February 1, 2012
Jaffe Versus Bowa
I wasn't always a Larry Bowa fan. I grew up rooting for the Dodgers in the late 1970s, during the time of their heated rivalry with the Phillies. The two teams tangled in the 1977 and 1978 National League Championship Series, with the Dodgers winning twice and advancing to the World Series, only to meet their doom at the hands of the Yankees. That Phillies team, anchored by future Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, slugger Greg Luzinski, fireman Tug McGraw, speedster Garry Maddox and backstop Bob Boone, didn't lack for memorable players. Bowa was the slick-fielding starting shortstop, a slappy contact hitter and a fiery competitor whose visible intensity wasn't likely to gain the affection of fans of opposing teams, and in my case, it didn't. His abilities were nonetheless respected enough by the writers that he placed a strong third in the 1978 NL MVP voting in on the strength of a season in which he hit .294/.319/.370 with 192 hits but just three homers and 43 RBI. Bowa was worth a runaway career best 4.6 WARP that year, good for 23rd in the league, but still requiring some amount of narrative grease to outdo the higher rankings of teammates Schmidt, Luzinski, and Maddox, not to mention fourth-place finisher Reggie Smith (.295/.382/.559, 6.0 WARP) of the Dodgers.
Later in life, I learned to appreciate that intensity, as Bowa took up residence as the third base coach for the Yankees (2006-2007) and Dodgers (2008-2010) at the side of Joe Torre, and prodded the likes of Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp to develop better work ethics in order to unlock their tremendous potentials. So I was giddy when part of my Tuesday appearance on MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential turned out to be a "Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside" segment in which I, representing the analytic community, would go head to head with Bowa, representing the old guard, debating a half-dozen questions asked by host Brian Kenny. To the surprise of all of us — particularly Kenny — Bowa and I wound up in agreement more often than not, and we got a few laughs out of that. You can view the clip for yourself at MLB.com, or (when it becomes embeddable, which I believe lags a day behind) here:
Off camera, I had a brief chance to recount the Dodgers-Phillies rivalry of his heyday, recall watching him take cover from a thousand potentially lethal Gary Sheffield foul balls while in the Yankees third base coaching box, and to bemoan the McCourt era in Dodger history, and particularly the fact that the skinflint owner wouldn't allow the team to upgrade more aggressively during the 2009 season, when they wound up falling short in the NLCS against — who else? — the Phillies for the second year in a row.
Anyway, it was a delight to talk baseball with Bowa both on-camera and off, and to find some common ground. Friends on Twitter have suggested the two of us get our own talk show, though friend of the podcast Jorge Arangure went even further to suggest "a Jaffe/Bowa sitcom or reality show where they have to move in with each other." So long as we don't have to hang with the cast from Jersey Shore or the Real Housewives of Anywhere, I'm down with it, and if you're dying to write a spec script, I'm sure we can work something out.
As enjoyable as the segment was, I made one error for which I owe a correction. In dismissing Emlio Bonifacio as "not major league caliber" as a hitter, I revealed how little attention I paid to the 2011 Marlins. Namely, I I overlooked the fact that while logging time at six different positions, and thus being listed as the utilityman on the team's Baseball-Reference page rather than a regular, he hit .296/.360/.393 in 641 plate appearances—light years better than the .251/.306/.317 he'd hit in 923 PA prior, a performance that was about 11 runs above replacement level, but 34 runs below average. My humble apologies to all involved—Bonifacio and Kenny in particular—for the error. I'll leave it to Sam Miller to determine which error face classification applies.