When Jim Bunning was near the end of his career and Larry Bowa was at the beginning of his, their baseball paths intersected.
Bowa has always been grateful for the advice he received from Bunning when he was a rookie with the Phillies in 1970, and discussed the influence he had on him prior to Saturday’s game.
Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher and former U.S. Senator from Kentucky died at the age of 85 late Friday night.
Bowa, the former Phillies shortstop, manager and current coach, sat in the dugout before Saturday’s game at Citizens Bank Park with the Cincinnati Reds and recalled all Bunning did for him during his rookie year in 1970.
Bunning returned to the Phillies at the age of 38 for the 1970 season. He was 10-15 with a 4.11 ERA over 219 innings. Bowa finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, hitting .250 with 24 stolen bases in 577 plate appearances.
“I never had a pitcher mentor me in terms like he did,” Bowa said.
It began in spring training.
“Spring training, he said ‘keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open, it’s that simple,’” Bowa recalled. “I said, ‘Yes sir.’”
Bowa was amazed at Bunning’s competitive spirit that season.
“As good a competitor, and I saw him at the end of his career,” Bowa said. “I don’t even want to think about what he was like in his prime. He was mean.”
Bowa then told of a story when Bunning hit Ron Hunt with a slow breaking ball. Bunning wasn’t happy that Hunt didn’t get out of the way.
“He said, ‘Ronnie if you want to get hit, I'll hit you next time and it won’t be a breaking ball,’” Bowa said. “And he drilled him in the ribs. That is what kind of competitor he was.”
Bunning’s most poignant message to the rookie was to always play the game with enthusiasm.
“I remember him coming up and saying ‘don’t ever, ever lose your energy or when I turn around I don’t want your head dropping because you are 0-for-3, I don’t ever want to see that,’” Bowa said. “He said you have to be accountable, you have to play with energy.”
Bowa may have been among the most energetic players in Phillies history. He said his father always taught him that but to get it reinforced by somebody’s of Bunning’s stature, stayed with him his entire career.
“To get that reinforced, you can’t even express in words right now,” Bowa said. “When a guy like that at the end of his career takes time with somebody who is just starting, it resonated throughout my career.”