An appreciation: Dallas Green, a great baseball man (1934-2017)

An appreciation: Dallas Green, a great baseball man (1934-2017)

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Spring training hasn't been the same this year.

You can see the difference.

You can hear it.

Dallas Green didn't make it to camp this year, and it just wasn't the same.

We missed his hulking presence ambling across the fields of Carpenter Complex during early workouts. We missed seeing him on the rooftop, under a big, straw hat, evaluating young prospects just like he had for decades.

We missed the booming, bellowing voice, the one that once lit up some of the best players in Phillies history and acted as the cattle prod that transformed them from underachievers to champions back in 1980.

The Phillies, the baseball world, the Philadelphia sporting community -- shoot, all of us -- lost a great one today when Big D lost his courageous battle with kidney disease.

He was 82.

And he was one of a kind, from the thick shock of white hair on top his head to those huge, rough hands, to that imposing 6-foot-5 inch frame, to the booming voice, to the demeanor and personality that could one minute be in-your-face and confrontational and the next soothing and gentle.

. . .

A local guy, Green came out of the University of Delaware and was destined to be a great pitcher before he hurt his arm in the days when surgery couldn't yet fix those things. He pitched six seasons with the Phillies, lived through the '64 collapse, and when his playing career ended stayed in the organization as a member of the player-development staff.

It was in this role that Green helped develop that great core of players that arrived at Veterans Stadium in the 1970s and blossomed into the organization's first World Series championship team in 1980.

From Schmidt and Carlton to Bowa, Maddox, Luzinski and Boone, the Phils had a great collection of talent in those days. But they were too often the bridesmaid and never had their day in the sun.

Late in the 1979 season, general manager Paul Owens began to worry that the clock was ticking on this collection of talent. Those Phillies were just a little too country club, he believed, to get over the hump. Owens decided they needed some old-school toughness, so he summoned Green from his player-development role and installed him as manager.

Green immediately took some sandpaper to those shiny, big egos.

And if they didn't like it, too bad.

Predictably, they hated him at first.

Hated him.

Green thought nothing of ripping a player face to face, or in the newspaper, if he sensed they needed it.

And the players thought nothing of ripping him back.

But on the night Tug McGraw threw that pitch past Willie Wilson at the Vet, they all loved him.

Larry Bowa, who had been a vocal critic of Green during that season, approached the skipper in the joyous clubhouse after the final game. With tears in his eyes and a champagne bottle in his hand, Bowa hugged Green.

"We couldn't have done it without you," the shortstop told the manager.

. . .

Controversy followed Green. That tends to happen to those who are loud, opinionated and prone to speak their mind. A few years after spraying champagne and hugging Paul Owens in the winning clubhouse -- what an awesome picture that is! -- Green got sideways with a new Phillies management group. He moved on to run the Chicago Cubs and in the process pulled one over on his old team and managed to take an infielder named Ryne Sandberg with him. Sandberg, a throw-in in the trade, blossomed into a Hall of Famer.

Eventually Green moved on from Chicago. He managed the Yankees and the Mets and never took an ounce of crap from anyone along the way.

But he was always a Phillie. In fact, 46 of his 62 years in pro ball were with the Phils.

He ended up back with the club in 1998 as a front office adviser. He remained outspoken, clashing with Scott Rolen and Charlie Manuel. But one of the things about Dallas was that he spoke his mind, said what he had to say, and the next day it was over. After he and Manuel had clashed over Manuel's managing style, the two men talked out their differences. Green admitted that he was wrong, that he saw the merits of Manuel's managerial style, and a wonderful friendship developed between the only two men to lead the Phillies to a World Series championship.

Green was never afraid to show his emotions and we saw a lot of them over the years, some we wished we never had to see.

All of our hearts bled for him and his family in January 2011 when his precious, little granddaughter, 9-year-old Christina, was killed in the shooting that seriously injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.

Five weeks later, Dallas was on the field at Carpenter Complex for the first day of spring training. I recall pitcher J.C. Romero breaking free from a drill, sprinting over to Dallas and saying, "Mr. Green, I'm so sorry." A couple of days later, Dallas decided that he would talk about the tragedy and how his family was doing. I remember a couple of reporters from New York, guys that Dallas had locked horns with over the years, showed up because they wanted to pay their respects to the great baseball man. On that day, with tears welling in his eyes, Dallas talked about his precious, little granddaughter. Coming to spring training helped, he said, because, "I don't see a little girl with a hole in her chest."

