Philadelphia Inquirer - March 19, 1980

Comedy team of Johnstone and Ozark is back together once again

 

By Frank Dolson, Inquirer Sports Editor

 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Talk about it being a small world. Here they are, together again: Danny Ozark and Jay Johnstone, baseball's version of the Odd Couple.

 

If Crosby and Hope amused you, if Martin and Lewis broke you up, if Abbott and Costello made you roll on the floor, you had to love Ozark and Johnstone. Excuse me, Johnstone and Ozark. Jay would never forgive me.

 

"How about Danny and me together again?" Johnstone chirped, looking neat and trim in his Dodger blue.

 

Yeah, how about that? For nearly five years Johnstone was Ozark's favorite whipping boy in Philadelphia. If something went wrong, it was even money Jay would get blamed. But always you got the feeling that they really enjoyed needling each other, that it was part of the act.

 

Of course, now it's different. Now the team of Oz – oops, there I go again – Johnstone and Ozark is merely around to warm up the audience for the main attraction, Thomas Charles Lasorda. Still, it's worth showing up early to hear Jay and Danny do their thing.

 

"Danny and I probably talked more the last two weeks than the five years I was in Philly," Johnstone said. "We've had some good conversations."

 

Sadly, those conversations are not available on eight-track or cassette. Compared to the best of Johnstone and Ozark, Steve Martin would seem almost sane.

 

"Aah," said Jay, "we always got along. He just used me for whatever purpose he did. I knew that. He knew it. We were kidding the other day. He said, 'You know, all those people still think we never got along.' I said, 'Yeah, Danny, I know.' He said, 'Yeah," and they're right.'"

 

Jay Johnstone's infectious laughter bounced off the walls of the near-empty clubhouse.

 

"I'm glad to see the Dodgers picked him (Ozark) up," he said. "I'm glad to see he got back. He never bothered anybody. It wasn't his fault what happened in Philadelphia."

 

Yes, Danny Ozark is back and the Dodgers have him. The crack comedy team of Johnstone and Ozark has been reunited in Southern California, where it surely belongs. The game can only be more fun for it.

 

"I've got Jay running a little bit now," the third base coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers was saying before an exhibition game here the other day. "He beat out a play at first base, and we won a game because of it against Houston."

 

Ah, yes, Ozark has never quit trying to push his partner in laughs to the limit. Philly or Los Angeles, managing or coaching, it's all the same to Danny as far as Jay is concerned.

 

Everything else has changed, though. If there's one thing that Danny Ozark enjoys more than prodding Jay Johnstone, it's managing a big-league ball club.

 

A year ago at this time, Danny was the dean of National League managers. He thought he had found a home in Philadelphia. And then there were all those sore arms and shattered collarbones and grand-slam home runs by the opposition, and the Phillies sent Ozark packing.

 

He took it well. Stoically, in fact. But the firing hurt, just the same, and the pain hasn't subsided yet.

 

"I feel bad about the fact 1 was let go," Ozark said. "I thought my association with the front office was really good. Besides, all the guys were hurt (last year). I thought, 'Well, hell, they understand it.'"

 

He felt somewhat betrayed when they unloaded him. "What disturbed me a little bit was. I'd been getting two-year contracts, and then Ruly (owner Ruly Carpenter) said, 'Hey, he doesn't need any more two-year contracts. He's an executive with the club.'"

 

So the executive signed a one-year contract... and became an ex-executive.

 

"Maybe I took things for granted too long," Danny said. "If I had it to do over again I wouldn't have done it (signed the one-year contract). But Ruly treated me well. I have no ill feelings about that. Paul (general manager Paul Owens) treated me well."

 

It's just that Ozark wants to manage again.

 

"I'd like to get another shot," he said. "I'd still like to get in the World Series as a manager."

 

Ozark fully expected to be managing somewhere this spring. Maybe he took that too much for granted, too.

 

"My mistake could have been that I didn't go to the World Series (to talk to general managers and other baseball people)," Danny said. "But I thought, 'Gee whiz, everybody knows me. If I call them, that should be sufficient.' "

 

No openings

 

It wasn't sufficient. Some called back to tell him the jobs were already filled. Others didn't even bother to call back.

