Larry Bowa did not play high school baseball and he was not drafted. But when he arrived 50 years ago this month to Connie Mack Stadium, he was finally a big-leaguer. At least, that's what he told the security guard outside the ballpark at 21st and Lehigh.
"Sure," the guard told the undersized 24-year-old. "And I'm Raquel Welch."
Once he forced his way inside the gate, Bowa stood on the third-base line as a high-school marching band played the final notes of the national anthem, his path to the major leagues ready to reach its destination.
The fiery Bowa, who was listed at 5-foot-10, 155 pounds as a big-leaguer, was cut three times in high school. He played two years at a California junior college but was not one of the 824 players selected in the 1965 draft.
He kept pushing and got the attention of Phillies scout Eddie Bockman, who watched Bowa get thrown out of both games of a doubleheader. Bockman urged farm director Paul Owens to take a chance on the fleet-footed defensive whiz.
The Phillies signed Bowa for $2,000. Five years later, he was their starting shortstop on opening day, a story that even a security guard could not believe.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," Bowa said. "Standing on the lines, I was saying, 'This is unbelievable. If I could stay here for a week, I'd be happy.' Then I start saying 'Maybe a month.' "
A week later, Bowa was still starting. A month later, too. Frank Lucchesi, who managed Bowa in the minors before being hired to manage the 1970 Phillies, stuck by Bowa when he struggled as a rookie.
A month turned into a season and a season turned into 50. Five decades later, Bowa is showing no signs of leaving.
No one in Phillies history has spent more seasons in uniform than Bowa. He played 12 of his 16 major-league seasons with the Phillies, coached the team for 13 seasons, and managed it for four years. Bowa now works in the front office as a senior adviser to the general manager.