When I was a kid growing up in a Philadelphia exurb, there was only really one professional team that I followed–the Phillies. This wasn’t because I didn’t have any choices. Even in the era of having only five channels to select from on cathode-ray tube based television sets with their ubiquitous rabbit ears perched on top, I could watch (or listen to on the radio) all the teams from New York City, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. And those cities had strong franchises in those years. Pittsburgh had the Pirates and Steelers, New York had the Knicks, the Yankees, and the Islanders, and Philly had the 76’ers, the Eagles, and the Flyers. But none of those teams were for me. I lived and breathed the Phillies.
I still remember staying up to 11 pm on school nights surreptitiously listening to Phillies games on my desk radio. Or begging my parents to watch the games on the one major independent UHF channel I could actually receive on the crappy black and white TV I had access to during the weekends. Once in a while my father would actually take me to Veterans Stadium to see the games in person. If I missed a game on the radio or TV, I would always read the box score in the newspaper the next day so I could catch up. In those days the sports section of the newspaper actually had pages and pages of box scores, if you can believe it. Years later I still pine for TastyKake pastries–the lead sponsor of the Phillies for many seasons.
Unfortunately, the Phillies stank. Starting after a 92 win season in 1964, the only such season since the 1950 World Series (which at that time was the only the second World Series the Phillies had played in, the other being in 1915), the Phillies slouched through season after season. Posting an 829-945 record in eleven years, the team was either tantalizingly close to breaking through, or just mailing in the season (as in the 59-97 season in 1972–the year pitching phenom Steve Carlton won 27 games, and lost 10 games despite a 1.97 ERA).
That all started to change in 1976. Over the previous few years Carlton had been joined by a cast of players that would change everything. Iconic players like reliever Tug McGraw and starter Larry Christenson, slugging third baseman Mike Schmidt and left fielder Greg Luzinski, center fielder Greg Maddox, and shortstop Larry Bowa. The team had placed 2nd in the NL East in 1975 with an 86-76 record, and in 1976 they went 101-61 and reached the National League Championship Series under the tutelage of manager Danny Ozark. They repeated this feat in 1977 and 1978, adding slugging right fielder Bake McBride to the roster. Catcher Bob Boone had come into his own, hitting .283 during 1978 with 62 RBI’s–a prodigious output for someone playing that position.
Although the Phillies had just lost three straight NLCS matchups, the excitement for the 1979 season was palpable due to the signing of Pete Rose–the best hitter in MLB arguably since Ted Williams. But calamity struck the Phillies, with a number of injuries depleting the team and grumbling in the clubhouse and in the front office over Ozark’s stewardship of the team. So Ozark was fired in August and replaced by a relative unknown who had been director of the team’s farm system since 1972. That man was Dallas Green.
Green’s choice as the interim manager was a real head-scratcher. He had only managed twice in the minor leagues, both at the lowest levels (Class A and rookie league), and had not managed since 1969. His playing days were undistinguished; eight seasons as a journeyman pitcher, playing in only 185 games with a 20-22 record. There was nothing to indicate that there wasn’t more misery was to come in the clubhouse and on the field.
Surprisingly, Green thrived. Taking over a team that was sub-500 with only a month and a half left in the season, he managed to scratch to an 84-78 record and second place in the NL East. He refused to coddle even the superstar players on the team, demanding excellence from normally reliable, but slumping sluggers, better pitching from a mediocre bull pen, and flashes of brilliance from bench-warming backups. Philadelphia ownership was impressed, and removed the interim tag from Green for the 1980 season, making him manager.
Thus began two glorious seasons, the first of which resulted in the first ever World Series championship for the Phillies. For a kid who was a diehard Philly fan, those years were truly incredible. There was something magical about them, with the gruff Green giving no-nonsense interviews to the press corps, McBride, Luzinski, and Schmidt seeing who could provide the most offensive production, Carlton striking out everyone who dared challenge him, and Rose continuing to put up the amazing statistics that was thought at the time to cement his prospects as a Hall-of-Famer. The other Philadelphia sports teams even joined the festive atmosphere, with the Eagles, Flyers, and 76ers all reaching their respective league championship games during this awesome period of time.
Alas, it was not to last. Although that roster of Phillies scratched out one more World Series appearance in 1983, it was without Greene, who was lured away by the desperate Chicago Cubs in 1982 (the Phils lost in four games to the Orioles). Having established his street cred as a turnaround specialist, he spent the rest of his coaching or head front office (as general manager for the Cubs) years trying to save lousy franchises. He lasted six years in Chicago, one year in the Bronx (for the Yankees), and four years in Queens (for the Mets), posting a 285-348 record as manager and 463-504 as GM. It meant that even with his sterling 169-130 record as Phillies manager included, he had a sub-.500 record career leading teams. It was a statistical result that did not truly reflect his talents as a manager and front office executive.
After leaving the Mets, Green eventually returned to a small role in the Phillies front office, where he quietly remained until his retirement. He was 83 years old upon his death on March 22nd of this year (2017). I salute him as one of the Phillies greats, and will always fondly remember his critical part in those two golden Phillies years of my childhood.