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.