Dallas Green: 1934-2017

Dallas GreenDallas Green was baseball guy, or rather, a baseball hard[case]. He knocked around the majors as a journeyman pitcher for eight seasons and knocked some sense into countless players longer after that. He was one of the strongarmers, of which there was no shortage in the majors back in the day. If it’s all possible, he made Whitey Herzog and Dick Williams look soft. Your intrepid columnist was listening over the radio to Zack Wheeler get his head knocked off, when Howie Rose and Josh Lewin delivered the news that Green had passed and at first thought, it didn’t seem possible: Green was too tough to die. Pitching mainly for the Phillies from 1960 to 1967, Green was the definition of mediocrity, compiling a 20-22 lifetime record, a 4.26 ERA, a 1.50 WHIP and a 3.79 FIP. He took a turn with the Mets in 1966, throwing a nondescript five innings. A bigger Met connection is that he served up Jimmy Piersall’s one hundredth career homer at the Polo Grounds in 1963, after which Piersall famously back pedaled his way around the bases. And Dallas Green was famously steamed about it for eternity. His biggest Mets connection, of course was when he served as their manager from mid-1993 to late-1996. How he got there, though, is fascinating.

After his playing days, he went to work in the Phillies’ organization, first as a minor league pitching coach, then managing in the lower bushes. Soon, he was named assistant farm director under another Phillies lifer, Paul Owens. When Owens was named Philadelphia GM in 1972, Green succeeded him as farm director and was put in charge of the team’s drafts. The Phils were riding high in the mid-‘70s, having won three consecutive division titles from 1976 through 1978 but they could never get past the Reds or Dodgers and get to a World Series – something they’d never won, only appeared in twice and not at all since 1950. Their manager was an easy going malaprop machine named Danny Ozark. In 1979, the Phils added Pete Rose to the team as a free agent and finished fourth. Ozark was cashiered with 30 games to go and Dallas Green took over. The Phillies won the World Series in 1980, but it wasn’t without cost. Green’s irascible style alienated a slew of champion Phillies and with the changing tides in baseball, that wasn’t going to fly. After the 1981 season, Green left Philadelphia to become GM of the Chicago Cubs.

In Chicago, he engineered a set of brilliant trades that had the perennially downtrodden Cubbies in the post-season in 1984 — the first time for that since the 1945 World Series. So if you think about it, Green was kind of a proto-Theo Epstein. He was able to resuscitate two moribund clubs and get them at least on the threshold of a championship in fairly short order. Of course, though, his personality helped usher him out the Wrigley Field door by 1987. So Green went back to the field.

He was hired in 1989 as one of George Steinbrenner’s revolving managers up in the Bronx. He didn’t last the year. Finally, after having taken a job as an advisor with the Mets under GM Joe McIlvaine, he was again summoned down to the field in 1993 to take over for a nice-guy manager and kick some butt in a doomed season. Soft spoken Jeff Torborg was no match for neither the volatility of New York, nor the toxic atmosphere of the Mets’ clubhouse at the time, rife with personalities like Vince Coleman, Jeff Kent, Eddie Murray and Bobby Bonilla. Much like Terry Collins later on, Green was sent down there to fumigate. And that he did. He stripped the clubhouse of most of the poison and was ready to welcome in the next group of young hurlers developed in the Mets’ system – a bunch collectively known as Generation K. We all know how that turned out. Unfortunately, though, Green’s old-school manner and tactics didn’t particularly work well with younger players – especially pitchers, who Green ordered to log inordinately high innings-pitched totals – and he became an aloof fossil, a symbol of a different time. He was replaced by Bobby Valentine at the end of the 1996 season. The contrast between the two was stark, as I witnessed firsthand in Green’s last spring training and Valentine’s first. In 1996, Green sat up in a tower the whole time, never moving, barely speaking to whoever he was sitting with. He looked like a guy whose time had passed. Valentine, the following year, was down on the field, seemingly all over the place at the same time, even going so far as to replace the PA announcer at the Mets’ first intra-squad game.

Dallas Green was indeed a man from another time. Looking back today, he could have been from another planet altogether.

Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.

3 comments for “Dallas Green: 1934-2017

  1. Jimmy P
    March 23, 2017 at 7:40 am

    I remember him really hating, and just about ruining, Jeremy Burnitz, though I’m fuzzy on the details.

    The Phillies can have him.

  2. March 23, 2017 at 9:33 am

    I enjoyed this, Charlie.

    The Phillies should absolutely celebrate him. The Cubs to a lesser extent, too. Yet it’s hard to look at his Mets tenure as anything but a dismal failure.

    The best thing you can say about his time with the Mets was his quote about Ryan Thompson, where Green said, I ask all my players to look in the mirror. The only problem is that Ryan thinks he sees Willie Mays looking back.

    You hear so much about people being a baseball lifer. To me, it’s a little bit like getting excited about a guy playing multiple positions. It’s great if he can play multiple positions like Ben Zobrist, not so much if he plays them like Joe McEwing.

    Green’s baseball time in NY was the McEwing equivalent.

  3. Jimmy P
    March 23, 2017 at 10:07 am

    A bit on Burnitz and Green — and a time when the Mets used to eat their young.

    I wonder if this is going to be the Michael Conforto story. Progress artificially delayed, a lack of patience & faith, ultimately starring elsewhere.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/22/sports/baseball-mets-burnitz-finds-he-can-go-home-again.html

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