If you were a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1970s, the connection between Paul Owens, Danny Ozark, and Dallas Green is probably something you will never forget. If you are not, but are a knowledgeable baseball fan, you could say that Ozark, Green, and Owens all managed the Phillies (at one point, in succession). All three led the Phillies to the postseason, beginning with Ozark, who was the manager of the team in the 1976-78 seasons. All three resulted in NL East titles for the Phillies, though they lost to the Cincinnati Reds in 1976 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977-78 in the NLCS. Green would lead the Phillies to the 1980 World Series title, and in 1981, his Phillies made the postseason by winning the NL East in the first half of the strike-shortened split season. They lost to the Montreal Expos in the first ever divisional round in postseason history. Owens, who had managed the Phillies in 1972, returned to the Phillies dugout in the 1983 season, replacing Pat Corrales. The 1983 Phillies made it back to the World Series, losing in five games to the Baltimore Orioles.
If you follow your Phillies baseball history, you would understand the impact of that run of baseball from the years of 1976-83. Winning a World Series, two NL Pennants, and five and a half division titles in eight years will never be mistaken for a dynasty. But prior to 1976, the Phillies epitomized what it meant to be a second-division ball club. Since their NL inception in 1883, the team had been part of only two postseasons before 1976. In fact, it took the franchise 32 years to win their first NL Pennant in 1915 (where they lost in five games to the Boston Red Sox) in spite of having some of the better players to play in their respective generations (Ed Delahanty, Pete Alexander, Billy Hamilton, Dummy Hoy, Gavvy Cravath, and Sherry Magee, among others). It would take them another 35 years before the Whiz Kid bunch made it to the Series in 1950 when they may have beaten the mighty New York Yankees if Curt Simmons (a past guest on the Passed Ball Show) had been allowed to pitch in the World Series. Twenty-six more years passed before the Phillies made another postseason appearance.
It was the combination of Owens, Ozark, and Green who allowed for the team to regain its form. The 1972 season saw the hapless Phillies finish off a 59-97 season despite having the best pitcher in the sport. Steve Carlton (27-10, 1.97) pitched to a .730 winning percentage. The Phillies, at 32-87, had a .368 WP in games in which Carlton did not get a decision. It was June of that season when the Phillies made a change, relieving GM Jack Quinn and (later) manager Frank Lucchesi of their duties. The fate of the team changed when Owens was promoted to General Manager. Owens had been in the Phillies organization as early as 1955 as a minor league manager and was the farm director of the team when the change was made. Owens named himself manager for the rest of the season so he could see for himself what the root of the Phillies problem was.
Completely deserved, most of the praise of the Phillies success from 1976-83 has been given to Owens. He started his rebuilding of the franchise in 1973 when he named Green the Director of Scouting and Ozark the manager. Ozark led the ball club in 1973 to a 71-91 record. The 1974 season saw the team grow to 80 wins, a nine-game improvement. The following season, the Phillies were 86-76. They went from sixth place to third place to second place in the first three seasons under Ozark. Finally, the 1976 Phillies erupted for 101 wins, just one less than the mighty Big Red Machine. Of course, the Phillies that season were a flea on the back of a Reds team poised for a second consecutive World Series title. But finally, all the hard work by Owens, Green, and Ozark had paid off. In 1977, the Phillies had a little harder to work, but managed to win the same 101 games and hold off the Pittsburgh Pirates by five games to take the NL East.
The Dodgers finished the regular season three wins fewer than the Philadelphia Phillies. However, the Dodgers beat the Phillies in four games in the NLCS. The following season saw the Phillies drop to 90-72. They were able to hold off the Pirates by 1.5 games to take their third straight division title. It seemed like a repeat of the season before when the Phillies lost in the NLCS to the Dodgers in four games and the Dodgers lost to the Yankees in the World Series.
Owens thought of a plan to help an underachieving offense. See, with power hitters like Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski, in spite of the home runs and runs driven in, the team hit .258 for the 1978 season. For a perennial playoff team, the thought was they could improve on the batting average and .328 on-base percentage. They added the future all-time hits leader Pete Rose, and he hit .331 for the 1979 Phillies. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing season for Philadelphia, as they finished fourth in the NL East with an 84-78 record, and the decision was made to relieve Ozark of his duties after 132 games and replace him with Green.
As the Phillies were on their way to their first World Series Championship in 1980, the mood in the clubhouse was suspect at best. Green challenged his players to a point where there was a lot of dissension among the players. Green was a leader, but he wanted to lead his way. He was not looking to make friends, was not interested in camaraderie. When the Phillies beat the Houston Astros in the best-played, most evenly matched five-game series the game had ever seen, Green was one of the first out of the dugout and was jumping up and down with the players on the field. As they finished off the Royals in game six of the World Series, the job had been completed. Owens had guided the team to the championship and Green had run the scouting department since the start and was behind the bench for the last two-plus seasons. The only one not to bask in the glory was Ozark, who by that time was coaching under Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda (another previous Passed Ball Show guest).
The Phillies remained competitive throughout the early part of the 1980s, with Green leading the team to the postseason in 1981 and Owens leading the team to the 1983 World Series. No doubt that it was Owens who deserves most of the credit, but Green was part of the front office for many years that helped develop the players that turned the Phillies around. And the 1970s was a time where a manager really did matter, unlike in the game today. It is no coincidence that managers had a tendency for staying around with a respective club much longer then than they do now. Ozark had a pulse of the team and most liked to play for him. It truly was the combination of the three that led the Philadelphia Phillies to their best stretch in the history of the franchise. And that includes the most recent 2007-11 teams.
Owens passed away on December 26, 2003 at the age of 79, while Ozark died on May 7, 2009 at the age of 85. Green, who temporarily led the Chicago Cubs in the right direction which included a NL East title in 1984, and would later manage the Yankees (1989) and Mets (1993-1996), is 81 right now and resides in Maryland. He currently works for the Philadelphia Phillies as an advisor to the General Manager.