Lyon: Dallas Green never held back

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Philles pitcher Tug McGraw is hugged by his manager, Dallas Green (right) and teammates after the Phils won Game 5 of the 1980 World Series. UPI

He was florid-faced and silver-maned, a big, imposing man with a boom-box mouth to match, unwavering in his convictions and straight-from-the-shoulder with his opinions.

George Dallas Green was a baseball lifer, old school and damn proud of it. His favorite word was "belly," meaning grit and gumption, heart and hustle, and he had little patience with those who tried to cut corners.

His favorite saying was "We not I," and wherever he landed he would flog his audience with it, sparing neither ego nor eardrum. In this, he took special pride.

"I'm a screamer, a yeller, and a cusser," he happily agreed. "I never hold back."

Green, 82, died Wednesday.

Their nickname for him was Whispers. He was 6-foot-5 but always seemed even bigger. He had the bearing of a drill sergeant.

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The thin of skin tended to pout and sulk after having been strafed by one of his profanity-laced meltdowns, but often they also tended to respond with seething I'll-show-him passion.

Shortstop Larry Bowa, who was napalm and tabasco sauce himself, said: "It was like what the Packers used to say about Vince Lombardi, that he treats us all alike . . . like dogs."

In the Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers, Dallas Green was voted the most controversial skipper of the 1980s, with this trenchant assessment: "Dallas Green was the last of the hard-ass managers, surviving from the pre-free agency era."

It is generally agreed that without Green's lashing them on, the 1980 Phillies would not have brought the franchise its very first championship. His peel-the-paint-off-the-walls tirades rallied them and unified them, lit that fire in the belly he was always talking about.

And when it was over, Green waded into the champagne-soaked bedlam of the champions' locker room and sought out each player and bestowed bear hugs and tear-streaked thank-yous. He knew exactly how much this meant, for the city and the fans and his players.

The Phillies of the late 1970s were undeniably talented. They won the National League East three years in a row but always went belly-up in the playoffs. Then they brought in Pete Rose but still swooned in the last month of the 1979 season anyway.

Complacency, Green thundered, accusingly, and then took over as manager himself. His introductory speech to them: "All that talent, and you were one of the poorest teams in baseball last year. No more. No more excuses. No more alibis."

Gone was the cushy country club atmosphere. Out came the whip. Like a parent grabbing a recalcitrant child by the ear, Dallas Green marched the Phillies to another pennant, another postseason berth. But this time, they didn't fold. And in the process he became only the fourth manager to win a World Series in his first year.

It wasn't long before others came lining up to court him, and over the next decades he rode baseball's carousel.

There wasn't a way station in the sport at which he didn't stop - player, coach, manager, general manager, farm director, president, consultant, and senior adviser. Beside the Phillies, he would work for the Cubs, Mets, and Yankees. In 1981, the Cubs hired him away from the Phillies as GM, and of course he hit the ground running, adopting a slogan: Building a New Tradition. This was a not-so-subtle jab at a franchise that hadn't made a postseason appearance since 1945.

So he set about gutting the roster and was immediately working trades, the most notable the one that acquired Bowa and a minor-league infielder named Ryne Sandberg. Bowa gave them three solid seasons, and all Sandberg did was go to the Hall of Fame.

By 1984, Green had the long-suffering, woebegone Cubs in the postseason. He was voted executive of the year.

But from there, things unraveled. There were palace intrigues and power struggles, assassinations by whispers, all those things for which he had no taste. Finally, what seemed inevitable became fact. He resigned in October 1987. But he left behind a farm system that he had rebuilt, developing Greg Maddux, Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer, and Mark Grace, among others. He laid the foundation for the team that would win a division title in 1989.

Green would make two managerial appearances in New York, neither especially memorable. The Mets he inherited pretty much tuned him out, and it was obvious his style was at odds with the new breed. His employment by the Yankees offered the anticipation of a George Steinbrenner vs. Dallas Green steel-cage match - two men notorious for their impatience, hair-trigger tempers, and window-rattling voices.

It never was a matter of if the owner would fire his manager, only when. Would they last even one year? As it turned out, and to no one's surprise, no. After 121 games and nine more losses than wins, Green was cast adrift. Of course he didn't help his cause by repeatedly referring to the owner as "Manager George."

Said Green: "I can't be somebody I'm not."

Everyone who knew him understood that.

Bill Lyon is a retired Inquirer sports columnist and author of "Deadlines and Overtimes: Collected Writings on Sports and Life." Email him at lyon1964@comcast.net.