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Ozark led Phils in memorable era
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Forsyth County News
Danny Ozark, a Master of Malapropism, passed away May 7 at his home in Vero Beach, Fla. He was 85.

Born Daniel Leonard Orzechowski on Nov. 24, 1923, the laid-back Ozark took over as the Philadelphia Phillies manager in November, 1972. It wasn’t a coveted position.

The Phillies had just finished last in the National League East — for the second year in a row. And that was following two fifth-place finishes.

They won only 59 games. Incredibly, 27 were won by Steve Carlton, in what remains baseball’s greatest example of a player rising above his surrounding mediocrity.

Ozark’s relaxed, patient approach seemed to work with the Phillies’ young players. Yes, they finished last again in ‘73, but they won 71 games.

They also improved in ‘74 and ‘75. Then came the big breakthrough.

The Phils won 101 games in both ‘76 and ‘77, capturing the NL East title both years. They completed the hat trick by winning again in ‘78, notching 90 wins.

But in those three NL Championship Series, the Phils managed only two wins. Total. By the middle of the ‘79 season, with the Phils slogging along at 65-67, Ozark was fired.

His successor, Dallas Green, diametrically opposed to Ozark in temperament, led the Phils to their first World Series win in 1980. But Ozark’s contribution to that title wasn’t overlooked.

“His patience with some of the Phillies’ young players in 1973-75, particularly with Mike Schmidt, really paid off,” Bill Giles, the Phillies chairman, told the Associated Press upon Ozark’s death.

Nor have Phillies fans forgotten Ozark’s contribution. During last fall’s World Series, Ozark tried to make his way out to the centerfield concourse to visit with a former player.

“I got soaking wet,” Ozark told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “It took me an hour to pick up my tickets and go to see Greg Luzinski. I was signing autographs all the way down to the restaurant!”

Ozark also had a marvelous way with the English language, which doubtless further endeared him to the faithful. In fact, Paul Dickson devotes an entire page of his book, “Baseball’s Greatest Quotations” to Ozarkisms. Here’s a sampling of a few favorites:

After a ten game losing streak: “Even Napoleon had his Watergate.
“Contrary to popular belief, I have always had a wonderful repertoire with my players.
“Don’t you know I’m a fascist? You know, a guy who says one thing and means another?”

A three game sweep to the Braves in ‘76 evoked, “It’s beyond my apprehension.”

A question about his team’s morale elicited, “It’s not a question of morality.”

When Phillies General Manager Paul Owens joined the team on a road trip, Ozark observed, “It was not intimidating, and furthermore, I will not be cohorsed.”

“Mike Andrews’ limits are limitless.”

Ozark also managed the most amazing baseball game played in our lifetimes. That is, unless you happen to be at least 87.

Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the epic struggle at Wrigley Field that saw Ozark’s Phillies outslug Herman Franks’ Cubs, 23-22.

That’s right: 23-22. The highest scoring game played in the majors since Aug. 25, 1922. In that one, the Cubs beat the Phillies, 26-23, also at Wrigley.

The two teams combined for 50 hits. The Phillies stroked seven doubles and five home runs, including a first inning shot by starting pitcher Randy Lerch.

It was the highlight of his day. In the bottom of the first, Lerch surrendered five runs on five hits, and retired just one batter.

Prior to the game, Lerch had implored his teammates to get him some runs. After they posted a seven-spot in the first, shortstop Larry Bowa ran past Lerch and inquired, “Is that enough for you?” Not quite.

Incredibly, Lerch did outpitch the Cubs starter, Dennis Lamp. Likewise, Lamp recorded but a single out, but he surrendered six runs.

The Cubs pounded six homeruns, including three by Dave Kingman. Kingman scored four runs and knocked in six, and still found time to ground into a doubleplay and commit an error.

The longest pitching stint of the game belonged to the Phils’ Doug Bird, who lasted 11 outs and surrendered only four runs. He was followed by Tug McGraw, the Phils closer, in the fifth inning. McGraw allowed seven runs and failed to retire the side.

The Cubs workhorse on that fateful day was Willie Hernandez, who managed to record eight outs while surrendering eight runs.

And how’s this for an appropriate finish: the winning run scored on a two-out home run in the top of the 10th inning by hall-of-famer Mike Schmidt, surrendered by hall-of-famer Bruce Sutter. It was that kind of day.