January 31, 2005

Out from the shadows of 1980


The removal of high-profile manager Larry Bowa, left, clears the way for modern-day Phillies like Jim Thome to seize the spotlight. And that's the way it should be.

There's more to gain from the firing of manager Larry Bowa than improving team chemistry.

From a marketing standpoint, replacing Bowa gives the Phillies' PR department a chance to start fresh. With Bowa out of the picture and the new park in year two, the team will rightly move to promote their stars of today.

In November, GM Ed Wade did right and blew up the whole thing: Bowa and his veteran staff were wiped clean, and the closest on field employee to the 1980 Championship team is now hitting coach Milt Thompson, a member of the 1993 NL Championship squad. Otherwise, all the old connections have been unplugged.

Fans love stars, and stars are not managers
The selling of the hard-line Bowa era was a short-term solution to give fans a purpose to fill seats while they waited out the last three seasons at Veteran's Stadium.

1980 Nostalgia was heavily endorsed from 2001 until the Vet's implosion, and Bowa was a critical part of that strategy, promoted in commercials, print ads, and in a half-dozen ceremonies that reunited the old guard.

"Why are we still paying to sit in this dump?" fans wondered.

"You're here, because of 1980," the team answered.

The next season, when the team moved next door to Citizen's Bank Park, anything 1980-related seemed as out of place as Bowa watching baseballs sail out of CBP.

The marketing department learned early on there's nothing to gain by making a craggy, 50-year old manager the face of your team, no matter how many fans appreciated his contribution in 1980. Ultimately, it doesn't sell jerseys or interest young viewers.

Last year, natural grass, good food, and the new attractions of CBP carried much of the ad load. But now what?

By bringing in Manuel from "outside the family," the face of Phillies baseball will default to veteran players.

The core has been together for a long time: Burrell, Lieberthal, Abreu, Rollins, and for two seasons, Thome. In spite their tenure, fans still complain about a faceless group with no personality.

For that, the blame falls squarely on the organization, and how the team happily funneled the media attention toward Bowa, inadvertently detracting from players.

When Spring training begins, it will be critical for the Phillies to direct the spotlight onto a new, positive spokesperson, and that source will be the team's humble star, Jim Thome.

It's time for the Phillies to turn these guys into stars, whether they play like stars or not. Thome is a thumping nice guy and should be marketed as such. Pat Burrell has the face of a superhero, and should be marketed as such. Brett Myers is starting to sound like Freddy Mitchell, and should be marketed as such.

Bowa had a face only a mother could love, but it was better than no face at all. It’s time for the Phillies to promote Thome and the veteran players, and bury the past under a pile of stadium rubble.

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