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Phillies legends Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel make their pitch for TV stardom

NBC Sports Philadelphia is launching a show featuring the former Phillies managers talking about, what else, baseball.

Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel with a Center City skyline in the background.
Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel with a Center City skyline in the background.Read moreCindy Webster

Imagine trying to pitch this TV show anyplace else in the country:

So we’ve got these two guys in their mid-70s who love to talk about baseball morning, noon and night and we want to take them to a bunch of different locations around the area and let them talk about baseball morning, noon and night.

You probably have a better chance of getting a sitcom about nothing on the air, right?

Well, as of Saturday at noon the two mid-70s friends with a passion for the same baseball team officially have debuted a show called Down the Line with Charlie & Bo on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

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Charlie, of course, is Charlie Manuel, the manager of the 2008 World Series champion Phillies. He’s 77 and he has fully recovered from a health scare that had his family and friends fearing for his life 18 months ago.

You all know Bo, too. Larry Bowa is 75 and still hitting fungos and distributing educated baseball opinions as fiercely as ever.

“Charlie and I talked a little bit about doing something last year when we were upstairs watching games [at Citizens Bank Park],” Bowa said during a recent interview. “It was more of a get into some kind of lounge and have a question-and-answer session with fans, but we wanted it to go further than that. We wanted to go out in the city and explain how he came from Virginia and I came from California and we both sort of connected with the city. And we just kind of wanted to share our baseball experiences and mix it up with the fans.”

Spend 45 minutes on a Zoom call with two of Philadelphia’s greatest baseball treasures and you begin to see how such a show could work. They are very different people who have done essentially the same thing their entire lives.

They first met more than 50 years ago during an instructional league game in Clearwater, Fla. Bowa was a shortstop prospect for the Phillies and Manuel was a slugger trying to work his way to the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins.

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“Lowell Palmer was pitching for us … and he had a big arm,” Bowa said. “Not too many guys could pull the ball off Palmer and I remember Chuck getting up and scorching a ball to right-center field for a double. He got to second and I said, ‘Man, I’ve been watching this kid pitch all summer and I ain’t seen nobody hit a ball that hard off him. Chuck says, ‘I can hit a fastball now.’ I said, ‘I guess you can.’”

Manuel, wanting to “add some spice” to the story, said his manager had promised a steak dinner to anyone who could pull the ball off Palmer that day.

“I always kept up with Bo’s career after that,” Manuel said. “I met Bo and Greg Luzinski during that instructional league and I always followed them after that.”

Flash forward to 2003 and Bowa and Manuel were in spring training working together for the first time. Bowa was in his third season as Phillies manager and Manuel was in his first as a special adviser to general manager Ed Wade.

The Phillies had signed Manuel’s protégé, Jim Thome, as their prized free agent in December 2002 and Bowa was the most excited manager on the planet. Manuel has a couple of stories from his first spring training about Bowa that he loves to tell.

“I have a lot of stories about him,” Manuel said. “But when I first joined the Phillies, we were in spring training and the first game we played, we had this rookie first baseman — I’m not going to say his name — but he’d make all these mistakes whenever we went over cutoffs and relays and Bo would always say something to him. Then in the first inning of the first game, the guy missed a ball and then he struck out. When he came back to the bench, Bo says, ‘This is the big leagues and you’re supposed to play better.’ I thought to myself, ‘Man, look at Bo, he’s already getting on this rookie and he hasn’t even hardly played yet.’ It was funny.”

A better story pops into Manuel’s head, but he wants Bowa to tell it.

“Tell him about when you ordered the pitcher to hit [Roy] Halladay, Bo,” Manuel said. “That’s a good story.”

Bowa obliges.

“It’s Jim Thome’s first year with us and it’s a spring-training game,” Bowa begins. “Guys get wild sometimes and Thome gets drilled hard by Halladay. Thome is between home and first and I ask him if he’s OK. He says, ‘Yeah,’ and then he says, ‘Bo, that was on purpose.’ I said, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘Check my numbers against Halladay.’ So I say, ‘You really think it was on purpose?’ Thome says, ‘I know it was on purpose.’ When he got to first I took him out of the game.”

And then Bowa ordered a hit on Halladay, who was the leadoff hitter the next inning for Toronto. Rheal Cormier threw behind Halladay twice and when home-plate umpire Eric Cooper warned both benches, Bowa charged the field in protest. As he headed back toward the dugout, he began yelling at Halladay and the benches emptied.

Manuel laughed at the memory.

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It wasn’t until a dozen years later that Bowa officially met Halladay when the Phillies brought the late Hall of Fame pitcher back into the fold as a consultant who worked primarily with minor-leaguers in Clearwater.

“The first time I ever really met him face-to-face, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself and he goes, ‘I know who you are. Remember when you threw at me?’ That’s how that conversation went,” Bowa said of Halladay.

More laughter from Manuel followed.

Together again

The first working relationship between Manuel and Bowa lasted only two years. Near the end of the 2004 season, the Phillies fired Bowa. Manuel replaced him. Bowa swears he never felt any animosity toward Manuel, but it seemed unlikely the two would ever become best friends.

That all changed in 2018 when Bowa’s second stint as a Phillies coach came to an end when the team replaced Pete Mackanin with Gabe Kapler as manager. Bowa was kicked upstairs, accepting the same title that already belonged to Manuel: senior adviser to the general manager.

Suddenly, the two baseball lifers in their mid-70s were spending a lot of time together, traveling to minor-league ballparks, where they would teach and assess the progress of prospects.

Moments of awkward silence did not exist on the 60-minute drives to Reading and Allentown.

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“We talk baseball no matter where we are at,” Bowa said. “We could be at dinner with our wives, we could be up in the box, we could be driving in our car … we talk baseball. People don’t understand the love of the game we have. I don’t think there are two people that love this game more than Charlie and I do. It wears on us when we play lousy. We’re happy when we play good. When we see sloppy play, we get upset. We talk about our prospects.”

And now they are going to talk about baseball on a television show. A few episodes have already been shot in places around the area, including the Art Museum, the Navy Yard and the boardwalk in Ocean City, N.J.

The first episode picks up Bowa and Manuel walking down Broad Street near City Hall. That, of course, was the beginning of the parade route after Bowa’s 1980 team won the franchise’s first World Series and again when Manuel’s 2008 team captured a long-awaited second title. Rings are scarce in Phillies history, but Bowa and Manuel each have one.

“People were walking by us and hollering,” Manuel said. “They wanted to be in our parade. We had a conversation about that, of course. The size of the parades and how exciting they were. Bo and I have always had an argument over which team is better. I don’t think either one of us is ever going to agree. He’d name his catcher. I’d name mine. We’d go through the lineup.”

It makes for a lively debate and that’s what you are likely to see plenty of if you watch Down the Line with Charlie & Bo.