Allentown Morning Call - April 11, 1980
Phillies, Green hope that April won’t be cruel
By Jack McCallum, Call Sports Writer
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Dallas Green knows nothing of lilacs or dull roots, but he may indeed find, as T.S. Eliot told us in "The Waste Land." that April is the crudest month.
Generally, August is the crudest month for a baseball manager unless your name is Joe Torre and ALL the months are tough) because August is the month when a noncontending team begins merely playing out the string, and the promises and dreams of spring training evaporate into the artificial turf.
But this isn't any April for major league baseball and particularly not for the Philadelphia Phillies as one George Dallas Green, a lifetime 20-22 pitcher, takes control as manager. It all begins tonight for the Phillies at 8:05 at Veterans Stadium against the Montreal Expos.
Green's first test is there for all to see: The Phillies finished fourth last year and Green was hired to do better. Period. And he may find out immediately that the Phillies – who stood with a pat hand while St. Louis and Montreal improved – are heading for fourth place again.
Green may also discover in April the sad, sad news that Dick Ruthven or Larry Christenson, or both, are not back in form. And if they are not, the Phillies probably WILL finish fourth. And Green may also find out in April whether Nino Espinosa, currently on the disabled list, is going to be ready for the season.
Green's other challenges are not so obvious. He may get an early indication, for example, if his workaholic, hard-line principles will hold together a team that went its own way under Danny Ozark in the Eastern Division- winning years of 1976, ‘77 and '78. Green's principles appeared to work in spring training but can they carry over?
And his principles will most certainly be put to the test by the threatened players' strike on May 22. Will labor and management be able to work together on the field, while their multi-million dollar differences of opinion at the negotiating table are being chronicled for the nation?
And here are some other questions that make this a potentially cruel month for Green:
➤ Will Garry Maddox's contract problems affect his play as baseball's best centerfielder? Will he and Green's differences in style (nobody appreciated Danny Ozark's "laissez faire" policy more than the introspective Maddox) come to a head?
➤ Will Greg Luzinski be able to forget last year's nightmare at the Vet where he hit just .187 (compared to .303 on the road)?
➤ Will Green pay for the confidence he's shown in his rookies? Will Luis Aguayo be able to handle the pressure of replacing Larry Bowa or Manny Trillo when the occasion arises? Will Keith Moreland lose as many games with his catcher's mitt as he wins with his bat?
➤ Will Randy Lerch at last come around under Green? Or will Green, like Ozark before him. have to search for excuses about the enigmatic pitcher?
Of course, there is one dominant question for all of major league baseball this April: Will the threatened strike and the acrimony and misunderstanding that preceded it have any effect on attendance?
A judgment can't be made merely by Opening Day attendance, but there is already a little cause for concern in Philadelphia.
"The ticket business this week has been a little slow," said Larry Shenk, the Phillies' publicity director, "and, generally, that's not the case. Not having the exhibition games hurt us for sure. They (Channel 17) were going to televise those final six games, you know, and naturally the papers would've been full of Phillies' stuff."
Shenk says the Phillies are still projecting tonight's crowd at 40,000, and perhaps more if the weather is good. But there were 48,000 at the Vet for last year's opener against the Pirates.
Well, so much for the bad news and the question marks. There is still some good news for the Phillies.
For one thing. Green's buckle-down approach in spring training apparently went over well with most of the players: Mike Schmidt and Luzinski were particularly careful to compliment Green's program at very turn. And, perhaps not coincidentally, they finished the spring with the two highest averages – Luzinski at .405 and Schmidt at .372. The betting from most Phillie observers is that a good season awaits them both, and hitters like Schmidt and Luzinski can carry a team themselves for long stretches.
Secondly, Green was not confronted with a Bake-McBride-or-Greg-Gross situation. McBride hit .333 and played excellently; he deserves the rightfield starting job he has apparently won. And Gross, who also hit .333, played well. too, and is the fourth outfielder many teams would love to have.
Further, McBride appears to have also won the oft-discussed No. 2 position in the batting order, though Manny Trillo's poor spring at the plate was as much the reason as anything McBride did. At any rate, the McBride-Maddox speed combination preceding the Schmidt-Luzinski power combination is potentially as effective as any in baseball.
Third, Green has Pete Rose. Pete Rose would play baseball if an anteater were the manager, of course, but he appears to particularly like the Green style. Rose hit .318, a hard .318, in the aborted Grapefruit League schedule.
Fourth. Larry Bowa also had a good spring though he hit only .258. Like Maddox and McBride, Bowa had his doubts about Green, and has defended Ozark in several interviews; but, lately, he has been espousing Green's virtues, too.
Fifth, Bob Boone appears to have recovered from knee surgery and can be expected, as usual, to catch between 120 and 130 games.
This is only April and nothing is certain in April, particularly pitching. The Phillies got out of the blocks as quickly as any team in baseball last season before fading in July and August, a major reason being injuries to Christenson, Ruthven and Lerch in early July.
But Green is known to crave a fast start, hoping that his brand of baseball will infect the Phillies, a team that is traditionally not known for coming back in pennant races. If he finds out in April that it isn't to be, it could be a cruel month indeed.
Gorgeous today, but then…
It is to be a gorgeous day and the fine weather wilt last into tonight so that it will be perfect for the opening game of the Phillies at the Veterans Stadium.
High temperature will be in the upper 60s today. The mercury should be around 55 at game time, according to the National Weather Service at A-B-E Airport.
A fast-moving high-pressure system responsible for bringing the fine weather today will be replaced by one of low pressure. This will bring increasing cloudiness tonight and a chance of rain tomorrow. The threat of rain will continue through the weekend.
The high temperature tomorrow and Sunday will be in the mid 60s.