Profile of the Past: Danny Ozark

He was inexperienced as a manager and at one point early in his tenure, the players on his Phillies club called for his dismissal and he got no help from the media. But somehow, Danny Ozark managed to stay around for seven years. It is still a head scratcher to many how Danny Ozark managed for the amount of time he did when his skills in handling a team seemed limited and his guys could hardly stand to play for him.

"We're not out of the race." - Danny Ozark (1975) when the Phillies were seven games out with six to play.

Hired in 1973 by Bob Carpenter, Danny Ozark was not in anyone's mind what a great manager should be and definitely not considered the right kind of man for Philadelphia. He had coached in Los Angeles with the Dodgers and that seemed to play the biggest part in his hiring. Carpenter liked Ozark's Dodger background and he appeared to be the type of manager that would go easy on the young team. Carpenter felt that was what they needed. Former Phillie Jim Bunning had been in the running for the job and many, including him, thought he had it. But Owens followed his gut and brought Ozark on board.

But by early June of 1973 some of the players were already pleading for Owens to fire Ozark and come back to do the job himself. Owens encouraged them to tough it out and give the unpopular manager a chance. Ozark seemed to lack the one thing that most people who have played baseball or know the game will tell you is fundamentally important to the success of a team and that is communication. Ozark was not proving to be a manager that could create a relationship with his club that would affect them positively and push them in the right direction. One of the things that stands out in his time as manager was that this was before Mike Schmidt was the player he would become over the next few years. In 1973 Schmidt had a sub-par season batting only .196 and striking out 136 times in 367 at bats, even though he did hit 18 homeruns and was playing third base magnificently. Ozark was one of the big believers in Schmidt even as people complained about Schmidt's struggles and his style of play. Whether or not it could ever be said that Ozark played any part in Schmidt's progress is hard to say.

In 1975 after declaring that the Phillies were not out of the race towards the end of that season, Ozark was informed by a reporter that they had six games to play and were seven behind. He was clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed and Philadelphia fans were as displeased with him as his team was. A poll ran in The Daily News in which readers were asked who they would like to have managing the Phillies. Richie Ashburn got the most votes. Ozark trailed far behind.

Significantly though that was the same year that Paul Owens acquired Tug McGraw and Garry Maddox and later that year the Phillies would set a franchise record 101 wins on their way to their first National League East title. In August, they would lead the Pirates by 15 1/2 games. They would go on to lose the NLCS to the Cincinnati Reds, thus expanding their post season losing streak to eleven. Ozark hung on to his job, however, probably to the amazement and clearly, to the dismay of some of his players. But Owens seemed willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and despite his players distaste for Ozark's style of managing, the Phillies still played well. Imagine that 2004 Phillies fans?

At the end of 1976 Ozark was named Manager of the Year. Surely the team knew he would not be fired then.

Of the 1977 Phillies Paul Owens would later say, "There's no question that the 1977 Phillies were the best in baseball and the best Phillies team in a long time." That club's defense, pitching, bench and the entire starting lineup was excellent and it appeared, yet again, that the Phillies had what it took to get beyond the National League playoffs and make it into the World Series. On October 6th hopes would yet again be dashed. The Dodgers would win the series three games to one. As the losses piled up it would seem Owens would bear down and put Ozark out of a job but there were so many things that went right for the Phillies that he must have seen Ozark differently than most did. It seemed to come back to the idea that Ozark was a kid gloves kind of manager and that Owens instincts might have told him that no other type of manager would be able to handle this group that included Larry Bowa and Schmidt. They were good enough to get the job done without someone standing over them policing them or throwing a fit. Or were they? It is obvious they were good, they made it to the post-season, but they were continuously falling short and were unable to clinch the National League pennant.

Ultimately the hammer would fall on Ozarks' head for that.

Once Pete Rose wanted to leave Cincinnati, Paul Owens wanted to make a deal and players like Larry Bowa encouraged Bob Carpenter to go after Rose. Phillies VP Bill Giles would appeal to the first baseman and encourage him to come here. Rose would hustle a deal to his liking and the contract was signed. Immediately his presence would change Mike Schmidt, who would later credit Pete for helping him to become a better player and to realize his potential. But the rest of the Phillies would struggle that year and Phillies fans were getting restless.

What would anger fans and media alike most though was when Danny Ozark would publicly say of the team at the time, "We're playing class D baseball". That season was embarrassing too because at the time they were the highest paid team in the league and they were not playing to their ability. Pitchers Steve Carlton and Tug McGraw were disgusted with Ozark and frustrated with his inactivity in handling the pitching staff. Ozark was not far from being shown the door.

What is so incredible about Ozark's time with the Phillies is that he left this town with a 594-510 record and led the club to three division titles. Just before he was fired, Phillies fans chants of "Oze must go" would fill Veterans Stadium. It was as if most believed that this Phillies club was successful in spite of him and that he was simply along for the ride. Perhaps the thinking went that a team that talented would actually go beyond division titles and go to a World Series if a new manager would be brought in. It did prove to be true.

Paul Owens would fire Danny Ozark on August 31, 1979 at a hotel in Atlanta. And the funny thing of it is, Ozark would say he was stunned by the decision. Some would say that Ozark was too nice and that he took a lot of abuse from people when he was doing the best he knew how.

Whatever side of the fence you are on about him let's observe one thing. During Danny Ozark's tenure Phillies fans would become restless and angry due in part to the fact that the team wasn't able to do more than win a division title. Now we are restless and angry because we can't even be a part of October baseball. The teams he managed were some of the best that came through Philadelphia. Danny Ozark must have done something right because many fans my age don't have a clue what it would feel like to watch the Phillies win three division titles in less than a decade.

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