For frustrated Phillies this is 'next season'
After three straight frustrating playoff losses, the Philadelphia Phillies went into the 1979 season with high hopes of changing the formula. They did come up with a different ending, too, but it was hardly the one they had envisioned. Instead of finally earning that long-denied World Series trip, they didn't even come close to making the playoffs.Skip to next paragraph
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Even the adoring fans who have poured into Veterans Stadium in record numbers the last four seasons turned against their heroes as they struggled home a badly beaten fourth. The news media, too, became hostile. And the players reacted to all this by performing more and more indifferently as it became obvious their chances were slipping away.
Was the lost season a fluke? Were there too many injuries for even Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Pete Rose, and the rest of those superstars to overcome? Or has this theam's reputation been unduly inflated by a combination of front office enthusiasm, media hype, fan expectations, and player overconfidence?
We'll find out during the current season, because if ever the old slogan applied to any team, "This is next year" for the Phillies. They have a new manager in Dallas Green, a 6 ft. 5 in., 230-pound former pitcher and minor league manager with a "tough guy" reputation, but otherwise it is basically the same cast being given one more chance to prove itself on the field, not just in its press clippings.
"After a while, the frustrations of the injuries and of losing caught up with us last year," says Green. "It got to the point where it affected us mentally. The fans and the media got negative, and the reaction of the players just wasn't good. They more or less said, 'This year's over, we'll get 'em in 1980.'
"People say, 'You're pros; you should be able to handle situations like that, ' -- and they're right, to a degree. But we all like to hear the cheers and plaudits. It can affect a team when the fans go against it, and it affected this one.They didn't execute or play well, and they couldn't seem to come out of it. I think that's why Paul [General Manager Paul Owens] and Ruly [club president Ruly Carpenter] decided to make a change."
The change consisted of firing the easygoing Danny Ozark; persuading Green, Director of the team's minor league operations, to step into the breach for the last month; then talking him into staying on this year in hopes of getting the team straightened out. Aside from that, it's been pretty much a standpat operation -- no major trades of free-agent signings, but rather a quiet vote of confidence in the basic talent of a team whose playoff failures tend to obscure the fact that over the last four reasons it has won more division championships (National League East titles in 1976, '77 and '78) and more games (376) than any other club in the league.
"My job in the last 30 days of the '79 season was to find out if these guys still wanted to play for Philadelphia and to win. And my judgment was that down deep they really care -- they really want to win for our fans. So Paul, Ruly, and I decided to give this team one more year. We feel they deserved to stay together another year to see if they're as good as we think they are -- as they think they are.