Dallas Green, who died today at 82, once told his players he was the toughest sonofabitch for whom they’d ever play. Whether leading the Phillies to their first World Series title or surviving the furies of George Steinbrenner with the 1989 Yankees or the planned obsolescence of the early-to-mid 1990s Mets, Green’s kind of tough let him survive the kind of times that could break the toughest of birds at a moment’s notice.
None of that kind of tough could keep even this imposing silver-crowned man from crumpling when his nine-year-old granddaughter, Christina Taylor Green, was shot to death in the same 2011 attack that killed a federal judge and four others and wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords.
“I can’t believe this could happen to any nine-year-old child,” Green said by phone from his Caribbean winter home to New York Daily News writer Mike Lupica. “The worst thing that could happen to us.” Then, Green wept shamelessly for losing the granddaughter who was born on the same day as the 9/11 atrocities, whose baby picture was one of those featured in Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11.
This was a man who’d bullwhipped the 1980 Phillies to a staggering World Series showdown with the Royals, during which his own Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt went mano-a-mano with the Royals’ Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, and won. There were those who said those Phillies banded together in spite of their manager, who made no apology for being the ancient school screamer, yeller, and cusser.
This was a man who moved on swiftly enough to run the Cubs’ front office and fleeced his former team out of a Hall of Fame second baseman on the farm named Ryne Sandberg, who anchored a near-pennant winner for 1984, with such Green acquisitions as Rick Sutcliffe, Dennis Eckersley, Bob Dernier, Leon Durham, Gary Matthews, and Keith Moreland.
This was a man who then resigned after 1987, after firing manager Gene Michael and denouncing his team as quitters, but not before putting into place the pieces of the next Cubs contenders, including Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Greg Maddux, plus Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston, Rafael Palmeiro, and Jamie Moyer.
This was a man brought to manage the Yankees for 1989 and discovering the hard way that his owner was even more meddlesome than Charlie Finley had been with the 1960s and 1970s Kansas City-to-Oakland Athletics, leaving his players’ psyches “fragile” (his word) and barely able to compete, until he finally made a wisecrack about “Manager George” that was guaranteed to start pushing him out of a job he no longer wanted.
This was a man brought aboard subsequent to that to try managing a Mets team, from 1993-96, whose overseers had dismantled from cohesive if randy champions and consistent contenders to an incohesive, mismanaged wreckage. Yet Mr. Toughest Sonofabitch You’ll Ever Meet proved an empathetic and loyal backer when his hapless righthander Anthony Young endured a 27-decision losing streak, which may have surprised charges past and present who were used to Green tirades over the least consequential mistakes.
Perhaps Green’s empathy came from his own early career as an earnest but not really successful pitcher for the Phillies, the Senators, the Mets, and the Phillies for one last round. (Green was on the Phillies when their epic 1964 pennant collapse branded them for the rest of the decade and beyond.) “It’s a difficult thing for him to go through,” Green said of his man during the lowest of the streak’s days. “That’s why we’ve had stiff hands out there. Everyone’s trying to do a little too much.”
The man who took no quarter from the loftiest Hall of Famer to the lowest scrubeenie, from the snarkiest baseball owners to the snarkiest Chicago politicians (he tangled with Chicago’s powers that be over putting lights into Wrigley Field, even threatening to move the team to another ballpark; the powers that be agreed to change the city ordinance that blocked the lights just before Green departed), couldn’t scream, yell, cuss, or bludgeon back the little granddaughter whose neighbour brought her to a Giffords appearance knowing the little girl already had a taste for government.
Green could spurn George Steinbrenner’s hush money—The Boss offered him a better deal to stay aboard in the front office, after firing him as the Yankees’ manager in mid-August 1989, but Green rejected it saying, “This experience is something I have to get over”—but not spurn the tears that barreled through even this hard man when his wife, Sylvia, came to him following a telephone call and said, “They shot our beautiful Christina.”
The toughest SOB anyone would ever play baseball for admitted life would never again be what it was after that. I hope to God his beautiful Christina had a big hug and kiss ready for Grandpa on the other side.