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.

Best of MLB: Eric Thames hits league-leading 11th home run in Brewers' win vs. Reds

Best of MLB: Eric Thames hits league-leading 11th home run in Brewers' win vs. Reds

MILWAUKEE -- Eric Thames hit his major league-leading 11th home run -- his sixth against Cincinnati this season -- and the Milwaukee Brewers cruised to a 9-1 victory over the Reds on Tuesday night.

In his first season with the Brewers, Thames capped a five-run sixth with a two-run drive off reliever Robert Stephenson.

Hernan Perez had a pair of RBI triples, then homered off Stephenson leading off the sixth, and Jonathan Villar had a pair of two-run singles.

Zach Davies (2-2) allowed six hits in five scoreless innings, lowering his ERA from 8.24 to 6.57. He stranded a pair of runners in three innings (see full recap).

Keuchel tosses complete game in Astros' win over Indians
CLEVELAND -- Dallas Keuchel pitched a complete game to extend his promising start to the season and the Houston Astros beat the Cleveland Indians 4-2 Tuesday night even though Jose Altuve and Teoscar Hernandez left following a frightening collision in the eighth inning.

Altuve and Hernandez were chasing a popup in right field and stayed down for a while after. Altuve appeared to get hit near his chin by Hernandez's arm, but he walked off the field under his own power. Hernandez, called up from the minors before the game, was carted off the field with an injury to his left leg.

Keuchel (4-0) gave up solo homers to Austin Jackson in the third and Michael Brantley in the ninth. The left-hander, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, held Cleveland to six hits and has a 1.22 ERA.

Josh Tomlin (1-3) allowed three runs -- all in the fifth -- in six innings (see full recap).

Tigers score 9 in 9th to rout Mariners, 19-9
DETROIT -- James McCann, Justin Upton and Alex Avila homered for Detroit -- and that was before the Tigers added nine runs in the fifth inning en route to a 19-9 rout of the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night.

Felix Hernandez (2-2) allowed four runs in two innings in his shortest outing since 2015, and Seattle's next two pitchers fared even worse. Detroit finished with 24 hits, 19 of which came in the first five innings. That was despite injuries that kept Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Jose Iglesias out of the lineup.

Jordan Zimmermann (2-1) allowed five runs in six innings. Jean Segura, Danny Valencia and Nelson Cruz hit solo homers for Seattle, but that wasn't nearly enough to keep up with Detroit's offensive onslaught.

Mikie Mahtook added another home run for the Tigers in the eighth. Ian Kinsler had four hits and four runs before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh (see full recap).

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

The Phillies' starting pitching rotation, for the time being, features four arms that were acquired in trades that have coincided with the team's rebuild, which started after the 2014 season.

Nick Pivetta will become the latest to join the group when he is officially activated. He was in the Phillies' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, but those plans changed when Tuesday night's game against the Miami Marlins was postponed because of rain.

No makeup date was announced.

The rainout means Pivetta's big-league debut will be pushed back. Vince Velasquez, Tuesday's scheduled starter, will pitch Wednesday night against the Marlins and Jeremy Hellickson will start the series finale Thursday. Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin are likely to stay on turn and pitch Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles. That means Pivetta's debut will likely happen Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Not a bad venue for an unveiling. He does not have to be activated until that day. In the interim, the Phils are carrying an extra reliever in Mark Leiter Jr.

Even with the weather-related change in plans, Pivetta was thrilled to be in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

"I've achieved my goal of getting here eventually," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I'm happy to be here. I want to get my feet on solid ground right now and just take it one step at a time."

Pivetta is a Canadian from Victoria, British Columbia, about 100 miles northwest of Seattle. As a kid, he watched Toronto Blue Jays' games on television and idolized Roy Halladay.

Victoria must now be Phillies territory. Michael Saunders, the team's rightfielder, also hails from the town.

"You see it more and more, more Canadians getting into the game of baseball, so it's always nice to see another one in the locker room," said Saunders, 30. "Clearly he's pitched well enough to earn his way up here and I'm looking forward to seeing him play."

Pivetta is 6-5, 225 pounds. He was originally selected by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. The Phillies acquired him for Jonathan Papelbon and cash in July 2015.

Pivetta will take Aaron Nola's spot in the rotation. Nola is on the disabled list with tightness in his lower back. He could be back as soon as early next week.

Nola said he probably could have pushed himself and stayed in the rotation, but the team chose to be cautious.

"I don't think it's any big thing," Nola said.

With Pivetta on board, the Phillies now have four pitchers in their rotation that came over in "rebuild" trades.

Eflin arrived in the December 2014 deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers.

Eickhoff came in the July 2015 deal that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers.

Velasquez came in the December 2015 trade that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

Pivetta did not immediately pitch well upon joining the Phillies organization. He had a 7.31 ERA in seven starts for Double A Reading in the summer of 2015. In 28 1/3 innings, he struck out 25 and walked 19.

Pivetta was a different pitcher last season. He registered a 3.27 ERA in 148 2/3 innings between Double A and Triple A, struck out 138 and walked 51. That performance earned him a spot on the team's 40-man roster.

"In 2016, he showed us the potential to be a really good major-league pitcher," said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development. "He was a little excitable after the trade in 2015, but he came back calm and confident last year. His stuff is legit — 93 to 96 (mph) with life on the fastball, good breaking ball and good feel for the changeup."

His control continued to improve this season as he got off to a 3-0 start at Triple A. He pitched 19 innings, gave up just two earned runs, walked just two and struck out 24.

"Just getting ahead with my fastball," said Pivetta, explaining the early-season success that put him in line for the promotion. "First-pitch strikes are big. Even if I get into that 0-1 count or that 1-1 count, getting back to that 1-2 count is big. So being able to even up those counts have been really big for me, as well, and being able to finish off with my off-speed later in the counts, too."

Pivetta pitched for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. He made one start and took a no-decision in the team's 4-1 loss to Columbia. Pivetta worked four innings and allowed one run.

"That helped me," Pivetta said. "It was awesome. It was like having playoff baseball in March."

It's not clear how long Pivetta will stay in the big-league rotation. But he has more than put himself on the map, and if he continues to pitch well, he'll make more starts with the big club this season.

"I did not expect to be here this early in the season," he said. "I am happy to be here right now. I'll see how long I stay and just have fun while I am here."