Player: Larry Bowa was playing ball at Sacramento City College when he caught the attention of Philadelphia scouts and was signed as a free agent in October of 1965. Even though he went undrafted and was cut twice from his high school team, Bowa advanced all the way to AAA in his first year of pro ball.
Bowa made the team in 1970 as the Phillies starting SS and got off to a very slow start hitting under .200 for the first two months of the season. The Phils stuck with their slick fielding rookie and he improved to .250 by the end of the year. Bowa was definitely all glove as he had only 23 extra base hits and 21 walks.
The next two years Bowa hit .249 and .250, led the NL with 13 triples and won the first of two career Gold Gloves in '72. His average slipped to .211 in '73 but a resurgence in '74 helped earn his first All-Star berth. He played in all 162 contests and finished the year batting .275. He further improved in '75 batting .305/.334/.377, by far career highs in all three categories. His two homers doubled his career total to four and he continued to be a threat on the base paths with his 24 steals.
Bowa followed with .248, .280, and .294 batting averages the next three years. With most hitters, batting average doesn't show the whole picture but for Bowa it was critical. His glove and defensive consistency were top notch and he had good speed. However he did not walk much and had zero power, so when the hits didn't drop, his value did. After receiving a few stray MVP votes the past three years he finished third when he hit .294 in '78. During the '76 - '78 seasons the Phillies were bounced out of the NLCS each year, with Bowa batting .125, .118, and .333.
Bowa hit .241 in '79 season was named to his fifth and final NL All-Star team. After hitting .267 in 1980 he helped Philly finally get their elusive World Series ring by batting .326 with four steals in the postseason. The fiery Bowa's relationship soured with Philly management during the '81 season and he let it known he wanted out of town.
In January of '82 the Cubs new GM and former Phillies manager swindled his former employer by acquiring Bowa and rookie infielder Ryne Sandberg for Ivan Dejesus. Bowa for Dejesus was one thing but the coup-de-gras was netting future HOF'er Sandberg in the deal. Bowa got off to a stunningly slow start spending the first two months under the Mendoza line which led to speculation that the 36 year old was washed up. He slowly heated up and as of June 12 was hitting .212 when he went on a crazy hot streak going 14 for 20 over the next five games raising his average 40 points. He ended the year with a familiar .247 and hit .267 the following campaign.
Bowa was obviously slowing down in '84 and hit just .223 with an OPS+ of 49. His veteran leadership was credited with helping the Cubs win the NL East but Bowa went 3 for 15 in the NLCS and the Cubbies were ousted by the Padres.
Bowa lost his starting job to rookie Shawon Dunston in '85. He regained his post for a while but ended up splitting at bats three ways with Dunston and veteran Chris Speier. Bowa was vocal in his displeasure with the arrangement the Cubs cut him loose in August. He was picked up for the stretch run by the Mets but had little to offer with two hits in 19 at bats. After receiving his release he retired after 16 seasons in the majors.
Flipside: The Cubs won that game on 4/17 by eight runs. Topps sure liked single game feats but they could have mentioned Bowa hit .360 in June.
Oddball: When the Phillies were checking out Bowa in college, he was ejected from the first game of a double header. Luckily for Bowa, scout Eddie Bockman stuck around for game two and was impressed with his play.
History: Bowa at one time held the single season fielding percentage record for shortstops at .991 and retired with a .980 mark. He thrice recorded double digits in Fielding Runs above average but by his Chicago days he was below average in the field. Offensively his lifetime stat line of .260/.300/.320 is only attractive if you like round numbers. When he did find his way on base he was an asset stealing 318 bases at a 75% clip.
Bowa was back in the big leagues as a manager in '87 with the Padres. Since then he has managed the Phillies as well as coached for the Mariners, Angels, Yankees, and Mariners.