Here's what used to be an unpopular confession: I loathe the (non-Cronenberg) movie Crash.
I loathe it in large part due to its frustratingly simple vision of how racism works. I loathe it also because it is schmaltzy and convenient and puts all of its solutions into the bucket of "just gettin' along." I have some serious ideological problems with this Academy Award winning film.
But I also have one big formal problem with Crash: I don't buy or like it's philosophy of connection. In LA, the movie presupposes, everyone's moving so quickly and in such isolation that folks need to crash into each other just to feel. And thus, from philosophical platitude, we get formal constraint, as the film forces its characters into more and more unbelievably coincidental connections that I guess are supposed to be meaningful. It doesn't work for me.
Probably, if his recent "Sandberg, Bowa not such an odd couple" article is any indication, Paul Hagen has a different take on coincidence as formal or conceptual glue. Let's dig into his work to get a second opinion.
At first glance, they go together like a pair of mismatched socks.
Strong start, as it forces me to imagine two humans as anthropomorphized socks, which totally makes for a clear and easily perceptible image.
One is quiet, studied, introspective. The other is brash, shoots from the lip and displays his emotions like a blinking neon sign in Times Square. They were born 14 years apart.
I'm not totally clear on this, but I think we are still talking about socks. And Times Square. And Western cliches. But, like, socks. You're there with me, I'm sure.
"I think sometimes opposites might attract," said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg.
Hmmm...pretty interesting philosophical point. Especially coming from a talking sock.
"They say opposites do attract," said Larry Bowa, his new bench coach.
Whoa, a reworded (and I'm sure totally unprompted!) version of the same basic maxim, just from the other talking sock that seemingly isn't the same as the first sock.
This is getting deep.
They've known each other for almost 35 years.
Hah, uhh...wait a minute. Are we to believe that a pair of socks has lasted for 35 years? I, heh, I would love to see this magical pair of socks, Paul Hagen. This dryer-resistent, tear-denying, style-immortal pair of uber-socks, and-
*Is handed a dictionary of literary terms opened to "A"*
...ah, I see. Hagen is not actually talking about literal or figurative socks. He was using what's called an
allegory analogy, which, if I'm to understand correctly, involves a comparison between two things meant to illuminate differing qualities of both by way of shared linguistic proximity.
Now, I don't want to get ahead of myself, but if this all is true...then that was a terrible fucking analogy.
Sandberg replaced Charlie Manuel as manager of the Phils last August. At the end of the season, he lobbied to have Bowa on his coaching staff. Outwardly, it seems like an odd pairing.
Hm. That seems vague. Can I have an example as to what you might mean by that?
Oil and water.
Ohh, yeah, those two things won't mix and constantly go back to their original forms. That makes sense.
Fire and ice.
Wait. These two things destroy and consume each other. This is different. I'm confused again, Paul Hagen. Will Sandberg and Bowa not mesh, or will they murder each other? This seems like an important distinction that I'm hazy on.
But look closer. Beneath their very different surfaces, they just might be more alike than you'd suspect.
"Follow me, Paul Hagen, as I murder, skin, and disembowel Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa. You'll see: these two were literally and metaphysically cut from the same cloth."
Both men agree that the seed to the union was planted late in the 1981 season.
So we're all on the same page, you agree that these two dudes are together, right? I mean, that's what this means, right? A union of loving partners, yeah? Because that's beautiful.
Sandberg was a September callup from Triple-A Oklahoma City. Bowa was Philadelphia's shortstop, in his 12th big league season, 35 years old, nearing the end of his career. Since they played the same position at the time, the rookie was trying to take the veteran's job.
Oh, so this is what you mean? This is sounding like a stormy romance. Our own Liz Roscher should probably review this for the site, as I don't know if I can wait to see how it turns out!
Bowa was fielding pregame grounders. Sandberg, not wanting to overstep any invisible boundaries, lingered in shallow left field.
"But soon, Larry would show me that some boundaries...are meant to be crossed."
Those Phillies, defending World Series champions and already assured of returning to the playoffs, were known as a crusty bunch that didn't much care for younger players. So Sandberg was a little surprised when Bowa turned and waved him in to join him.
"Hey Rook; I saw you taking grounders. Maybe I can...help with your form?"
Okay, for real, stop me when this doesn't sound like an erotically charged first meeting between two future lovers. Because I don't want to seem like I'm belittling gay romance by saying that this article sounds like it: I just have a hard time reading it as anything else.
"I could sense there was somebody behind me. But I didn't hear him say anything and he didn't jump in," Bowa said. "So I just stopped and said, 'Hey, you want to take some with me?'
Joke interpretation not needed.
He said, 'I didn't want to interrupt your routine.' I said, 'No, come on, [we'll take] every other one or something.' That was the first time I got to go one-on-one with him a little bit."
Later, in the more well-dog-eared sections of the book, we see them go one-on-one a second, third, and fourth time.
Said Sandberg: "I think I was respectful to the older players. That's part of the reason for being quiet as a younger player. I felt like it was the right thing to do."
Bowa wasn't threatened by the kid.
Aw, romance novel seemingly over.
