Green’s candor, passion leave lasting impact

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• Lupica: Angel at the gates for Dallas Green

No longer. Dallas Green is gone. The robust baseball lifer who essentially forced the Phillies to win the 1980 World Series — their first Series win — and then reversed the fortunes of the Cubs and all but switched on the lights at Wrigley Field, died Wednesday. Green’s death at age 82 creates an enormous vacancy in the Phils organization and waves of sadness in the city that was the site of his greatest baseball triumph. The rest of baseball mourns his passing, as well. Replacements for his kind don’t exist.

Green was renowned for his candor and more-than-occasional bluntness, a work ethic equaled by Howard and few others, attaboy backslaps and a charm that often masqueraded as gruffness. He had a softer side that rarely showed itself in public but did come out of hiding when the personal tragedy of his lifetime occurred — the death of his beloved 9-year-old granddaughter, Christina-Taylor Green. She was one of six victims in the horrific shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz., aimed at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011. Green’s personal resume cannot be presented without mention of the sickening event that darkened his final years. His broad shoulders slumped and his tear ducts worked overtime in the months that followed Christina-Taylor’s death.

Green’s professional resume is one of distinction, though little of it involves his eight seasons as a player. A right-handed pitcher, he produced modest results with the Phillies from 1960-64 and in brief tours with the Senators, Mets and Phils again in three subsequent seasons. Green started 46 big league games and pitched in 139 others, winning 20, losing 22, completing 12 and pitching two shutouts, one in each of his first two seasons. His career ERA was 4.26; he saved four games.

Green’s performance as a young professional had promised more. He was a power pitcher in 1955, when he signed his first contract with the Phillies. But Green’s work ethic may have undermined him. He had pitched five consecutive complete games at the Triple-A level in ’59 when his right arm lost its power and promise. The malady never was diagnosed. In characteristic fashion, Green persevered, making the most of what his arm had retained.

Green started 10 games in each of his first three big league seasons, winning 11 games and losing 16 for teams that averaged 94 losses. The Phillies’ record in 1963 was 87-75, their best in 10 seasons. Green produced a 7-5 record and 3.23 ERA in 14 starts and 26 relief appearances. Arm problems limited him to 25 appearances, all in relief, and 42 innings during the Phils’ infamous ’64 season, when they lost 10 straight games near the end of the season to blow a 6 1/2-game lead in the National League.

Remembering Dallas Green

Green had far greater impact in the dugout and front office. He left unmistakable footprints. In his time as a manager, general manager, Minor League director, et cetera, he was the front-office equivalent of Reggie Jackson. Green did what he thought necessary and said what he thought needed to be said. He demonstrated strength and swagger and almost always swung from the hips. If Green had a filter at all, he often chose not to speak through it.

“I’ve got the biggest mouth of everybody, so I would be the spokesman for the Cubs whether I was the president, general manager, farm director or just the guy sweeping up,” Green once said to the Chicago Tribune during his run as the Cubs’ GM. “I’m always going to be involved in the decision-making processes of the upper echelon of the Chicago Cubs, whether I’m president or not. I’m always going to say what I have to say.”

Green’s manner occasionally offended. Indeed, Green himself suggested that his mouth and impulsive, outspoken nature “made me perfect for a place called the Windy City.” Early in his brief tenure as the Yankees’ manager, in 1989, he spoke less than glowingly about Don Mattingly, already a Yankees icon. He referred to George Steinbrenner as “Manager George,” fully aware that he and the owner shared a first name — he was actually born George Dallas Green — and that his derisive nickname for the boss would likely hasten his dismissal. It did.

In Green’s time with the Mets, from 1993-96, he regularly lambasted his players — Bobby Bonilla, Bret Saberhagen, Jeff Kent, Tony Fernandez and Jeromy Burnitz among them — and drew their ire, not that he cared much about whose toes he trampled. Green believed “head and heart” — his favorite phrase — were lacking in most big league clubhouses, and he did whatever he could to mine it.

“Every player has something deep inside that you can reach down and grab,” Green would say, acknowledging that his reach may have been significantly longer than most motivators’.

Green was relentless in that regard. If he couldn’t create hunger in a player, that player wasn’t his for long.

Green was a persistent barker, and he reveled in his ability to irritate — and thereby motivate — his players.

“He could blister a clubhouse,” longtime Phillies announcer Chris Wheeler said. “And they had to take it. He and the Pope [GM Paul Owens] and [owner Ruly Carpenter] were so tight, it was like they had a manager who was the GM and owner, a convergence of authority. When Dallas took over, he told [the players], ‘You got Danny [Ozark, Green’s predecessor] fired. Now you get me. It’s your fault.'”

The Phillies came together in their dislike for Green in 1980. But unity is where you find it. Years later, Larry Bowa, Green’s shortstop in Philly and Chicago, acknowledged that the Phils’ World Series rings should have borne the likeness of Green.

“Yeah, they should have had him yelling at us,” Bowa said.

Leyland remembers Dallas Green

Other players professed a hatred for Green, but that hardly affected him. He held some of his detractors in the highest regard because, he said, “They put aside what they felt about me and won the damn thing. That was the goal.”

