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The Mouth that Roared
My Six Outspoken Decades in Baseball
By Dallas Green, Alan Maimon
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Dallas Green and Alan Maimon
All rights reserved.
Anyone who played, worked, or rooted for the Philadelphia Phillies during their first 95 years of existence knew heartache intimately well. As a 45-year-old man who played, worked, and rooted for the team at different points in my life, I guess I could count myself among the most afflicted.
As a teenager in Delaware, I pulled hard for the Phillies in the 1950 World Series against the New York Yankees. But the Whiz Kids got swept in four games.
I pitched for the 1964 Phillies team that seemed destined for an October rematch with the Yankees. But we let the National League pennant slip through our fingers in the final weeks of the season.
And I worked in the Phillies front office when the team won three consecutive division titles from 1976 to 1978. But we got eliminated each year in the National League Championship Series.
In between those near misses was a lot of futility. The Phillies carried a burden of never having won a World Series. And the weight was crushing.
That brings us to 1979, the year we all expected the weight to be lifted.
In my role as director of the minor leagues for the Phillies, I took satisfaction in seeing the emergence of players who came up through our system, guys like third baseman Mike Schmidt, shortstop Larry Bowa, left fielder Greg Luzinski, and catcher Bob Boone.
Paul Owens, our general manager, as well as my longtime friend and mentor, was the chief architect of the team. The Pope, as he was known, had supplemented our homegrown talent with smart trades and free agent signings. Ruly Carpenter, the team's principal owner, helped out by making funds available for us to lure Pete Rose away from the Cincinnati Reds before the 1979 season. Bill Giles, the team's vice president of business operations, sealed the deal by getting Taft Broadcasting to chip in a few bucks for the cause. Steve Carlton, a couple of years removed from a Cy Young Award, anchored a strong pitching staff.
The team had the look of a winner. But simply amassing more wins than losses wasn't the goal. Coming off three straight playoff disappointments, we looked at 1979 as World Series or bust.
The only bit of uncertainty going into the season involved the man who would be filling out the lineup card. Danny Ozark had managed the Phillies since 1973 and was a good baseball man. But Pope, chief scout Hugh Alexander, and I questioned whether he had the toughness to get a talented team to realize its full potential. Seated next to Danny in the dugout the past several seasons was Bobby Wine, a former teammate of mine and a man whom Pope liked a lot.
Our inner circle debated the question at length before ultimately deciding to give Danny another year to fulfill our high but realistic expectations of winning a championship.
The year that everything was supposed to fall into place turned out to be the year not a helluva lot went right. We lost some players to injuries, but even after the team got healthy, it played uninspired baseball. In late August, we were in fifth place in the National League East. All season long, Danny's rallying cry was, "Wait until we get our guys back, and then we'll be okay." Well, that wasn't the case. The problem seemed evident. The players weren't responding to Danny anymore.
* * *
Our inner circle had a ritual. A few hours before every home game, we'd get together to have a drink or two and talk shop. On August 29, 1979, the dominant topic of the day was whether Danny should stay on as manager. Hughie was on a scouting trip to Kansas City, so that left Pope and I to hash out the situation.
The conversation continued during that night's game against the Reds. As the booze flowed and we watched the Phillies stumble to the end of a homestand in which we lost eight of nine games, the matter took on a new urgency. We tossed around names of guys we thought might help get us back on track. Bobby Wine, a skilled game strategist, was at the top of the list.
After the game, we remained in Pope's office. Other colleagues filed in and out of the room as we sought a resolution to our dilemma.
Amid all the comings and goings of team personnel, my name entered the mix around midnight.
There was precedent for a Phillies executive coming down to manage the team on an interim basis. Pope, in his first year as general manager, did it for the second half of the 1972 season. He had no intention of keeping the job beyond that point but viewed field managing as a good way to evaluate his talent up close.
I was content with my front office job. It was generally accepted that I was in line to take over as general manager when Pope decided to retire.
I hemmed and hawed and indicated that I had no interest in taking over for Danny. Nor did I believe I was qualified. I had managed two seasons in the low minor leagues in the late 1960s, but that was the extent of my experience.
Pope ignored my protests. At about 1:00 in the morning Central time, he phoned Hughie's hotel room in Kansas City to get his input on the idea.
"Hughie, do you think Dallas can manage this team?" he asked.
The conversation lasted all of 30 seconds. After Pope hung up the phone, he repeated what Hughie just told him: "He says you can absolutely manage this team. You worked with a lot of our players in the minors. You know how to handle them. And the rest of the guys know you well enough to know they'll have no choice but to play hard for you."
