Bowa talks shop at SABR Awards Luncheon
Society for American Baseball Research names 2013's winners
PHILADELPHIA -- The halls of the downtown Marriott were buzzing with scholarly anticipation Friday, when the Society for American Baseball Research held its annual awards luncheon. Here, if nowhere else, credit was earned for the hours of painstaking research that go into rewriting history.
SABR has always been a community that appreciates obscure knowledge, and it's a true cooperative in that many of the researchers build on the work done by their peers before them. Here, in this room, approval of your work is not just a compliment, but a bridge to the next research project.
Friday's luncheon, the centerpiece of SABR's annual convention, crowned new winners of some of the most coveted prizes in the baseball research community, but more importantly, it fused everyone together toward a common goal: the objective search for truth in baseball history and statistics.
John Thorn, Major League Baseball's official historian, was part of this august body of researchers on Friday, but the entertainment came from outside the SABR family. First, there was an updated performance of Casey at the Bat, and then there was a conversation with a local legend.
Larry Bowa, former shortstop and manager of the Phillies, engaged in an extended public conversation with MLB.com's Barry Bloom, who had previously authored two books on the fiery infielder. Bloom guided Bowa through some of his most famous stories, drawing laughter from the audience.
One anecdote, which predated Bowa's Major League career, came when then-Phillies general manager Paul Owens sent an area scout to get a look at the slick-fielding shortstop. There was only one problem: Bowa was in a cantankerous mood and wound up getting ejected from both ends of a doubleheader.
"The first game of the doubleheader, I think I got kicked out in the third inning," Bowa said. "The second game, I think I got kicked out in either the first or the second inning. So Paul Owens called [the scout] and said, 'How did he do?' And he said: 'I have no idea. I didn't get to see him play.'"
That was the bad side of Bowa's personality coming out, but his excesses fueled his considerable strengths. Bowa got wherever he was going on the strength of his tenacity and his willingness to stand up to anybody and anything, a trait that helped him early on in his Phillies career.
The way Bowa tells it, he wasn't going to cede ground to anyone -- not even a future Hall of Famer named Michael Jack Schmidt. Schmidt and Bowa first collided in Spring Training with the Phillies in 1972, and Bowa didn't take long to judge the lofty Draft pick's skills at shortstop.
"I always played with a chip on my shoulder. I was small. Nobody wanted me," Bowa said. "I was taking ground balls, and out of the corner of my eyes I see somebody getting ready to take ground balls. It was Mike, and he said, 'Do you mind if I take some ground balls?'"
"I said, 'No, go ahead.' We were alternating. He'd tell you this story. After about five minutes, he was taking grounders and I was taking grounders and I said, 'You know, it would be better if you took some at third, because I don't think you're going to play here. I plan on playing here for a while.'"
Bowa did exactly that, playing in Philadelphia from 1970-1981 and winning a World Series in '80. Bowa even gets laughs about the tail end of his career. The five-time All-Star was dealt to the Cubs in '82 at age 36, and Ryne Sandberg was thrown in the deal with him.
"That's a big joke with Ryne and I," said Bowa of the trade, which netted Ivan De Jesus for the Phillies. "We go out to dinner a lot, and he'll say, 'Are you getting this tab?' And I'll say: 'What are you talking about? You're a Hall of Famer.' And he'll go, 'Yeah, but I was the throw-in."
Bowa later went on to manage the Padres and Phillies, and he's worked on the staffs of top managers like Joe Torre and Lou Piniella. He takes pride in helping to tutor a young Robinson Cano and said Friday that he played with three Hall of Famers: Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Pete Rose.
There is no animus against today's players from Bowa, but it's not all admiration, either. Bowa readily acknowledges that current big leaguers are phenomenally talented, but he thinks they focus too much on hitting to a point where their fundamentals wane on the basepaths and on defense.
But that's neither here nor there. Bowa isn't much into statistics, but he beams with pride when acknowledging that he finished with more than 2,000 hits despite being a lightly regarded offensive talent. Bottom line, for Bowa and many men like him, is being in position to win it all.
"There's only one thing that stands out, and that's winning the World Series," said Bowa of his career highlights. "The Trade Deadline just passed and you see guys on a fourth- or fifth-place team that say, 'I don't know if I want to go to that team.' I still to this day can't understand why a guy wouldn't want to go to a team that has a chance to win the World Series. To me, that's the ultimate.
"You can make all the money in the world. You can be happy in a certain town. But to me, chasing that ring is the ultimate, and that's something you can always hang your hat on. As many players as I've played with, you make relationships, but there's a special bond on a team that wins the World Series."
Bowa and Bloom entertained the audience for nearly an hour, and then the luncheon got down to business. Longtime scout and executive Roland Hemond announced the winner of an award named in his honor, but the awardee, Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan, wasn't in attendance.
Grace Olson, a middle school student in La Crosse, Wis., won the Lee Allen History of Baseball Award for an exhibit she created about The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Lyle Spatz won the Ron Gabriel Award for the best original research on the Brooklyn Dodgers, an honor he also took last year. When it came time to distribute the Henry Chadwick Award, an honor named after a 19th century sportswriter, Thorn got to hear his own name called.
"I'm delighted to receive the Chadwick Award," Thorn said. "Henry Chadwick liked to be called -- though he probably wasn't -- the father of baseball. I like to think that if I'm not an uncle or a brother or a grand nephew, at least I'm in the long line. Nothing could please me more than receiving this award before my colleagues. As you know, so many of my projects have tapped into the specialized interests of SABR members. It's been a singular pleasure of my life to have worked with so many of you, and it's strictly unfair for it all to come to this, with me taking this home while the rest of you get nothing."
The most coveted award of all, the Bob Davids Award, went to a man with a long and deep history with the SABR community. Dick Beverage, who spent six years as the president of SABR, was feted for contributions to the research community that reflect the integrity of Davids, the organization's founder.
"I am bewitched, bothered and bewildered," Beverage said. "Some of the best people I've ever met in my life are in this room. ... Thank you mightily. I am deeply honored. I can't believe it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.