On Oct. 2, 2004, Larry Bowa was asked to vacate his managerial job in Philadelphia. That request came from the Phillies. On the surface, he was furious, but he also knew that one day he would return to the team because his blood was not red just for biological reasons. His chair at the ballpark was occupied by Charlie Manuel, a man with a crude southern drawl who several years earlier had been fired by the Cleveland Indians. Could these two men possibly become best of friends one day and make Phillies fans crazy about them in an entirely different way?

Apologies to the opening of the hit 1970s sitcom The Odd Couple, starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall

Charlie Manuel concedes he did not see this coming. He always liked and respected Larry Bowa, but his opinion from afar was that the former undersized big-league shortstop was “a banty rooster,” a feisty sort who might be difficult to hang around. There was some truth to that. Bowa’s hard-driving style was his biggest attribute as a player and perhaps his greatest downfall as a manager.

Bowa was replaced by Manuel because the Virginia native with a keen eye for hitting was considered more player-friendly, and far less likely to strike a nerve or 20 during a 162-game season. There was some truth to that, too, but hidden beneath Manuel’s avuncular exterior was a man every bit as passionate and driven to succeed as Larry Bowa.

Former Phillies managers Charlie Manuel, left, and Larry Bowa have forged a special relationship over the last couple of seasons.
JOSE F. MORENO
Former Phillies managers Charlie Manuel, left, and Larry Bowa have forged a special relationship over the last couple of seasons.

Both men were tremendous overachievers, and after long and distinguished careers on the field and in the dugout, they were paired together last season as special advisers to general manager Matt Klentak.

A magical friendship has ensued, and thanks to a game created by Ellen DeGeneres, it is often on public display between innings at Citizens Bank Park.

“Obviously, the relationship has definitely grown,” Bowa said. “I always respected Charlie as a baseball guy. When we hired him in 2003 as an adviser, I thought he was great for the organization and he had some great ideas when you sat down and talked to him. But our relationship at that time was more business-like.”

And it remained that way for a long, long time.

Bowa left to coach with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers under Joe Torre. Manuel endured a rocky start to his career in the dugout with the Phillies before emerging as the winningest manager in club history and also claiming five division titles, two National League pennants, and the 2008 World Series. The two NLCS victories came against Bowa’s Dodgers, a point the two discuss on occasion.

“He always reminds me that he screwed me out of some money,” Bowa said.

Bowa said his respect for Manuel as a manager grew as he watched him work from the opposing dugout.

“I knew he was a good baseball guy,” Bowa said. “He got that bad rap when he first came to the Phillies because you listen to him talk and he has that Virginia drawl and people at first had trouble with that. But then they fell in love with him. He’s just fun to be around, and he is really funny. I don’t know if people realize how smart he is, either. He is very smart about investments and real estate and cars.

“As a coach, you’re always watching the opposing manager and wondering why they did something. I can’t really think of a bad move he made [against the Dodgers] and obviously he came out on top twice to move on to the World Series.”

Since moving into their current roles, Manuel and Bowa have discovered that they are a lot more alike than they could have imagined, and it actually makes perfect sense. Bowa is 73. Manuel is 75. Each has worked in professional baseball for more than a half-century.

“We came from the same era of baseball,” Manuel said. “We love to hash over the game and project what guys are going to do. We just have a lot of fun talking about baseball.”

We came from the same era of baseball. We love to hash over the game and project what guys are going to do. We just have a lot of fun talking about baseball.
Charlie Manuel on Larry Bowa and their relationship

Bowa said Manuel is the better storyteller. He especially loves the tales from Japan, where Manuel spent the final six seasons of his professional playing career, hit 189 home runs and earned the nickname Aka-Oni, the Red Devil.

“Those are funny stories,” Bowa said.

One example: “My manager used to tell me if I thought I was going to hit into a double play just to strike out,” Manuel said.

In addition to spending all of spring training with the big-league club, Bowa and Manuel drive together to minor-league ballparks during the season, dress in uniform and mentor the Phillies’ farmhands. Bowa is the glove man, a genius at teaching infield defense. Manuel is the hitting guru.

“I watch a guy play infield and it pops into my head that Bo could really help him,” Manuel said.

“When I watch hitters, I think about the things Charlie says and I’m like, ‘Wow, you’re right about that guy,’ ” Bowa said. “The things he brings up are really intelligent.”

Since they managed a lot of the same players with the Phillies, that subject often arises as well.

“Charlie has told me a few times that with a couple of more players I could have won a World Series,” Bowa said. “We’ve talked about [Jim] Thome. I said, ‘You had to be careful when you raised your voice to him because Jim’s eyes got real big.’ Charlie said, ‘His eyes got real big a lot when I was with him.’ We talked about having to take Jimmy [Rollins] out of games for not running. We’d compare notes on a lot of players, and we definitely had a lot of the same thoughts. We are old-school.”

Larry Bowa shaking hands with Bryce Harper as Charlie Manuel observed batting practice ahead of a May game at Citizens Bank Park.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Larry Bowa shaking hands with Bryce Harper as Charlie Manuel observed batting practice ahead of a May game at Citizens Bank Park.

Games they play

Back in the present day, the Phillies’ odd couple is challenged to think alike in a couple of games that are broadcast on the giant scoreboard out in left field at Citizens Bank Park throughout the season. One game is Heads Up!, the charades-like challenge in which one player gives clues and another attempts to guess the word on the iPhone screen.

Manuel and Bowa also participate, and they are by far the most entertaining pair. Recently, Bowa returned to his seat after a trip to the restroom and found fellow front-office workers Chris Cashman and Scott Proefrock drowning in laughter.

“I asked them what was so funny and they said, ‘You and Charlie,’ ” Bowa said. “I had not seen this one yet, but I was giving Charlie the clues and the word was Cleveland Indians. I’m like, ‘You coached there. Manny Ramirez. Jim Thome.’ We didn’t get it.”

Reminded of their failure, Manuel erupted in laughter.

“Total blank, total blank,” Manuel said. “It was kind of embarrassing. I didn’t even want to see it really.”

He will have to see it again before the season is over, but that’s OK. It’s all part of the charm of Charlie Manuel, who has discovered a new best friend in Larry Bowa.

“I know I’ve got this Southern drawl, but I’m pretty funny with my one-liners,” Manuel said. “Some funny things come out of my head. And Bo is the same way. The real Larry Bowa is a funny guy, and when we get together, some funny stuff pops out.”

And so do a lot of serious things. The subject is always baseball.