Moreover, Green seldom held grudges. He learned to enjoy Jimmy Piersall, the player-turned-announcer, when he came to know him in the 1980s. Green had been offended in ’63 when Piersall, then with the Mets, hit the 100th home run of his career off Green and ran backward around the bases.

In his time managing the Mets, Green had confrontations with two young newspaper reporters. But he came to like each of them. In another instance involving two veteran writers, Green rewarded them for having made a long trip in Spring Training by announcing the starting rotation only to them.

“You make the trip, you get the story,” Green said.

Green appreciated diligence in his players and anyone working around him. He once chastised a reporter who had broken news that was contrary to the best interests of his team. A day later, Green identified the writer as “a world-class pain in the butt,” but then said, “I respect the work I know you had to do to find out.”

Most reporters enjoyed covering Green because he was candid, seldom misled them and sugarcoated nothing. He demanded accountability from his players and often said he had a mind to open the trainer’s room to the media if his players hid from questions.

Green’s image as a blunt, no-nonsense tough guy and prodder was formed primarily during his time with the Phillies, though, and it was underscored four years after their 1980 championship, when his architectural work as GM put the Cubs in the postseason for the first time in 39 years.

Green had coveted front-office responsibilities, and to the surprise and horror of the Phillies and their public, he moved to Chi-town to get his hands on a steering wheel a little more than a year after the Phils celebrated their championship. Once in position to make command decisions, Green remade the Cubs with bold personnel moves that manifested when the team won the NL East in 1984.

Shortly after his appointment, Green obtained second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who would be the 1984 NL Most Valuable Player Award winner, in a deal with the Phillies that also imported Bowa and created the Cubs’ reliable double-play tandem. He hired Jim Frey to manage and traded for Ron Cey and Keith Moreland, the respective third baseman and right fielder in ’84. And, late in Spring Training that year, he acquired the other two-thirds of the outfield, center fielder Bob Dernier and left fielder Gary Matthews. Without question, the ’84 Cubs were Green’s team.

They became a dominant team two days before the June 15 Trade Deadline with the acquisition of eventual NL Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe, who won 16 of 17 decisions and threw seven complete games and three shutouts in 20 starts.

“If I knew he was going to be that good,” Green candidly said late in the season, “I would have given the Indians more.”

Montgomery remembers Green

Green’s legacy with the Phillies is a World Series trophy and a reversal of a franchise that reached the Series again in 1983, as well as his influence after he returned to the club in ’98. His primary Cubs legacy is the lights that made night baseball on the North Side a possibility. The first night game was played in the summer of ’88, nine months after Green had resigned his positions with the club following a last-place finish.

Armed with an ordinance, the Second City had been adamant in wanting to maintain afternoon baseball. Green, promoted to club president after the 1984 season, pushed as few could, once threatening to move the team to the suburbs, or worse, have it use the South Side home of the White Sox and thereby undermine the economics of Wrigleyville. The ordinance and the politics involved were no match for a man so practiced in making challenges.

Green’s impact in Chicago went beyond the lights, of course. His administration was responsible for drafting and developing Greg Maddux, Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston and others who made the Cubs contenders again. The Cubs won the NL East championship again in 1989, less than two years after Green’s resignation.

Green’s time with the Yankees was short-lived. Forty games remained in their 1989 season when Green was dismissed. He had found Steinbrenner to be less easily persuaded than the city fathers in Chicago. He and Steinbrenner were too much alike, too headstrong, to co-exist.

Green replaced Jeff Torborg as the Mets’ manager in late May 1993, and he endured much of the mess the Mets became in that dreadful summer. The team lost 103 games that year, including 78 of the 124 he managed. It was the behavior and the attitude of the players that unnerved Green more than the last-place finish.

With Green prodding, the Mets regained respectability in 1994, winning nearly half of the 113 games they played in the strike-shortened season. A typically Dallas episode early in Spring Training that year demonstrated to his players how much he would work to accomplish improvement. Heavy rains had flooded the fields in Port St. Lucie, Fla., demanding more than the county’s workforce could do. So Green and his coaches — Howard, Bobby Wine and Tom McCraw among them — rolled up their sleeves and their pant legs and worked the fields. By the end of the day, Saberhagen, John Franco, Kent, Joe Orsulak, Rico Brogna and others had joined the crew.

“We had head, heart and a half-dozen backs today,” Green said proudly after the fields had been made playable.

The players’ strike that extended into 1995 and prompted the replacement-player exhibition season wore on Green. He hated every minute of it, but he was there each day to work the players he’d been given. The day a settlement was achieved but before the bona fide big leaguers reported, Green was found on one of the back fields that had been littered with baseballs during the final batting-practice session of the ReplaceMets.

Though he might have assigned the chore to an underling, Green collected the balls himself, running from one to another in the East Coast sauna.

“I have to get ready for the real players,” Green said. “I want to get started. We’ve got work to do. And I had to sweat the other stuff out of my system.”

Marty Noble is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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