"This guy went down and rode the buses, man," he said Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
Sandberg, who has been the Phillies' interim manager since replacing Charlie Manuel on Aug. 16, managed six seasons in the Minor Leagues before he joined the Phils this year as their third-base coach. Six seasons in the Minors is a long time, particularly for somebody with Sandberg's resume.
"You're talking about a Hall of Famer," Bowa said. "You don't do that that long. You might do it one year. He did it for a while."
The Phillies are 18-14 under Sandberg. It is tied for the fourth-best record in the National League in that span, which is a nice turnaround for a team that had been a highly disappointing 53-67 and had lost 19 of 23 games when Manuel was dismissed.
If one wanted to bet the farm on Sandberg being named the full-time Phils manager next season, it would not be a high-risk gamble. The assumption is that it will happen soon after the final game of the season Sept. 29 in Atlanta.
Bowa -- the former Phillies shortstop, coach and manager -- is one of Sandberg's biggest supporters, and he expects him to succeed in the job, assuming it is offered to Sandberg. Bowa became a legend in Philadelphia as a World Series champion shortstop, but he became permanently linked to Sandberg when the Phils traded them to the Cubs on Jan. 27, 1982, for Ivan de Jesus.
Bowa took Sandberg under his wing and taught him everything he could about baseball. Sandberg called Bowa one of his greatest influences.
"I remember calling him in January," Bowa said, recalling the trade that sent them to the Cubs. "I said, 'When are you going to Spring Training?' He said, 'Well, the due date.' I said, 'No, no, no. We're not going on the due date. We're going down two weeks early, and we're going to work.' He said, 'You got it.' From that day, I've watched his work ethic. Even when I retired, he was the same every day. He took his ground balls, he made sure when he hit, he hit balls to right field, center field, he bunted. He did everything as he did when he first came up.
"I don't know if anybody knows this, but he started out 1-for-32 [with the Cubs in 1982]. When you've got a rookie 1-for-32, his mental toughness is tested right out of the gate. He answered all the questions about how mentally tough he was right there. He didn't crack. He didn't panic. To see a kid come out of a 1-for-32 like that, that's something special."
Bowa thinks that attitude and work ethic has served Sandberg well as a manager, whether it's in the Minor Leagues or big leagues.
"He pays attention to detail," Bowa said. "You're going to see his quote, 'Play the game the right way. Play hard.' That's how he played. He played it the right way. Forget his Hall of Fame numbers. His work ethic before a game was unbelievable. And he wants guys to be prepared. I don't think you'll ever see him get on anybody if they're prepared."
A small example of that is the 3 p.m. report time for a 7 p.m. game.
"I think what he's trying to do is get these guys to focus on the game and preparation," Bowa said. "He's a fanatic about preparation. He likes preparation. And preparation isn't about coming out here and taking 10 ground balls. Even if you're in the clubhouse, he'll make you think about what's going to happen that night. He's big on that. When we played, you always sat around and talked baseball. I don't think ... that's just not how the way teams do it anymore. They are in and out. ... He has them arriving on time, and maybe they aren't talking about baseball, but maybe they are."
Bowa likes what he has seen from Sandberg in his first 32 games with the Phillies. Bowa said he has texted him a few times when he has wondered about a move Sandberg has made during a game.
"Just wanted to get what his thought process was," Bowa said.
He paused for a split second, then smiled.
"And he had good responses," Bowa said.
If Sandberg gets the job, everybody is going to wonder if Bowa will join his coaching staff in some capacity, either as a bench coach or third-base coach. Bowa is spending his time these days as an analyst for MLB Network and said he enjoys it.
"Do I miss some of it?" he said about being in uniform. "Yeah, sure I do. I coached for a long time. People forget that I coached for a long time. The locker room stuff, I like … I just live day to day."
Bowa paused again.
"Put it this way: If I ever did come back, I'm not going away from the East Coast," he said. "I just like the style of play around here, I like the atmosphere out here. It's a different atmosphere."
Sandberg has handled himself well on the East Coast, but if he gets the full-time job, expectations will change. Nobody expected much once he took over last month, because the team already had played itself out of contention. The Phillies' turnaround has been a bonus, but beginning next season, everybody will pay closer attention to the results.
Bowa thinks his good friend is ready.
"If you think you're going to walk on him, forget it," he said. "Forget it."