. . .

It was clear that Dallas wasn't doing well last spring training. He was in Clearwater, but going to dialysis three days a week. He talked about the possibility of getting a kidney transplant. But he didn't want any sympathy. He just wanted to feel better and help out around the team that he loved so much.

But you knew he wasn't right. He wasn't at the ballpark much last season. I remember calling him late last summer and getting a little worried because the booming voice was soft and hushed. But I also remember the Thursday before Thanksgiving. It was crazy warm that day. I called Dallas and was thrilled to hear the old boom back in his voice. I told him I wanted to come by for a visit.

"Bring your dog," he barked.

I pulled up to his home and immediately noticed a peacock roaming the property. Needless to say, Hazel stayed in the truck. I didn't want to feel the wrath of Big D if something went wrong.

For the next hour, I sat with Dallas in his big, old farmhouse. We talked about a lot of things, but mostly baseball, the rise of the '80 team, the clashes, the triumphs, working for George Steinbrenner. Dallas was feeling good that day and was especially enthused because Andy MacPhail, the Phillies club president, had called the day before to make sure he'd be in spring training.

"I'm tickled you came down," Dallas said as I left that day. "See you in Clearwater."

Well, Big D, it was me that was tickled that day. It was magic talking to you, magic knowing you. You were missed in Clearwater this year. And you'll never be forgotten. By anyone. You were one of a kind, a great baseball man and a Phillies legend.

Nick Pivetta continues build towards strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

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Nick Pivetta continues build towards strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

ATLANTA -- The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory on Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things -- get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around base runners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in saves opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Phillies rookie Nick Pivetta outpitched Atlanta Braves rookie Luiz Gohara Sunday afternoon as the Phils salvaged the final game of a three-game series with a 2-0 win at steamy SunTrust Park.
 
Maikel Franco smacked his 21st homer and Aaron Altherr had an RBI double for the Phillies' two runs.
 
Pivetta (7-10) pitched six shutout innings and the bullpen did the rest.
 
The Phillies ended up with a 13-6 record against Atlanta this season, their best against any team.
 
• Pivetta has mostly struggled in 25 starts in his rookie season, but he's also had some very nice outings where his potential has really shined. This was one of them. His last start, in which he gave up two runs in six innings against the Dodgers, was a good one, too. So the right-hander seems to be finishing on a high note. He will have one more start before the end of the season. In a perfect world, Pivetta would have gotten more time at Triple A this season, but there was a need in the majors. Ultimately, he should benefit from his baptism by fire.
 
• Atlanta lefty Gohara was very good in his fourth big-league start. The 21-year-old from Brazil gave up just five hits, walked two and struck out nine. The only run he gave up came on Franco's homer.
 
• Pivetta did a good job pitching around trouble. He got two outs in the second inning after an error by Franco put a runner on second. He also pitched around sloppy infield play in the fifth. In the sixth, Pivetta knocked down a ball back to the box but was unable to start a double play. He stayed calm and got two outs to get out of the inning.
 
• The Phillies took a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by Franco in the top of the fifth. Franco turned on a first-pitch changeup from Gohara. The pitch was on the inside half of the plate — right in Franco's happy zone. Franco pulls off pitches away in the zone, but he kills mistakes inside. Franco will work on this flaw in winter ball this season (see story).
 
• Altherr doubled home an important insurance run for the Phillies in the eighth inning. Altherr has 61 RBIs on the season and 27 have come in the seventh inning or later.
 
• Good job by the Phillies' bullpen. Edubray Ramos and Adam Morgan pitched scoreless ball in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Morgan has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Hector Neris survived two hits in the ninth and picked up the save. He is perfect on is last 18 chances since June 28.

• The Phillies' first two hits of the game were singles to right field and both runners, Cesar Hernandez and Jorge Alfaro, were out trying to stretch at second base. Braves rightfielder Nick Markakis made two perfect throws. Hernandez needed to come out of the box quicker.
 
• The Phillies have a 35-40 record at home. They will play their final six games of the season at home beginning Monday night with the opener of a three-game series against the NL East champion Washington Nationals. Aaron Nola (12-10, 3.56) pitches against right-hander A.J. Cole (2-5, 4.43) on Monday night. Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14) opposes lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. Mark Leiter Jr. (3-6, 4.69) and right-hander Tanner Roark (13-10, 4.41) close out the series Wednesday night. The Phillies need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses.