March 27, 2017
Dallas Green asked me many times why I kept booking him as a guest on my WIP radio show, long after his days as a GM and a manager. My answer never changed. I told him it was because he was the one sports figure who would always tell me the truth.
“Ah, Angie,” he would howl, “you’re just trying to get me in trouble again.”
Let the record show that Green indeed did start major feuds with the only other Phillies manager ever to win a championship, Charlie Manuel, and with former star third baseman Scott Rolen on my show, but Green never really worried about the impact of his brutal honesty. The truth is, he feared nothing.
Philadelphia lost one of its biggest personalities, and one of its best people, last week when Dallas Green passed away at 82. He was so much bigger than life – with his towering 6’5” physique, his overpowering charisma and that booming voice – that it’s still hard for me to believe that he is gone. I thought he would live forever.
What made it especially painful for me, and for the legions of Philadelphia sports fans who remember him, was the timing of his passing. With the Sixers butchering the truth on a daily basis, the Flyers screaming for leadership and the Phillies preaching patience, never have we needed a man like Green more than we do right now.
There were no five-year rebuilding plans for Dallas Green. When he took over the Phillies in 1979, his first act was to demand instant success. He looked Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton right in the eyes and called them soft. The players hated him, right up until the moment when they got their World Series rings.
Steve Mason would not have needed to call out his Flyer teammates for lack of effort the way he did last week if Green were standing behind the bench. The boss would have shattered some eardrums long before any player spoke. Green would have gladly handled the dirty work coach Dave Hakstol is too timid to do.
And if the Sixers tried to sell any more of their medical malarkey to their fans, Green would have gladly stood in front of the cameras and described in vivid detail the real story behind the injuries to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, probably aiming a slap or two at his carpetbagger owner and league-mandated GM in the process.
Green’s death last week was a profound loss for more reasons than any one column could ever cover. Behind his blustery exterior was a man not just with the courage of his convictions, but also with the intelligence to make the right decisions. He won the first Phillies championship, almost did it again with the Cubs as a GM and stood up to the biggest bully in sports history. George Steinbrenner.
During our annual radio conversations at spring training over the years, I probed the reason behind his lifetime of success in baseball, and he was secure enough to admit, with deep regret, that he was never as good a player as he wanted to be. A hard-throwing pitcher, he finished with a 20-22 record and a 4.26 ERA.
What he learned during those eight seasons of maddening mediocrity was that it takes more than talent to win. Success also demands mental toughness. Then he took the talent on that 1980 team and made them mentally tough enough to withstand the most challenging league championship playoff series in baseball history.
Nowadays, everybody wants to assign greatness for the simplest acts – a game-winning home run, a complete-game shutout, a spectacular catch. Those moments are special, no question. They are the reasons why we all are sports fans.
But Dallas Green will always define greatness to me in a far more meaningful way, because he provided it for half a century – demanding the most out of himself and everyone around him, with absolutely no fear of the repercussions.
There will never be another Dallas Green because the world has changed since his biggest successes, but he left us last week with the fondest memories of his winning style, and with a sad realization that there will never be anyone who can take his place.
Just because the Flyers have been dead for weeks now doesn’t mean coach Dave Hakstol has to act like a funeral director.
Not enough has been made of just how poorly Hakstol has handled his second season as an NHL coach, and last week provided the most vivid example yet. In the game that truly ended all playoff hopes, the coach failed in every possible way.
Against a Winnipeg team playing for nothing and missing its top five – that’s right, five – defensemen, Hakstol chose a conservative offensive approach that gave the Jets their only real hope to compete. The coach also provided no resistance to Winnipeg bully Dustin Byfuglien, who rolled right over the pacifist Flyers.
After the game, Hakstol was equally clueless. It took his lame-duck starting goaltender, Steve Mason, to state the obvious – that his teammates showed none of the urgency, or the effort, required of the dire situation. Hakstol said effort was not an issue at all. He didn’t even appear angry at the public criticism.
