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Danny Ozark

October 29, 2009

Danny Ozark 78

At one point during last night’s first game of the 2009 World Series, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was shown in the dugout wearing a batting glove. Leaving aside for a moment the greater absurdity that baseball managers wear uniforms at all (picture a basketball or football coach doing the same) let’s consider the possible reasons why Manuel was dressed to take some cuts.

1. The one-glove look was a marketing ploy to promote the new Michael Jackson concert movie.

2. Manuel was a little chilly. Just judging from what I could see on television, it looked pretty raw out there. The man is sixty-five years old. Maybe the conditions were making the joints in his fingers ache, and a batting glove was the only thing around to add some extra insulation.

3. It was a tribute to Marlon Brando’s classic bit of physical improvisation in On the Waterfront. In that movie, there’s a scene in a playground in which Eva Marie Saint drops her glove, and Brando picks it up  (at least I think that’s how Brando gets his hand on her glove—it’s been a while since I saw the movie). Instead of handing it back to her, he plays with it as they continue to talk, putting the tiny thing on his hand as he sits on a swing. In some ways, it’s the most moving moment in the film for me, this tragic battered fighter momentarily playful and innocent as a child. Manuel seemed to be as loose in the dugout last night as Brando was during the glove scene, and you can’t help but wonder if such a playful approach to a pressurized moment helped bolster the ridiculous poise of Phillies ace (and stunt-fielder worthy of the Indianapolis Clowns, the King and His Court, and his namesake and fellow lefty Bill Lee) Cliff Lee as he mowed down the previously unstoppable Yankees.

4. Charlie Manuel was, is, and always will be a hitter. This was the theory put forth by color commentator Tim McCarver as he noticed the glove. I tend toward this explanation, too. If you had ever had a period in your life when you bashed balls over the fence, you’d probably feel that power was always inside you, somewhere, no matter how old you got.

Charlie Manuel did his slugging in the minors (in his second-to-last year as a pro he pounded 30 homers and drove in 102 runs at Albuquerque), as did the man shown here, Danny Ozark, arguably the most successful manager in Phillies history before Manuel’s time. As the back of the 1978 card above relates, before Ozark led the Phillies to two 100-plus win seasons and three division titles during the 1970s, he played for twenty years in the minor leagues, hitting 238 home runs, including 31 as a 23-year-old in Abiline, and 32 as a 33-year-old in Wichita Falls.

The undeniable success of Ozark and Manuel, neither of whom ever got any buzz as a baseball genius (Manuel seems most often to be portrayed as a bumpkin, while Ozark gained far less attention for his winning ways than for his hilarious baseball-related utterances), raises the question of whether a slugger might make an inherently good manager. If so, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom on the matter, which tends to celebrate former scrappy infielder types, such as Leo Durocher and Billy Martin, the idea being that because they couldn’t smash a ball several hundred feet they had to learn how to use their mind to get an advantage during their playing days, and so they developed a better overall sense for the game. (Former catchers are also the beneficiaries of this kind of positive stereotyping. Three of the final four managers in the playoffs this year were catchers, Manuel being the exception–and the one who has gotten the least consideration as a brainy managerial maestro.)

The slugger, on the other hand, knows how to slug. And isn’t that the rarest thing in baseball to know about? Someone who has bashed home runs on a professional level must have some advantage that isn’t much talked about when discussing the factors that make up a good manager. Maybe they know that staying loose helps. Maybe it’s that they simply value the importance of slugging: They let their sluggers slug. Along those lines, I heard recently—I think it was during the radio pregame of an NLCS game—that Billy Beane, the Moneyball-inspiring general manager of the A’s, once played for Manuel during Beane’s minor league playing career, and that Beane has said that Manuel is the best manager he’s ever been around. I wish I could find a quote to confirm this, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I heard. It makes some sense. Manuel’s teams don’t bunt much, and though they steal bases, they make sure to do so in optimal situations, their success rate well above the level needed to make the stolen base a useful tool.

Don’t bunt. Don’t take unnecessary risks on the basepaths. Never take the batting glove off a slugger’s hand.

12 comments

  1. Brilliant as ever.


  2. What he said.

    I am in the middle of Bill Simmons’ “The Book of Basketball”, and he suggests at one point during the book that the ratio of basketball coaches being helpful to being hurtful is 1:9 or worse. I don’t think it’s that bad in baseball, but it might be something like that.

    Sluggers, on some level, even if they’re not aware of it, have internalized what, to me, is Moneyball’s essential lesson: eventually, the odds will tilt in your favor. Sluggers know that they may be in a 2 for 40 slump right now, but the swing will come back, and the ball will start to fly again.

    Maybe sluggers turned managers know enough that, if you have a Reggie Jackson, just let the man hit, and he’ll reward you.


  3. I want to read that Simmons book. I wonder if hands-off (and very successful) coach K.C. Jones finally gets some love during that 1:9 ratio discussion.

    Your mention of a slugging manager perhaps having the ability to be patient with Reggie Jackson sheds some new light on a possible root cause of all the incredible friction between fidgety scrapper Billy Martin and his superduperstar rightfielder. No surprise that the conflict climaxed over a botched bunt attempt. Maybe it’s also not a surprise that the ’78 Yanks caught fire when Martin made way for laid-back former slugger-turned-pitcher Bob Lemon.


  4. Joe Torre also wore batting gloves during NLCS Game 3 in Philly. I think the simple answer is, it’s freakin’ cold out there.


  5. “Never take the batting glove off a slugger’s hand.”

    Contrast this with Mike Scioscia and Joe Girardi, each of whom has an outstanding hitting catcher and tried to get him as few postseason at bats as possible.


  6. Great article as usual.

    I always thought Danny Ozark got the short end of the stick from the Phillies. He did win 3 consecutive division titles with the Phillies from 76-78. Dallas Green gets all the attention but I’m a Mets fan and I thought Green was the worst manager I’ve ever seen in my life. Green got lucky in Philly because Schmidt and Carlton basically had 2 of the greatest seasons of their life during the same season.

    As far as your slugger/good manager theory…I think it’s very interesting. Maybe your right sluggers don’t do stupid things like bunt all the time or try to steal bases all the time.

    I was thinking that Gil Hodges was another slugger/good manager. I think he could have been an all time great if he had lived.


  7. Another thing, I’m writing this before the start of game 2. I don’t think an ex-slugger would ever take Nick Swisher and his 29 regular season H.R’s out of the lineup in favor of Hairston. Especially when you’ve taken out Posada and his 20+ H.R.’s

    I think an ex-slugger like Manuel would probably leave Swisher in and trust the “law of averages” that a home run is due.


  8. Even Nap Lajoie had his Watergate.


  9. BTW, this entry ranks up there with the Gorman Thomas one I read when I first found this place.


  10. As a kid I always linked Ozark with his catcher, (and future manager) Johnny Oates.

    Isn’t that basketball book something like 5,000 pages?


  11. My favorite Ozarkism was when he was trying to fire up the Phillies when they faced Al Hrabosky: “Let’s send this Mad Hungarian back to Hungaria.”


  12. “Don’t bunt. Don’t take unnecessary risks on the basepaths. Never take the batting glove off a slugger’s hand.” Outstanding, Josh. That Simmons basketball book is huge. Anyone catch ESPN’s Sportsnation when they couldn’t shoot a .44 through it? I bought his Red Sox book at an everything’s a dollar store (it was even hardcover), have yet to get around to it.



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