Friday, May 8, 2009
"The Wizard of Oze"
It has been a tough time for the Phillies family. A month ago Harry Kalas passed away and yesterday former manager Danny Ozark left this earth as well.
Ozark managed the Phils from 1973 to 1979 and amassed a record of 594-510. He is the third winningest manager in the history of the franchise, only behind Gene Mauch's 645 and Harry Wright's 636. Yet, both Mauch and Wright managed a couple hundred or so more games than Ozark and they are the only two who managed more Phillies games than him.
Oze was the manager for the most successful era in Phillies history as he led the team to division titles in 1976, 1977 and 1978, after the team was absolutely putrid in the early-70s. No other manager did that. Charlie Manuel has the chance to do that this year (Knock On Wood). In 1976 and 1977, the Phillies won 101 games, a feat that no other team in franchise history has done before. Also, the '77 is considered to be the best out of any other year.
But, there is a dark clowd that overshadows Ozark's success as manager. Back in those days, only two teams from each league (NL Western Division and Eastern Division winner) made the playoffs. So, there were no division series. Not to mention, the league championship series back then were only best of five. During the three years the Phillies made the playoffs under Ozark, they failed to advance to the World Series. In '76, they got swept by "The Big Red Machine" a.k.a. the Cincinnatti Reds and then in '77 and '78, they fell to the hated Dodgers.
The '77 series is rememberd more than any other. With the series tied at one game a piece and the final three games in Philadelphia, the Phils had a 5-3 lead with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. One Dodger got on base by a bunt and then a player by the name of Manny Mota stepped up. He hit a fly ball deep to left field, where troubled defensive player Greg Luzinski was standing. Usually, "The Bull" was replaced by defensive specialist Jerry Martin in those types of situations. But, Ozark left him in. Luzinski dropped the easy fly ball against the wall, leaving the tieing runs on base.
Next up—believe or not it was current Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes. A speedster, Lopes hit a hard ground ball to Mike Schmidt. The ball carommed off of Schmidt and took an interesting bounce to shortstop Larry Bowa (now the Dodgers third base coach...how ironic), who made an OUTSTANDING intstictive bare handed grab and toss to first baseman Richie Hebner. Lopes was clearly out, but the umpire called him safe. The two runs scored and the Phils eventually loss 6-5 and then fell in Game 4 on a poor outing by Steve Carlton to lose the series. Here is a link to footage of the play. It's in this kid's video and unfortunately I can't embedd it to the post becasue an embedd link is disabled by him. When you watch, just go to the 3:15 mark to see the play.
But, back to Game 3 and the play. To this day, that game is referred to as "Black Friday." It was definitely one of the more sour moments in Phillies history and Ozark, even though Lopes was CLEARLY out, was blamed for that. In 1979, the Phils fell to fourth place and on August 31 of that season, Ozark was let go. He was replaced by Dallas Green who led the Phils to a World Championship the very next season.
Oze was a lot like Charlie Manuel. He had an easy, relaxed approach to the game, but if needed, would lay down the law. His fueds with "Lefty" are well documented and he wasn't afraid to let his voice be heard if need be. He also had his fair share of funny quotes that are always fun to make a crack about in a non-demeaning way.
Sadly though, his tenure as Phillies manager is always going to be clouded by the debacle of '77. Yet, in all fairness, we should look at what Ozark really was. "The Wizard of Oze" helped develop that great team of the '70s and 1980. He was key in young players like Mike Schmidt developing. Without him, the Phillies might not have grown like they did and the 1980 World Championship may have never happen. It's a shame that he didn't get to bring it home because 1980 was as much as his team as it was Dallas's becuase he made those players into what they were due to his managing the previous years.
Me personally, I'm always going to remember and look back on Danny Ozark as the manager of the great '70s teams. These teams, barring that the current team does not surpass them, provided the best era in Phillies baseball. Rest in peace Danny. You are well respected and will surely be missed.
All of the photos above are from philly.com.