May 8, 2009, 2:18 AM EDT
Imagine if Andy Reid retired today, and his successor won the Super Bowl the very next year. I imagine we'd end up remembering him similarly to the way we may or may not remember one-time Phils manager Danny Ozark–the guy who seemed to have all the pieces, but for whatever reason, just couldn't quite put them all together. A couple key mishaps, some uninspiring press conferences and a general lukewarm relationship with players and fans alike kept Ozark, as they have basically kept Reid, from ever being truly embraced by the city. Nevertheless, Ozark did lead the team to three first-place division finishes from '76-'78, and arguably helped set the table for the Phillies to capture their first ever World Series in 1980–albeit under a new manager, Dallas Green.
Ozark took over the team in 1973, just as the players that would make up the team's championship core–Boone, Bowa, Luzinski, Carlton and Schmidt–were starting to come together. His first two seasons as skipper were losing ones, but by 1977, the Phils had become legitimate contenders, assembling their first of two straight 101-win seasons. However, Ozark's tenure in this period is arguably better marked by gaffes like leaving lead-footed Greg Luzinski in left field in the 1977 NLCS as Manny Mota lifted a two-out, bottom-ninth double that Luzinski misplayed, starting a rally that ended up sinking the Phils and getting the day dubbed in Philly lore as "Black Friday". Picture Charlie Manuel failing to replace Pat Burrell in left for a late-game Manny Ramirez at-bat that ended up costing us last year's post-season, and you can imagine the shitstorm Ozark would have to endure for his inaction ("He was the third batter up in the ninth," Ozark would later explain).
Nonetheless, Ozark still ranks third among managers behind Gene Mauch and Harry Wright in total franchise wins with his 594, and has expressed great admiration for the city and its fans in general since his departure. His death is sure to be overshadowed this year by that of the far more beloved Harry Kalas, but we should also take a moment to remember a guy who helped turn things around for the losingest franchise in baseball history.
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