I do like how Bowa isn't threatened by a kid who went 293/352/397 in AAA, while Bowa struggled to a 283/331/339 line as a 36 year old. Larry, friend, that is a reasonable time to be worried.
By that time, there were a whole lot of guys trying to take my job," Bowa said with a laugh. "It wasn't like, 'Oh, gosh, I'm not letting him take these [grounders], because if they see him catch balls, I'm out of here.'
Larry Bowa To Me: Drop Dead
I always tried to help the young guys. When I got called up, Bobby Wine and Ruben Amaro and Cookie Rojas all helped me.
Hm...an Amaro. Now it's turning into one of those more typically Phillies-esque incestuous romances that kind of make me queasy.
"I never got called up before the season ended. When I started Spring Training, I made the team and that was it. So, obviously, it had to be an uneasy feeling for him
I dare you to find the logic in this sentence. Larry Bowa never had a September callup, and Ryne Sandberg did, so it must be a weird situation for...Sandberg? Why would that not be uneasy for the guy whose job this young prospect is about to take?
I guess I just don't get baseball. Or love.
especially for him to be around a team that had been as successful as us in that period of time. So it was just sort of a natural thing between us. We clicked right away."
I give up. If there's a Bowa translator in the house, please let me know.
Even before that, there was something that drew them together.
Romance back on!
In the Minor Leagues, Sandberg used a Bowa-model glove.
Wait, so they wear the same glove? How are they mismatched socks again?
Then, when he got his first big league hit -- a single to right against Cubs right-hander Mike Krukow on Sept. 27, 1981, at Wrigley Field -- he was using a bat borrowed from Bowa. Sandberg still has it.
Not because, you know, you keep a souvenir of your first big league hit ever. No, Sandberg kept it cause Bowa. Cause connection. Cause FATE.
Soon enough, fate provided an opportunity for them to become even closer.
Stop trying to make this romance novel happen, Paul Hagen, and go out there and create your own!
Your own novel. Your own romance, too, if need be. Be happy, Paul Hagen...spread your wings!
Bowa might have played for the Phillies his entire career. But at the end of that 1981 season, something almost unthinkable happened. The Carpenter family, which had overseen the rebuilding of the franchise into a National League powerhouse, decided to sell.
Oh no! A terrible plot twist for our burgeoning couple!
A group headed by Bill Giles purchased the club. Bowa thought he had a verbal promise from the previous ownership for a contract extension. The new group didn't feel bound to take on an unwritten obligation. The spat spilled into the newspapers. Sides were taken.
Far be it for me to celebrate Bill Giles, but I think denying a "verbal promise" of a contract extension to a shortstop in decline is a fairly serious no brainer.
Actually, I would have loved to see how the meeting where Bowa strenuously assures Bill Giles that he had a contract, just, just, a verbal one with the Carpenters, and if he'd just believe him...!
Still, Bowa had the right to nix any trade and wasn't thrilled with the idea of moving on. He resolved to hunker down and play through his unhappiness.
Pretty good conflict here. I'm worried about Bowa and Sandberg's relationship, but I'm also worried about Bowa. He has to love himself and where he's at before he loves anyone else, you know what I mean?
At the same time, manager Dallas Green left the Phils to run the Cubs' baseball operation. He called Bowa. Would he come to Chicago if a trade could be arranged? Bowa said he would. Several days later, it was done. Shortstop Ivan DeJesus was traded to Philadelphia for Bowa ... and Sandberg.
!!! The worst trade in the history of the franchise has been debunked, people! Sandberg came out of loyalty and a sense of something more. He showed up to Wrigley Field with a boombox playing Phil Collins and just totally surprised the shit out of Bowa. Oh my god, it's so beautiful.
One of the first things Bowa did after the trade was to call Sandberg and ask when he was planning to report to Spring Training.
When pitchers and catchers report, around Feb. 15, he was told.
"I said, 'Are you kidding me? You're going into big league camp with a new team. Meet me down there February 1, and you and I will work every day turning double plays.' Because we thought he was going to play second at that time," Bowa remembered.
"You garbage person! You don't show up for camp on time, dum-dum! Show up fifteen days earlier, and then, and only then, you'll make the team!"
"And we went down there and we just turned double play after double play after double play."
Said Sandberg: "That's really when [the relationship] went to a different level. That first spring, he took me under his wing and stood up for me."
Okay, for real...am I on hidden camera? Did I get assigned to FJM a LGBT love story fanfic about the manager and the bench coach of the Phillies? Am I being pranked?
Hello? ...pfffahahaha double plays.
As it turned out, Sandberg played most of that season at third base, only moving to second for the final month. Nevertheless, he and Bowa spent a lot of time together.
Sandberg just getting super jealous at the repoire Bowa has with the 2nd baseman. Being real quiet and not going to the Cubby Bear after the game. Bowa noticing, but not wanting to rock the boat with his new team.
People, we're in the fourth act.
"In those early years, we'd go to pregame lunches together," Sandberg said. "And it was all about baseball. It was about who was pitching that day, what our approach was going to be, what we needed to do differently, whether it was individually or as a team."
"Larry, I thought this lunch would be just about baseball."
"Kid, we gotta talk about us."
"Larry, please. How do we play better today than yesterday?"
"...by trusting our hearts, Kid."
After the Cubs released Bowa in August 1985, the two went their separate ways.
Bowa finished out the season with the Mets. In '87, he became the Padres' manager. The following year, he returned to the Phillies as third-base coach. Bowa left when Terry Francona was hired as manager in '97, then replaced Francona in 2001.
A faded photo of Sandberg gets progressively more folded and covered over by receipts for cigarettes, coffee, and antacids.
Sandberg, meanwhile, retired after the 1997 season. Then he largely stepped away from baseball for almost a decade before accepting a position as manager of the Class A Peoria Cubs in 2007.
Sandberg rarely saw or talked to Bowa until they reconnected a few years ago.
*placard goes up across screen*
20 YEARS LATER
Sandberg by then was managing the Phils' Triple-A affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Bowa was working for MLB Network. Bowa let it be known that if Sandberg ever got a job in the big leagues, he might be interested in getting back in uniform.
"I'll be ready for the interview in a minute, God dammit! Now where is that damn hat...oh, fine whatever, come in! You want me to be over here for the interview or...you?"
"Hey kid...long time."
What began as an idle thought became reality days after the final game last season.
FIFTH ACT, MOTHER TRUCKERS.
What, then, is the common ground that created a magnetic field around two such seemingly contrary personalities?
How do you describe a rose?
They are both overachievers. Bowa, undrafted, went on to make five All-Star teams and finished with more than 2,000 hits. Sandberg, selected in the 20th round, did even better. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. Both worked hard to accomplish what they did. Both have a fierce respect for playing the game right.
Hard working. Traditional. Gritty. No nonsense. Unflappable.
Tender. Loving. Caring.
"His work ethic was unreal," Bowa said. "Even when he was established as a player, his work ethic was exactly the same. If he didn't get his ground balls in because the tarp was out, he felt like he was incomplete before he took the field. That's how dedicated he was to the routine he had planned for himself. That was a priority for him."
"What Larry couldn't know about...were the other times I felt incomplete."
The biggest factor, though, may be that Sandberg's poker face masks a desire to win that is every bit as intense as Bowa's.
"Don't hide behind that mask, kid! You gotta show the world the man I know! You gotta let them see what I see!"
"I gravitate toward gamer-type players, guys who want to win every single day," Sandberg said.
"Opposites attract, Larry."
"We're not as different as you think, kid."
Bowa spotted that inner flame early.
Sandberg opened the 1982 season with one hit in his first 32 at-bats. In one game, he hit hard line drives in his first three at-bats, but each was right at a fielder.
Sensing Sandberg's growing frustration, Bowa tried to be supportive.
"I'm out there with you, kid, even when you don't know it. You're always on my mind, and I'm always there, damn it!"
"I said, 'Hang in there, keep swinging.' And he said, 'Bleep that. I don't want to keep swinging. I want to get a base hit.' So, he was a quiet kid, but I knew he had a little [fire] in him, too," Bowa said.
Haha, no joke here, I just really like that response.
"The one thing people have to understand is that Ryno does have a mean streak. He has that ability to mask his emotions. Obviously with all the technology now and all the cameras everywhere now, that's good for him. But I guarantee that if someone does something that doesn't rub him the right way, they will find out about it. And he won't send a third party to do it. He's very upfront. He's very honest. He tells you how he wants you to play the game."
Bowa drifted off, then, clearly transported to another place, another time. I wasn't ready to bring him back, and I watched as the corners of his eyes softened and his smile crystallized into something that was halfway between a grin and a grimace. True pleasure, they say, is not so far from pain, and if there is any perfect combination of the two, it would have to be reminiscence. Bowa was gone, back with Ryne. Back in the good old days.
When Sandberg was managing in the Cubs' system, Bowa heard he had been unhappy one night with the way his team ran the bases. After the game, Sandberg told the grounds crew to leave the ballpark lights on. Then, after the stands had emptied, he took the players back onto the field to practice hustling down the line until he was satisfied they knew what he expected.
Another thing they had in common was the senseless abuse and alienation of players.
Later, Bowa would drive to Lehigh Valley to watch Sandberg manage, and he was always impressed with how prepared and professional his teams were.
"Hey skip, who's that old head up there that keeps smilin at you?"
"Don't worry about it. Worry about your hustle!"
At the same time, Sandberg thought that if he ever got a chance to manage in the big leagues, Bowa would have a lot to offer.
It's been a long time...."
"[Bowa] knows a lot about the opposing teams as far as scouting goes," Sandberg explained. "I admired him on MLB Network. Obviously, I know how he is and his beliefs in how to play the game the right way, how to hustle, and just his overall knowledge and experience in the game. I'm still very impressed with that."
I'm so taken by this imaginary love story that I'm going to ignore every nonsense (admired him on MLB network), regressive (how to hustle), and incorrect (as far as scouting goes) statement here.
Okay, well, almost.
Now they're together again. Neither one would have it any other way.
ROLL M'FING CREDITS!
Paul Hagen, you fucking genius -- I believe in love again! Smoothies for everyone!