More Sports:

March 22, 2017

An Appreciation of Dallas Green: baseball lifer, 'tough sucker,' kind-hearted gentleman, Phillies legend

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The emotion was so raw that even today, more than a half-dozen years later, you can close your eyes and the saddest sight you wished you never had to see on a baseball field, or anywhere else for that matter, comes back to the mind in the clarity of high definition.

In February of 2011, days after the Phillies opened Spring Training of what would be one of the team’s most entertaining regular season runs, the man with the most commanding voice at the Carpenter Complex, to go along with the strapping body of a former professional athlete, tried his damnedest to talk through tears.

There are very few people who were more synonymous with the Phillies than Dallas... He loved [the game]. He respected it.

Dallas Green, the 6-foot-5, former pitcher who went on to be one of the game’s most intimidating and respected managers, both on and off the field, had come out from the executive offices of the Phillies spring home to talk about the death of his 9-year-old granddaughter, Christina Taylor Green.

His granddaughter was among the victims of the senseless mass shooting in Tuscon (when U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was wounded) in January of 2011. When the elder Green spoke for the first time, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, he spoke just 39 days after Christina Taylor Green was killed.

Perhaps baseball, he could only hope and pray, would heal his broken heart.

"It's helped me because you sink yourself into the work and you don't see a little girl with a hole in her chest as much," Dallas Green said that morning. “So I get through it. John, my son, is going to hurt like the devil for a long time. He's in baseball, too. … We hope this will help the healing process."

Six years later, long-time Phillies president and current chairman David Montgomery tried to muster the same sentiment through his own tears.

Green, a larger than life figure in baseball and the first manager to lead the Phillies to a World Series victory when they triumphed over the Kansas City Royals in 1980, died on Wednesday after a courageous bout with kidney disease. He was 82.

“There are very few people who were more synonymous with the Phillies than Dallas,” said Montgomery, who also offered his deepest sympathies to Green’s widow, Sylvia. “It's kind of fitting that we're here in Florida when you think about it. Every time I'm at the Carpenter Complex, I think of two people. Dallas and [Paul Owens]. But he would want us to move on because, to him, the most important thing for all of us in the game was the game itself. He loved it. He respected it.”

Love and respect work both ways. 

Just as the man loved the game, the game loved him back. And so did everyone who interacted with Green … some after time helped them appreciate his tough love.

Green, a Newport, Del., native who began his professional career in the Phillies minor league system in 1955, worked in baseball for seven decades. He pitched for the Phillies in six of his eight big league seasons before injuries derailed his playing career.

But his passion for the game endured as a manager and front office executive. A self-described yeller and screamer, Green took over as Phillies manager toward the end of 1979, when the team was headed toward their first year out of the postseason in four years, after coming up short, losing in the NLCS, in each of the three previous seasons.

Dallas was what Philly is all about: toughness, honesty and fairness... Without Dallas, the Phillies would not have won the World Series in 1980.

The following year, in 1980, Green, an unpopular force in a clubhouse full of proven veterans like Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton and Larry Bowa, helped get that talented group over the top and guided the franchise to its first world championship in 98 years of existence.

“Dallas was what Philly is all about: toughness, honesty and fairness,” said Bowa, the current Phillies bench coach and the owner of a fiery personality himself, who would follow Green’s footsteps into the big league dugout as a manager.

“Without Dallas," Bowa said, "the Phillies would not have won the World Series in 1980. I wish all of our current players would have had the opportunity to meet Dallas.”

Current Phillies manager Pete Mackanin met Dallas Green – or at least saw him across the field – in the first professional game he ever played in, as a 17-year-old in the summer of 1969 with the Wytheville Senators of the Appalachian League. He crossed paths again with Green for a few games with the Phillies in 1979, although Mackanin played sparingly that year while recovering from an injury.

Mackanin’s first vivid memory of the “bigger than life” man came when the two were with the Chicago Cubs in the mid-80s, Green as a general manager (one who stole a prospect named Ryne Sandberg away in a trade with the Phillies) and Mackanin as a minor league manager.

“He ruled the roost,” Mackanin said before recalling one of the regular meetings with Green and the minor league staff in a conference room. “I won’t mention the guy’s name, he was a rookie league first-year manager. There were 25 of us around the table talking. Dallas says to the guy, ‘Do you think Shawon Dunston is going to hit in the big leagues?’ 

"And the guy says, ‘Well if he learns how to hit the breaking ball.” Dallas slams his hand on the table and goes, ‘My wife could tell me that! I’m asking you! Do you think he’s going to hit a breaking ball??” And he goes [Mackanin uses a sheepish voice], ‘Yeah, I think he’s going to hit a breaking ball.’ If he asks you something, you can’t bullsh*t him. He respected people that would stand up to him.”

That's a big part of Dallas. He filled the room with his presence. When you get to the core of the man, he was a lot more lovable.

Green rejoined the Phillies in 1998 and brought that same cantankerous-but-well intentioned demeanor back with him. In recent years, as a senior advisor to the general manager, he was still as respected of a voice as there was in the organization.

And, oh, that voice.

Montgomery spoke in the back of the press box on Wednesday evening in Clearwater shortly after doing a live television hit, a hit that involved him sitting through a video package commemorating Green’s legacy. It dawned on Montgomery, a pillar in the Phillies family who has had his own health battles in recent years, that he would never hear that voice again.

“That's a big part of Dallas,” Montgomery said. “He filled the room with his presence. When you get to the core of the man, he was a lot more lovable. I think he enjoyed his size and his presence to back people away.”

Montgomery paused from the tears to offer a brief smile. It was what Dallas Green would have wanted, for people to laugh about the paradox of his personality – of both gruff, old-school baseball man and gracious, friendly gentleman – than grieve over his loss.

Green was always gracious with his time. Whether you were a hardscrabble baseball writer that had covered the team for decades or a rookie on the beat, Green was easy with a smile, a pat on the back, or a few colorful and opinionated words to fill out your notebook or give you a story.

But, just like on that day six years ago, this particular story isn’t one anyone would ever want to have to write.

“You know, I'm supposed to be a tough sucker,” Green said on that February morning in 2011. “But I'm not tough when it comes to this.”

At least, as with Dallas Green himself six years ago, we have the baseball to help with the healing.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21