CD's Connect the Dots... Today, Tomorrow & Forever

The noise was thunderous that late Friday afternoon, October 7, 1977 as more than 63,000 rabid Philadelphia Phillies fans were on the edge of their seats as their heroes took the field for the 9th inning of game three of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers. With a two run lead, ace reliever Gene Garber on the hill and a solid defense behind him, the Phils appeared primed for a World Series appearance.

Few probably noticed as Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, Garry Maddox, RichieHebner took their positions for the final three outs of what would surely be another scintillating Phils win, giving them a 2-1 lead in the best of five series. And with Steve Carlton and Jim Lonborg primed for the next two days, certainly Phillies Fever was in the air.

However, what few noticed, and would come back to haunt the Phillies...and haunts them even today, was a move Manager Danny Ozark DIDN'T make, a move he had consistently made all season with a lead in the late innings. For as Schmidt and his merry men of gold gloves and great hands took the field, they were joined by Left Fielder Greg Luzinski, he of the lightning bolt bat, and stone glove. What transpired over the next ten minutes would forever be known as Black Friday, a day when a move NOT made by a manager would be second guessed forever.

You see, a wonderful defensive player named Jerry Martin always replaced Luzinski when the Phils lead late, and he fully expected to take the field that overcast afternoon. Incredibly, Ozark stuck with Luzinski, and a fly ball thatMartin catches easily bounced off Luzinski's glove and when the dust settled the Dodgers had three runs, a 6-5 win.... and a series won became a series lost. Ozark would never really recover from his gaffe, and he was replaced less than two years later.

Travel back with me now to 1964 when a solid young righty named Ray Culp toiled for another Phillie team bent on riding the Pennant Express. On theevening of July 22, Culp twirled a brilliant 4-1 win over the Milwaukee Braves and as the first place Phillies left the field, they were blessed with a pitching staff consisting of three nine game winners, Dennis Bennett, Jim Bunning and Art Mahaffey and two eight game winners, Chris Short and Culp. Certainly, this was a staff rich in depth, talent and youth and visions of multiple 15 win seasons danced in their heads.

Though Culp pitched effectively in near miss no decisions against the Giants and Astros over the next few weeks, his record remained at 8-7 as he took the mound against the forlorn Mets on Saturday, August 15. Certainly, this would be an easy in for Culp, a confidence builder for the coming pennant stretch in September, a stretch when Culp's trusty right arm would be needed. True to form the Phils scored six runs early and Culp entered the bottom of the second with a 6-0 lead.

Manager Gene Mauch, as brilliant as they come that season, was about tomake a move that would later haunt him...for after Culp allowed the first two hitters in the inning to reach base safely, he was removed, still leading 6-0. Though the Phils would win the game 8-1, Culp never recovered from that day, and was basically useless in September.

In fact, he did not pitch even once during the infamous ten game losing streak in late September that would again cost the Phils a pennant. Though the storiestold even to this day speak of sore arms, sore backs or sore feelings, the fact remains that a managers move, or non move, in the case of Ozark in ‘77, would play such a crucial role in the futures of their respective teams.

That these past events are even being discussed at all was brought on by a decision by Manager Larry Bowa to pinch hit for slumping slugger, Pat Burrell in the ninth inning of a winning game. Though the ultimate result of the pinch hitting experience proved irrelevant in an eventual 2-0 Phils win, it will be interesting to watch how this seemingly innocuous event unfolds in the future of Burrell, Bowa and the Phillies. You see, a manager's job is to win, and Bowa felt his best chance to win the game may have been to pinch hit for Burrell. That they won the game should finish the story...and the story may indeed be finished.

However, the story that is yet to be told is, how this seemingly isolated event affects the delicate psyche of one Pat Burrell, he of the season long slump and monstrous potential. There are a few indisputable facts in the equation. One, Bowa's job is to win and he will use whatever means are at his disposal to get a win when he can. Yet, his responsibility is also to look at the whole picture.... baseball and its 162 game schedule is a marathon, not a sprint. As was seen byOzarks and Mauch's contrasting decisions, a move or non-move by a manager can have tremendous ramifications on today, tomorrow and forever.

Another indisputable fact is that Burrell has been in a season long slump, and no amount of cajoling, benching, coaching or cheer leading has shaken his slumber.That Burrell is important to the future of this team is without question, it is almost impossible to fathom a playoff run by this talented Phillie team without everyday contributions from Burrell. This team is built to have Burrell's slugging in the middle of an order, surrounded by Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu and MikeLieberthal. With his thunderous bat suddenly silent, the offense is like an eight cylinder racer running on seven, still smooth and sleek, but not capable of quick starts. So Bowa's decision against the Expos to possibly sacrifice the future for the present was a decision fraught with risk.

This is in no way meant to criticize the decision, for as Ozark wanted Luzinski's bat in the lineup in case of a Dodger rally, and Mauch wanted a fresh pitcherin a tight pennant race, Bowa wanted more runs in a tight game. Such are managers and players futures interwoven.... today, tomorrow and forever. Many insist that Ozark lost his talented club that day, October 7, when he failed to move. When Ray Culp refused to attend the reunion party of the ‘64 Phillies in 1989, more than a few players insisted it was hard feelings from an unforgiving Culp that kept him away. Who knows for sure?

What is known is this.... how Pat Burrell reacts to his benching will be in plain view for all Phillie faithful to see in the coming days, months and years. If he breaks out of his slump with reckless abandon, Bowa will be hailed as a genius, awakening the sleeping giant with a wave of his pinch-hitting wand.

However, if Burrell falls deeper into the abyss, and the Phils fortunes tumble with him, the decision to pinch hit for him in the ninth inning of a winning game in July may come back to haunt Bowa. On such decisions do managers and players careers weigh in the balance...today, tomorrow and forever.

Columnist's Note: Comments and questions are welcome. Contact me at connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD


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