Ford: Passing of Dallas Green marks end of an era

Dallas Green in 1980 at spring training
Dallas Green at Spring Training 1980.

My favorite Dallas Green story, and one that accurately illustrates his personality, on and off the baseball field, took place when he was pitching for the University of Delaware, and the Blue Hens played an exhibition game against a traveling team of former major-leaguers that included Bill Nicholson, the enormously strong slugger from Maryland's Eastern Shore who had finished his career with the Phillies.

Green's manager instructed him to throw breaking pitches to Nicholson, who was a noted fastball hitter. This did not sit well with Green, who admired his own fastball and did not like the idea of getting beat by his second-best pitch. So he threw Nicholson a fastball instead, and it was promptly hit over the fence for a home run.

Green and the Delaware manager had a lively discussion about this turn of events after the inning ended, as you can imagine. The next time Nicholson came to bat, Green obediently threw a curveball, and that pitch was also launched deep over the fence for another home run.

As Nicholson rounded the bases again, the livid Green screamed at his manager from the mound, "He hit yours farther than he hit mine!"

And that, folks, was Dallas Green, perhaps not always right but never in doubt. The remembrances that have been spoken and written since the life-long baseball man, best known here for his stint as Phillies manager, died Wednesday at the age of 82, paint much the same picture. He was a force of nature, but you really have to think about what that expression means to understand the ability of his will to bend the will of others. Disagreeing with Dallas Green was like disagreeing with gravity. You could jump in the air to make your own point, but eventually the ground would return under your feet.

The Phillies Way, for want of a better term, was formulated when Green worked in the farm system for Paul Owens in the 1970s, and the two assembled a fleet of talented scouts and minor-league personnel - and everyone they hired was essentially a reflection of themselves. It was an organization that believed in values that were decidedly old-school. They wanted guys who played hard, and if that extended off the field, well, that was all right, too. The scouts might have taken stopwatches on their road trips, but mostly they took their eye, their experience, and their gut, and that served the organization well for a good while. Hugh Alexander and Gordy Goldsberry could look at a guy and tell you if he could play, and even when analytical inroads began to be made on the game by outside forces like the Bill James Abstract, those remained more abstract within the Phillies organization than almost anywhere else.

The most telling indication of the influence and effect Green, in particular, had on the franchise is that his methods persisted even after he went from the Phillies to the Cubs, then the Yankees, then the Mets, before returning nearly 20 years ago as a special adviser. Green came back to an organization in 1998 that hadn't changed very much (or won very much, one must observe) since he left.

That wasn't all due to his lone force of will, of course. Green and Owens were philosophical fits for a patrician ownership family that believed very much in the old order of things. And when the Carpenters sold, the club didn't divert under the leadership of Bill Giles or David Montgomery from the familiar ruts that had been worn in the road over decades. That's not all bad, and there's a certain beauty in that unwavering dedication to principles. It finally paid off again when an extraordinary group of draft picks came together at the same time, with the finishing touches applied by another old-school hand, Pat Gillick, and the team won a second World Series title.

The Phillies didn't pivot quickly into the modern age of advanced scouting, Moneyball thinking, BABIP (batting average for balls in play), and all the rest. Some of the organization's current rebuilding struggles are related to that and certainly led to the direction change mandated by majority owner John Middleton and personified by the selection of young general manager Matt Klentak. Suffice it to say, the old Phillies didn't hire a lot of Ivy League graduates. (Or any league graduates, for that matter.)

Green believed in the way he and Owens built the organization the same way he believed in his fastball, even if it occasionally landed over the fence. That's a good thing, and the Phillies benefited from their confidence and their hewing to the traditional truths of the game.

It's worth taking a moment to observe that, along with the passing of a truly great individual, a personality so large it overwhelmed any room, we are also marking the symbolic passage of an era in Phillies baseball. It was a philosophical era that lasted more than four decades, produced the only two world championships in the 135-year history of the franchise, and was largely birthed by the vision and fire of George Dallas Green.

The next era will be lucky to do as well and last as long.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports