Friday, May 08, 2009

Danny Ozark

If you were to list most underappreciated Philadelphia sports figure, Danny Ozark would have to be at the top of the list. Ozark passed away yesterday- yet another Phillies icon that managed to hang on long enough to see the Phillies grasp the brass ring.

I was thinking about that as I traveled out to Citi Field for my first look at the Mets new playpen. It isn’t my favorite of the new parks- but it is oh so Mets. Going into the Robinson rotunda you have to walk through a cringe worthy exhibit of Camaros. The first giant ad in the place that caught my eye- right on the giant scoreboard- encouraged Met fan to send their gold in for cash. I guess the Met fan hasn’t changed, even if his stadium has.

Bill Conlin describes Ozark's role better than I ever could. Frankly I was only on the cusp of understanding baseball in the mid-70s.

The Phillies were a genuine bad on field product- but were blessed with a plethora of young talent about to emerge: Schmidt and Carlton, Bowa and Boone- the centerpiece fo a decade of competitive baseball in Philadelphia.

These youth movements get fouled up all the time- teams give up on players too soon, fail to develop talent properly. Look at the Mets pitching in the mid-90s: Isringhausen, Pulsipher and Paul Wilson. Generation K was a total failure. Ozark took the successful Dodger way and transplanted it to Philadelphia- where he took the very definition of a losing organization to the cusp of its first title.

He is not the first manager to get a team to the brink and yet not push it over. Still, few organizational cultures went from such big loser to big winners in such a brief time- from joke to champions. Danny Ozark was preeminent in that shift. If not for the Big Red Machine and the residual Dodger-way teams, he might be in the Hall of Fame.

Ozark was a soldier and champion- and for my money, the most important manager in Phillies’ history.

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