Now Pope was certain I was the right man for the job. When the meeting broke up at about 3:00 am, I told Pope I'd go home, talk it over with my wife, Sylvia, and get back to him in a few hours.
A long night got a little longer. Sylvia, too, was convinced I should manage the team. Hesitant still, I found myself enumerating the reasons why taking the job on an interim basis might not be such a bad idea.
"It'll only be for a month," I told her. "And it'll give us a chance to see who wants to play this game the right way and stay in Philadelphia."
Sylvia, never one to hold back an opinion, agreed that arrangement made sense. With her blessing, I picked up the phone a few minutes before 5:00 am.
"Pope, I'm your man," I told my boss. "I'll do it, and I wanna do it, and I think I can do it as well as anybody on an interim basis."
I was scheduled to fly to Oklahoma City the following day to visit our Triple-A club. Pope told me to go ahead and make the trip. That would give him time to talk to Ruly and make the switch official. The next day I boarded a plane from Philadelphia to Oklahoma City. I'm not sure I ever left the airport in Oklahoma City before catching a flight to Atlanta, where the Phillies were opening a three-game weekend series against the Braves.
And that's where the next phase of my baseball career began. After a decade in the Phillies front office, I was returning to a major league dugout for the first time since my playing career ended in 1967.
For the veteran players who knew my temperament and style, this did not come as welcome news.
* * *
From a young age, I wanted to be the best. In school, I wanted to earn all As. On the field or court, I wanted to be the star player. In my neighborhood, I wanted to cut the grass better than the kid down the street.
If I accepted a job or task, I committed myself to doing it with pride, even if at first I was reluctant to do it at all. After I retired as a player and Pope asked me to manage Low-A ball in Huron, South Dakota, I told him no thanks. Having just finished a 13-year professional playing career, I didn't envision packing my bags again and heading for South Dakota. I thought I was ready to go into the front office right away. But Pope insisted, so I went to Huron and tried to be the best goddamn manager in the Pioneer League.
In 1979, I found myself in a similar situation. I didn't seek to become the Phillies manager, but once Pope talked me into it, I resolved to put every ounce of my being into seeing that the team played up to its ability.
The problem with Danny Ozark was that he let his players do whatever they wanted. That laissez-faire style of managing had worked, to a point. He took a young team and led it to three straight division titles, a pretty noteworthy accomplishment, after all. But it rankled us how the 1978 and 1979 Phillies had lost focus and discipline. Pope believed I could restore those qualities to the team.
Danny wanted to be friends with his players. I didn't care if they liked me or not. My opening speech to the team in Atlanta made that clear.
"Guys, we all know what Danny has done for us in the past, but I wouldn't be standing here if you were playing the game the way you're supposed to be playing it," I said. "Danny got fired because of you. I'm not here to do anything other than what you say you want to do, which is to win a championship. I've been in Philadelphia for much of my baseball career, and I want nothing more than for the Phillies to be successful. I want you to be successful. But I'm not going to sit back and wait for you to wake up. I'm going to push you, and I'm going to needle you, and I'm going to bang you when I have to. We're going to pay close attention this month to see who wants to continue playing in Philadelphia next year."
That was a cleaned-up version of my opening salvo. My straight talk took some players aback. In their eyes, I compared unfavorably to Danny. "There were a lot of tears in the clubhouse," Larry Bowa told reporters on the day of Ozark's firing. "He was a players' manager who always stuck up for you."
Bowa felt the team had lost a buddy, one who averaged 97 wins from 1976 to 1978, and gained a bully, one with no experience managing in the majors.
* * *
Whereas Danny never criticized his players in the press, I had no intention of holding back in that regard. I refused to lie to reporters. If a player made a mistake, I didn't believe it was my obligation to protect him. At the same time, if a player did something well, I was the first to pat him on the back. I remained standing almost the entire game, shouting words of encouragement whenever they were necessary. I hoped the players would feed off my energy.
In my first weeks on the job, I sent a lot of messages through the newspapers, more out of necessity than design. Like Danny, who didn't have a real knack for words, a lot of players on the '79 team avoided journalists at all costs. They were notorious for running into the shower or the trainer's room when the sportswriters came looking for quotes. When the writers couldn't track down a certain player, they came looking for me. I told the team, "If you don't want to hear me run my mouth in the press, stand up like men and do some talking yourselves."
