Club should have pulled trigger earlier

Larry Bowa wasn't going to be the manager of the Phillies next year. He wasn't even going to be the manager of the Phillies next week.

When this team's season unraveled in the disaster of a 1-9 homestand in mid-August, that part was obvious. The question wasn't "if." The question was only "when."

"When" wasn't supposed to arrive with two games left in the Phillies' most disappointing season in a decade, of course. But Bowa forced his general manager's hand Saturday afternoon and essentially fired himself.

That, however, is something he'd done long ago. Oh, Bowa tried his best this year to lighten up. But he couldn't turn himself into Bobby Cox or Ron Gardenhire if he practiced for 50 years. His idea of fun was 162-0. So it was no coincidence that his team might have had less fun than any club in baseball.

His team was built to win and picked to win. But his team played uptight. For a manager who was uptight. And that, too, was no coincidence.

You could count his supporters in the Phillies' clubhouse on one hand -- and you would have had plenty of spare fingers when you were through. Once that finally became clear to the men who run the Phillies -- even the men who wanted to keep standing in Bowa's corner -- they didn't have much choice but to do what they did Saturday.

What they could have done, and should have done, was make that choice weeks ago. Their players were all but renting billboard space to urge them to fire the manager. They were in revolt and free fall. And, with two months to go, there was still time to salvage a critical season in the life of the franchise.

That's a combination of circumstances that will get nine out of 10 managers fired -- any team, any town, any season. But Larry Bowa was such a popular guy in a town that can't forget the only World Series its team ever won, the GM (Ed Wade) and the team president (David Montgomery) couldn't bring themselves to pull that particular trigger. Not yet.

Sooner or later, they were going to have no choice. The Phillies have so many dollars committed to so many players for so many years, most of these players aren't going anywhere. The only option was to try a different approach, and to see if that could turn around the most underachieving team of 2004.

It appears they have no one in particular in mind to succeed Bowa. It will be someone who has won -- in some way, shape or form -- and someone with a very different personality from the guy he replaced.

You will hear Charlie Manuel's name. You will hear Grady Little's name. You will hear Mike Hargrove's name. You will hear the names of several men who have worn a Phillies cap before. After all the fingernails Wade chomped off agonizing over whether to fire the last ex-Phillie he hired, he clearly will be tempted not to hire another ex-Phillie.

Larry Bowa left his mark on his old team as a player. And he left his mark on his old team as a manager.

He raised the bar of expectations for a franchise that had almost come to accept losing as its fated lot in life. At least he knows that the team he left behind understands it can't do that anymore. He should take more comfort in that than in anything else he accomplished in his four seasons.

It has been so long since a tough-guy manager won a World Series with any team, and it's time to wonder whether Bowa's old-school approach works in a new-school age on new-school players. So there is one thing we can expect from whoever manages the Phillies next: He might not be a graduate of that new school, but he'll know where to find the schoolyard.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.