Of course, his players then made a liar out of the boss in their very next game when they played with more passion than they had in months – no doubt inspired by Mason’s comments – and beat a superior Minnesota team, followed by a noble loss to Columbus and a thrashing of Pittsburgh. Alas, it was too little, too late.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Flyers are a mess right now. Their captain, Claude Giroux, is having a bad season and is a leader in name only. Their young players, with the exception of Ivan Provorov, are regressing, and their best goaltender is heading to free agency because the front office made a financial commitment to his backup.
And none of those negative developments is as frustrating as the lack of urgency that the Flyers have brought to so many winnable games this season. They are a perfect reflection of their dullard coach.
Need I say it one more time? The Flyers are going nowhere until they get rid of Dave Hakstol.
The Sixers got some really great news last week. Joel Embiid had successful surgery on his torn left meniscus and is well on his way to recovery. It’s just a matter of time before we get an equally encouraging report on the broken right foot of Ben Simmons.
What perfect timing, too. The deadline for the renewal of season tickets was last Friday, the very same day that Embiid had his incredibly successful operation in Los Angeles. All is well again with our basketball team. Hallelujah.
Of course, if you believe any information coming out of the most dishonest sports organization in American sports, you are probably counting the days to next season. On the other hand, if you’re skeptical about anything the Sixers tell you – especially about injuries – the only real good news is that your brain is functioning effectively.
First of all, Embiid had the surgery more than three weeks after the Sixers finally ended his season because of a mysterious knee injury that is entering its third month. Why did they wait so long? Why did they delay the rehab on a player who has a long history of slow healing?
And then there’s Simmons, whose January scan on his foot was deemed “clean” (it wasn’t), whose February scan ended his rookie season before it even began and whose March scan … well, believe it or not, there has been no March scan. The only way to gauge the progress of healing is a scan, but none is scheduled.
If any of this makes sense to you, please notify the American Medical Association; they need clear thinkers like you. For the rest of us, the waiting game continues. No one really knows when (or if) Embiid will recover from his latest debilitating injury, nor if Simmons is already in danger of missing more time in his second season.
Despite the emergence of Dario Saric this year, everyone knows the Sixers are going nowhere until Embiid and Simmons are in the lineup for every game, playing like the elite first-round players that three years of tanking brought here. At this point, only the Sixers have any idea when that will happen – and they’re not saying.
Those diehard fans who heard the news on Embiid last Friday and sprung for another season-ticket package are a lot more loyal that I would ever be. And a lot more gullible, too.
And finally …
• There was a false alarm last week when the news broke that the Eagles petitioned the NFL for permission to create an alternate helmet, presumably to bring back their beloved Kelly green. The Birds quickly dropped the request, but they should take note that fans who called my WIP radio show were thrilled at the thought of returning to the original color. Even if it’s only once a year, the Eagles should find a way to do it.
• Odubel Herrera said last week that he thinks he can win a batting title someday. This comment was impressive for two reasons. One, the young Phillies outfielder has a lot of confidence. And two, a Phillies player actually said something interesting this spring. As Spring Training draws to a close, even the bright-eyed optimists are admitting this has been the dullest start to the new season in recent memory. How many tickets do the Phils plan to sell in April? Do they care?
• Did you catch the video of Ben Simmons before the Sixers game on Sunday night in Indianapolis? Much like Joel Embiid did while reinjuring his foot between his first and second seasons, Simmons dribbles the ball between his legs, smacks it off the backboard and then jams it through the hoop. Either the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick is a lot healthier than the Sixers are letting on, or he’s a lot dumber than we thought. You cannot make this stuff up.
Is this what Ben Simmons should be doing after being out all year with a broken foot? pic.twitter.com/Yu0dpKA35C— Angelo Cataldi (@AngeloCataldi) March 27, 2017
• As the Dallas Cowboys continue to wait for a bidding war over Tony Romo, apparently a battle is developing between the TV networks for the quarterback’s services. Really? What makes these broadcast geniuses think Romo would be a good listen? Has he said one memorable thing in his 13-year playing career? Is there a sudden demand for a modern-day version of Gomer Pyle? Is he a budding stand-up comedian? I don’t get it.
• And speaking of network sports television, ESPN announced last week that it will take three new announcers – Sam Ponder, Trey Wingo and Suzy Kolber – to replace tried, old Chris Berman on NFL Countdown next season. Wow. I still think an empty chair would be an improvement.