Sam Donnellon | Bottom line: Bowa, Manuel similar

Posted: July 03, 2007

THE SCENE: Utley Park,

formerly known as Citizens Bank Park, July 4 , 2037. A man, 50, sits with his teenaged son, awaiting the start of a day game with the Mets.

"Bought you a media guide, son.''

"Thanks, Dad. Let's see - how were the Phillies when you were my age? Hmm. Says here they won between 85 and 88 games for like 7 of 8 years. Two different managers too. Must have been the same kind of guy, Bowa and Manuel. That right, Dad?''

"Not exactly, son."

Before last night's game with the Astros, Charlie Manuel's record as the Phillies manager stood at 215 victories and 191 losses, a winning percentage of .530

After games of July 1 in his third season, Larry Bowa's cumulative record as Phillies manager was 212 victories and 191 losses, a winning percentage of .526.

It's an amazing piece of trivia at the very least, and it would seem to dilute and diminish the argument by many that a manager's strategy or approach weighs much into the overall won-lost record. If Bowa's in-game strategies were seen as a strength, his pop-the-clutch handling of players was not. Manuel's in-game moves have been a constant source of angst among fans and media critics, but the ease by which he shifts gears also has been cited as a factor in his team's climb (yet again) from an early April hole and back into the playoff hunt.

Backers of Bowa often cite all he had to overcome in his four seasons at the helm. A bad back diminished David Bell. A bad work ethic turned Kevin Millwood from an 18-game winner in Atlanta to a disappointment here.

Bowa's 2003 team, by the way, was 4 1/2 games out of first place on July 1. Manuel's team was five games out going into last night's game with the Astros. But Bowa had four starters that season who went to the post at least 32 times. Three of them - Millwood, Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers - won 14 games. The other, Randy Wolf, won 16.

Jim Thome hit 47 home runs and drove in 131, Bobby Abreu hit .300 and Placido Polanco nearly did, and Pat Burrell was about as atrocious then as he is now. Marlon Byrd hit .303, Mike Lieberthal hit .313, and you had platoon outfielders like Jason Michaels and Rickey Ledee, but not much of a bench.

The bullpen, with Jose Mesa as closer, was no lock, but clearly a better product (Mesa, Terry Adams and a young Carlos Silva all appeared in at least 60 games) than what Manuel has to maneuver through now.

The Phillies won 86 games that year, and lost the wild-card race by a game to the Astros.

Bowa was let go following another near-miss season in 2004, when the Phillies won 86 games games and made a late, fruitless surge to finish six games off the wild card. New closer Billy Wagner was shelved for the month of August, and the rotation, which sent Paul Abbott to the post 10 times due to injuries, had two arms finish with a winning record (Eric Milton, Millwood).

Manuel's mines are well-documented by now. He just finished as important a series as there is this time of year by starting three minor league arms against the division-leading Mets. With a bullpen that is already down by two closers and in need of a sports shrink for two setup men (calling Dr. Joel Fish, calling Dr. Joel Fish), the Phillies were routed in two of the four, and came within a run of a split.

So who's the better manager?

Manuel, for one solid reason.

Bowa's locker room was perceived as leaderless, the only act of togetherness a 2003 late-season rebellion against him, highlighted by Burrell's refusal to shake his hand after hitting a home run. It was a noisy bunch that year, but not a particularly together one. Or resilient.

Manuel's team has that chemistry thing going, big time. Aaron Rowand is the easily recognized and talkative heart guy, Shane Victorino a 24/7 live wire, Myers is clearly the class clown, Utley a more cerebral presence. It was interesting, though, to see what seemed to be a quick but stern tongue-lashing of Geoff Geary by Utley as the former nibbled around again on the mound last weekend, shortly before being sent down. They fall behind, this team, and it's not over. They battle.

Has Charlie created that? Probably not.

Nurtured it? Most definitely.

In the end, though, it probably equates to between 85 and 88 wins and a few games short of the playoffs. In the end, it probably equates to Charlie Manuel looking incredibly identical to Larry Bowa 30 years from now, when both are just ledgers in some kid's souvenir book. *

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