Mike Schmidt, who played his entire 18-year career with the Phillies, never fully warmed up to Philadelphia writers or fans. In his final season in the big leagues in 1989, he expressed his feelings toward these groups with the type of quote he had withheld much of his career: "It just seems like if you're a writer there, or a fan there, you have to look for the negative. Maybe it's in the air or how they're raised. Maybe they have too many hoagies or too much cream cheese or too much W.C. Fields."
Of course, Schmitty made that statement to the Los Angeles Times, and not one of the Philadelphia papers.
I had a different take. The writers covering the team in the late 1970s and early 1980s were tough and well-respected pros. They knew the game of baseball. And I saw no reason to hide from them.
* * *
No doubt the final month of the 1979 season felt like shock treatment to Bowa, Schmidt, and the rest of Danny's advocates.
I immediately enacted some unpopular rules. Card playing was restricted and kids were banished from the clubhouse. I could hear the bitching and moaning about arbitrary edicts and the new manager trying to flex his muscles of authority. In their opinion, I needed to lighten up. In my opinion, they were a bunch of underachievers who needed a kick in their collective ass. By minimizing potential distractions at the ballpark, I hoped they'd focus more on the game.
Change was hard. And I represented change. Being a Philadelphia Phillie was no longer going to be a cushy job. I demanded effort, concentration, and accountability.
The first time my mouth roared as Phillies manager came during a September 20 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Veterans Stadium. In the sixth inning, Keith Moreland hit a drive to left field that umpire Eric Gregg ruled a three-run home run. As Keith rounded the bases for the first time in his major league career, Pirates manager Chuck Tanner protested that the ball had curved foul. Chuck could complain all he wanted, but back in those days, the call on the field stood. Or at least that was how it was supposed to work. Instead, Gregg sought a second opinion from home-plate umpire Doug Harvey. When Harvey reversed the call, I barreled out onto the field. After hurling every curse word in the book at Harvey, I went back to the dugout and hurled baseballs out on the field. Not surprisingly, I got ejected.
This was the first time my team saw my truly volatile side. When I was a major league pitcher, I didn't give an inch to opposing batters. Now that I was managing, I wasn't going to give an inch to umpires or anyone else who crossed me. And that included my own players.
I could scream and yell with the best of them, but the team didn't see too much of that side of me at first. The jabs I took came mostly in the form of matter-of-fact statements about what I perceived as the team's lack of effort or its failure to play the game the right way.
I guess I got their attention. We showed signs of life in those final weeks, going 19 — 11 in September to finish the '79 season with a winning record. We ended up in fourth place, 14 games behind the Pirates, who went on to win the World Series.
Our strong September pleased me. Our unhealthy clubhouse dynamics did not. Some of the veterans had formed cliques and shut themselves off from the rest of the team. Danny had no problem with the cliques. But I've always been of the opinion that it takes 25 guys united in purpose to go out and win games. A team splintered into groups isn't united.
* * *
The final month of the '79 season gave me a good look at some younger players on the team, including Moreland, Lonnie Smith, Dickie Noles, and Kevin Saucier. I felt these guys weren't far off from contributing at the big league level. If I stayed on as manager, they would get more chances to prove themselves. I believed in awarding playing time based on performance, not years of service.
During the final series of the '79 season, Pope and I discussed whether to remove the interim tag from my job title. I was still the director of our minor league system, a job I loved, so I wouldn't have been too bent out of shape if the Phillies had decided to bring in someone else to manage. There were reports that Whitey Herzog, who had recently been fired as manager of the Kansas City Royals, would take the Phillies job if it was offered. Other articles suggested Pete Rose might become player-manager. And Bobby Wine's name still remained in play.
I didn't consider myself the manager of the future. But Pope and I realized 1980 was the future as far as the Phillies were concerned. The core of the team was getting older. By the start of the '80 season, only two everyday players, Luzinski and Manny Trillo, would be under 30. The window on winning a championship was closing. And if it didn't happen in '80, Pope was going to have to make significant changes.
A new manager would need time to get acclimated. During my brief stint in the dugout, the players had gotten a taste of what I was all about. More importantly, they knew I was a "company man" who had the strong backing of Pope and Ruly Carpenter.
A few weeks after the '79 season ended, Pope announced I'd be returning for a full season in 1980. I told reporters that my first order of business was to set up an off-season exercise program for the team. I didn't buy the idea that guys could play their way into shape during the season. I wanted everyone to report to spring training in good physical condition and ready to work on some of the baseball fundamentals I felt had been neglected in recent years.
Excerpted from The Mouth that Roared by Dallas Green, Alan Maimon. Copyright © 2013 Dallas Green and Alan Maimon. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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