Bloop Hits: Phillies Phever

Larry Bowa turned 69 on Sunday, which got me thinking about his glory days with the 1970s (and 1980) Phillies, when he won two Gold Gloves at shortstop, was named to the NL All Star squad on five different occasions, and was an integral part of a World Series champion and three other NL East winning teams.

That much, of course, is well known about the playing career of the light-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop with the nickname of “Gnat”. His recording career, on the other hand, has long been obscured by the sands of time and taste.

In 1975, Bowa and his double play partner Dave Cash cut a single called “Ting-A-Ling Double Play” for Molly Records, a small independent label out of Philadelphia. A goofy novelty number produced and co-written by local musicians/producers Tommy Monte and Danny Luciano (who’d founded the Molly label a few years earlier with the release of “I’m Gonna Love You Baby” by The Three of Us, a now-quite-collectable soul single), “Ting-A-Ling Double Play” celebrates the game-saving abilities of the Phillies’ All Star keystone combo — though Bowa’s delivery of his recurring line, “Here comes the grounder, I can get it to Dave,” is significantly less fluid than his usual grab-and-toss:

On his website, Luciano recalls that the single received “adequate airplay from local Philadelphia radio stations and the surrounding areas,” which is possibly better than it deserved. He also notes that Bowa and Cash “were most gracious and accommodating to a couple of young producers.” The players themselves apparently enjoyed the experience so much that they made another record the following year, this time with the help of three of their Phillies teammates.

“Phillies Fever,” the 1976 single by the renowned quintet Cash, Bowa, Schmidt, Luzinski and Maddox, may well be the worst record to come out of Philadelphia during the 1970s; at the same time, its sheer awesomeness as a cultural artifact cannot be understated. Where else can you hear disco music (which was rapidly ascending in popularity at the time) collide with the CB Radio fad of 1976? Indeed, where else can you hear Garry Maddox and Dave Cash banter with each other in CB lingo? Throw in Greg “The Bull” Luzinski’s joke about taking batting practice “as soon as I finish these three cheeseburgers,” and a picture sleeve that features 1976 NL home run king Mike Schmidt using his bat as an air guitar, and you’ve pretty much hit the jukebox jackpot — even if our boy Bowa was mostly relegated to backing vocals:

Of course, the song’s claim that “Veterans Stadium is the hippest place in town,” was pretty specious, even during the 1976 season, when the Phillies made it to the post-season for the first time since 1950. The song’s clunky production — courtesy of Queen Village Studios owner Walter “Kandor” Kahn, who’d previously produced the Dixie Hummingbirds’ Grammy-winning cover of Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock” — was also pretty damn un-hip compared to the likes of such Philly-spawned ’76 hits as Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” or the Jacksons’ “Enjoy Yourself,” so it’s no real surprise that the single (released on the local Grand Prix label) failed to take off. But as Bicentennial time capsules go, “Phillies Fever” is still as golden as Bowa’s glove.    

Dan Epstein’s latest book is Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76.