Underdog to All-Star: Bowa discusses his career

July 9th, 2016

Larry Bowa was an overachiever. He was cut from his high school baseball team. He was undrafted. However, the late Eddie Bockman saw Bowa play and liked what he saw so much that he took his own video and drove to Los Angeles, where the 1965 World Series was being played. Using a bed sheet for a screen on the hotel room wall, Bockman showed Phillies general manager Paul Owens the kid he wanted to sign.
Nobody -- including Bockman -- could ever have imagined the success Bowa would eventually enjoy in the big leagues. He spent 16 years in the Majors and was a five-time National League All-Star.
With this year's All-Star Game coming up on Tuesday night, Bowa is featured in this week's Q&A:
MLB.com: Not the strongest amateur resume for a potential big leaguer?
Bowa: I didn't make my high school team. I got cut every year, so I was playing the summer league. Then the junior college coach came out and saw me playing in the summer league. He said, "Will you come out for the junior college team?" I said, "I couldn't even make my high school team." He says, "I'm going to give you an opportunity to play." I went out and I made it, and I was All-Conference two years in a row, and that's where Eddie Bockman saw me.
MLB.com: Was Bockman sold on you as a Major Leaguer?
Bowa: He told Paul Owens, "This guy can run and throw." He said, "I don't know if he's going to hit. He can field." He says, "Worse scenario is he's an organization guy. You keep him in the big leagues -- I mean you keep him in the organization as a coach at the end or a manager of the team, but I think it's worth a gamble." That's how it started, basically.
MLB.com: Then he showed Owens the homemade movie?
Bowa: Pope (Owens' nickname) said, "Man, this guy really runs fast." Eddie said, "Oh, he can run. He can do everything, but I don't know if he's going to hit." They signed me. My first four years at (Class) A and Double-A, I hit right-handed. I had made the (big league) team in 1969. Bob Skinner was the manager. He called me in and he says, "Here's the option." He says, "You can make this team this year as a utility player, or you can go to Eugene, Oregon, learn how to switch-hit, and there's a chance you could be an everyday player." I said, "I don't want to be a utility player."
I went to Eugene, Oregon. Literally had to learn how to switch-hit at Triple-A. I think I ended up hitting .270 or something. Then, I went to instructional league the next year and kept hitting left-handed. Then, 1970 was my first year in the big leagues. I basically had to learn how to hit left-handed at the big-league level. If I had one regret, I wish my dad would have taught me to switch-hit when I was in Little League, not wait so long.
[My dad] played pro ball, he managed Triple-A. He played as high as Triple-A, so I was around a bat and ball since I was 5 or 6 years old. He was always in the house, and he was there for me, taking me out. He worked three jobs, and on weekends, he'd take me out to Land Park, which is in Sacramento, and he'd hit me grounders and teach me how to bunt. He says, "You're never going to be a power hitter. You got to do all the little things." I look back at all that and all that work it really paid off.
MLB.com: And from that beginning comes an All-Star shortstop?
Bowa: Yeah. It was unbelievable, because I had just thought, "If I can get a day in the big leagues." Then I said a month. Then I said a year. To start in those three All-Star Games -- and to have actually one of them played in Philly in '76, it was a tremendous honor. That first one, I walk in the clubhouse, and it's "Oh my God. What am I doing here?" You see all those stars that you actually watched on TV when you were in the Minor Leagues.
MLB.com: And your All-Star highlight?
Bowa: It was like, "Man there's no way I'm here." Almost like, "Let me pinch myself." I look around and I'm going, "Eh, I don't hit any home runs, what am I doing in this locker room?"
I had to do all that stuff, because I knew if I didn't move a runner, I knew if there was a hit-and-run on and I swung through the pitch, I knew if I went out for cutoff and missed it, I knew there's a chance I'd be in the Minor Leagues. Even making five All-Star teams, I went to Spring Training thinking someone's going to take my job. Not that I didn't believe in my ability, but I knew that people coming up knew that I didn't hit home runs, and they'd say, "I can take this guys job." I had to do all those little things.
MLB.com: You never figured you had it made?
Bowa: My approach was, "They're looking for somebody to hit 20 home runs and maybe run a little bit faster." I stole like [318] some bases, but most of my bases I stole, they weren't with a score of 6-1 -- they meant something. I had to learn how to steal bases. I knew I could run, but I had to learn how to read pitchers. We didn't have the information they have now.