The Genius Of Paul Owens Was Underrated

Paul Owens was a baseball genius, pure and simple. Unfortunately, for many of us, it took his death to make us realize just how much he brought to baseball as a whole and specifically to the Phillies. I'm ashamed to say that as much of a Phillies fan as I am, Owens contributions were never driven home to me more vividly than when his passing brought all of his contributions to light.

There are very few people in baseball who have literally done it all. Paul Owens was one of those men. He was a minor league player, a minor league player/manager, a minor league manager, a scout, a farm director, a major league general manager, a major league manager, and finally, an adviser to both former Phillies president Bill Giles and for the last 15 years, a senior adviser to general managers of the Phillies.

It's easy to think that Owens final few years with the team were ceremonial, but that's simply wrong. Owens was a regular in spring training and was relied on heavily by the Phillies front office staff to evaluate young talent. Speaking of spring training, the Carpenter Complex was the brain child of Paul Owens, who was instrumental in the conception, design and construction of the Phillies spring training facility, which became a model followed by many teams.

As Ed Wade said "without The Pope, there wouldn't have been anything to commemorate," during last season's good-bye to Veterans Stadium. Mike Schmidt, Bob Boone, Greg Luzinski and many, many others were developed under Paul Owens' watchful eye. Key additions to the team such as Manny Trillo, Tug McGraw and Gene Garber were made in deals that Owens either engineered or helped to engineer. It was Owens' shrewd planning and attention to the farm system that made the Phillies so strong in the late 70s and brought a World Series trophy to Philadelphia in 1980. It was Owens who put together the 1983 National League Championship team and then personally guided it as their manager after firing Pat Corrales in mid-season.

Perhaps, no other event signifies the real Paul Owens than Corrales' firing. Don't forget that the Phillies were in first place when Owens made the decision to fire Corrales because the team "wasn't playing up to their potential." Owens made that move because he didn't just look at talent or stats. He looked at people. He got to know players and managers and knew what made them tick. History will never know if the Phillies would have made it to the World Series in 1983 with Pat Corrales as their manager or if perhaps, they would have even won the series had Corrales stayed, but Paul Owens believed in his heart and knew in his baseball mind that a change needed to be made.

As general manager of the Phillies, Owens was always exploring deals to improve the team. In that pursuit, comes one of the great Paul Owens stories. Owens had a penchant for late night baseball discussions that would last sometimes until sunrise. In one of those discussions, he and Tigers GM Jim Campbell started throwing names back and forth. Even though Owens was always slow to give up any young players, he allegedly agreed to send a young Bob Boone and Larry Christenson to the Tigers for veterans Bill Freehan and Jim Northrup. As the story goes, the discussion was marked by several rounds of good, stout bourbon and in the morning, the trade was off. Some versions say it was because Owens didn't remember making the deal and other versions say it was because he simply thought better of the trade. Either way, it had to be a great night of baseball discussions that didn't end until near morning.

Another of Owens key contributions was the 1980 World Championship team. Again, it wasn't just the players. Look at manager Dallas Green and you'll see a Paul Owens protégé. Green learned from the master and learned well. Had Owens helped to assemble the players, but not passed his wisdom to Green, the outcome may not have been the same. That doesn't just come from observers, that comes from Green, who was one of Owens' best friends and has talked many times about how Owens mentored him in his career.

In 1986, the Phillies honored Owens by naming a minor league award after him. The Paul Owens Award is given to the best pitcher and hitter in the Phillies organization. It's only fitting that the award is named to honor a man who was never too busy to help young players. A man who saw greatness on the field and took the time to know greatness off the field. Hopefully, players will stop to think about just what the Paul Owens Award means and what both the award and the man mean to Phillies baseball.

As with a lot of genius, it is realized too late. In covering the Phillies, I had the honor of meeting Paul Owens on a number of occasions. In none of those meetings did I stop to think or realize the character of man and the depth of baseball knowledge that Owens embodied. I regret that now. Hopefully, somewhere, somehow, Paul Owens will get to know just how what he meant to Phillies executives, players and perhaps, most importantly, to fans of our beloved team. You have to believe that somewhere, Owens and the great Richie Ashburn are already talking baseball well into the morning hours.

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