Danny Ozark (1923-2009)

Ozark at Veterans Stadium in 1976 (AP)

Ozark at Veterans Stadium in 1976 (AP)

The Phillies lost another legend today.  Danny Ozark, the hound-faced manager of the ’73- ’79 Fightins died this morning, at his home in Vero Beach, Florida. He was 85.

When Ozark arrived in Philadelphia, the team was in last place and in dire need of a turn-around.  Ozark met the Philadelphia media for a press conference upon his arrival.  When asked about how excited he was to get his first big-league managerial position Ozark replied, “I wasn’t overly excited.  I didn’t jump up and shout ‘Whoopee!'”

And that set the tone of Ozark’s attitude– unexcitable.

In Ozark’s first three seasons the team showed steady improvement, and in 1976 led the team to a 101 win season, a franchise record, and a trip to the NLCS.  In ’77, he again led the team to 101 wins and an NLCS, but lost to the Dodgers, in four games.  The next year the Phillies were only able to win ninety games, but again it was good enough to get them to an NLCS, where they faced the Dodgers, again, in a rematch.  The Phillies fell a step short of the World Series for the third consecutive season.

Ozark raised stars such as Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, and Bob Boone.  Seeing the young stars fail to reach the World Series three consecutive times, management started getting impatient, so they signed Pete Rose that off-season to put the team over the top.

But, in the 1979 season, plagued by injuries and a lack of pitching depth, the Phillies played poorly all season and were still two games under the .500 mark on August 31. It cost Ozark his job; Dallas Green took over as Phillies manager September 1.

The Phillies went on to win a World Series in 1980, under Green.  Though Ozark wasn’t at the reigns for that world championship, he played a pivotal role in grooming the stars who won in it, and moving the team in a direction where they could get there.

Ozark made one more quick stint as an interim manager in San Francisco, after Frank Robinson was fired in August of 1984.  He then retired to Florida.  But he always missed Philadelphia.

“[My wife] Ginny and I really miss Philadelphia,” Ozark said in a Phillies Magazine story published last month.  “We enjoyed our time there.  That city is a great sports town.  The fans are the greatest.  They do express themselves, but that’s OK.  We made a lot of lifelong friends there.”

In addition to Ginny, Ozark is survived by his two children, Dwain and Darlene; three granddaughters, and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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