 hits while striking out 48 and recording a 1.67 ERA. Perhaps most impressive was the paltry .104 batting average the National League posted against him. The dominance continued through May and June and at the All-Star break his record stood at 10-4 with a 1.96 E.R.A.

1980 was shaping up to be his finest season. But Richard had also been plagued by health problems all year. He left his April 14th start against Atlanta with shoulder stiffness. The same issue kept him from finishing his April 25th start against the Mets. He left his June 17th start against Chicago due to a “dead arm.” Forearm trouble chased him early from his July 3rd start against the Braves. Obviously, something was wrong.

A Sporting News article on Richard’s situation trumpeted, “Houston has own JR Mystery,” a play on the “Who shot JR?” mystery of the popular TV show, Dallas.

In the Sporting News piece, Harry Shattuck wrote, “Pardon us Dallasites, but our JR saga may be as intriguing as yours… and Houston’s JR is real. Hard to believe, perhaps, but real”

On July 11th while the Astros were in Los Angeles, Richard was examined by renowned surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe who didn’t find anything wrong. On the morning of July 14th, Richard called Astros team doctor Harold Brelsford and told him he was ready to go that night against the Braves but on the mound he had trouble seeing the signs from the catcher. He lasted just three and a third before leaving with what the Astros called an upset stomach.

The fans and Astros General Manager Tal Smith were growing impatient and the rumors and accusations began to swirl. J.R. was accused of everything from being jealous of Ryan’s $1 million contract to just being lazy.

After the July 14th start, Richard was placed on the disabled list and underwent a series of tests at Methodist Hospital in Houston which uncovered arterial blockage in his right arm. The blockage was not considered serious however and no surgery was recommended.

Richard was released from the hospital and cleared for supervised workouts on July 26th. Four days later, during a workout at the Astrodome, he collapsed in the outfield. He was rushed to Methodist Hospital where tests revealed he had suffered a stroke. Apologies rained down from media members who had criticized Richard for asking out of games.

Richard being put into an ambulance after his stroke
Richard being put into an ambulance after his stroke

“Guilt has seized a lot of people in this town who believed in the weeks before his problem was diagnosed,…that Richard was playing his own kind of game.” wrote columnist Mickey Herskowitz of The Houston Post on August 3rd.

“Some wrote or said as much, and if anyone expressed any sympathy, or offered him the benefit of the doubt, no real notice was paid…. Our concern and shock were mixed with embarrassment and we ought to admit it.”

Richard never pitched in the big leagues again.