 

Then Al Campanis, player-personnel director of the Dodgers, called. Danny had been a Dodger for 28 years before taking the Phillies job. For eight of those years he had been a coach for Walter Alston. Now they wanted him to be a coach for Lasorda.

 

It had the makings of a ticklish situation. No two men in the game are less alike than Ozark and Lasorda. Danny is so low-key, Tommy so, flamboyant.

 

"I debated for 10 days," Ozark said. "I was kinda surprised that they called. I thought, 'Dammit, I hope I won't be putting Tommy on the spot.' I worked for Walter and I never in any way tried to get Walter's job, and ' I just wanted to be sure that Tommy knew that.'"

 

Ozark and Lasorda talked, and Danny took the job. In a sense, it was like a homecoming. The long-time Dodgers – the Steve Garveys, the Davy Lopeses, the Bill Russells, the Ron Ceys – knew him.

 

"He was like a father to me," Garvey said. "He cares about you. I was thinking a few years ago, when there was that talk about firing him in Philadelphia, that maybe we'll pick him up. You know my favorite picture of all time? First day of spring training (this year) I'm walking off the field with Danny; his arm's around my shoulder, and we're both smiling."

 

Looking ahead

 

Ozark is still smiling, but there's a wistful quality to that smile. He's thinking about the day the phone's going to ring and some general manager is going to offer him another chance to manage.

 

"One of the provisions I made with Al (before taking the Dodger job) was if somebody calls they would let me go," Danny said.

 

In the meantime, though, there he is, the man who managed the Phillies to three straight division titles and to two straight 101-win seasons, wearing the number 33 on the back of his Dodger uniform, standing in the third-base coaching box, waving the runners around.

 

At least, those runners who are sn inclined.

 

On this particular day the Dodgers, trailing by a run in the seventh inning, had a threat going: runners on first and second, two out, Reggie Smith at bat. As luck would have it, the runner at first was Jay Johnstone.

 

Smith singled to left, and the tying run came galloping home, beating the throw by a safe margin. Johnstone? He stopped at second, making no move to advance when the throw went to the plate. Smith? He assumed Johnstone would go to third and sprinted to second, where he found Jay parked.

 

A friendly talk

 

Frantically, third-base coach Ozark waved his arms. Belatedly, Johnstone headed for third, went in with a lovely hook slide... and was tagged out. End of rally.

 

After the game, the old pals met in the clubhouse for a friendly chat.

 

"I've been telling you for six years now, if you stand on second base picking your nose...," Ozark was saying. "I mean, you gotta run. You do stuff like that, I'm gonna quit being nice to you."

 

Jay stared at mm, suppressing a smile. "Here I am," he squawked, "the center of controversy again."

 

 

The team of Ozark and – sorry, I mean Johnstone and Ozark – was back together again, feuding, fussing, funning, just like in the good, old days. If you didn't see those Dodger uniforms on their backs, if you didn't see Danny waving his arms in the third base coaching box, you'd swear nothing had changed.

Contract prospect brighter

 

Baseball owners retract pay scale

 

By the Associated Press

 

NEW YORK – In the first significant breakthrough after weeks of fruitless talks, major league baseball owners withdrew their controversial salary-scale proposal in negotiations with the players' association yesterday.

 

Ray Grcbey, chief negotiator for the owners, met for 3½ hours with Marvin Miller, executive director of the players' association, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and said the move could open the way to a settlement.

 

The pay-scale proposal, setting limits on salaries for the first six years of a player's major league career, was a primary stumbling block in negotiations for a new basic agreement between owners and players. The old basic agreement, signed in 1976, expired Dec. 31.

 

When Miller outlined the pay-scale proposal and another calling for compensation for free-agent signings to the executive board of the players' association earlier this month, that group voted to authorize a strike on or after April 1. Subsequent votes by individual teams have supported that position. The executive board is to meet again in Dallas on April 1.

 

In removing the scale proposal, the owners said that players with less than five years' experience would be limited to one-year contracts.

 

Grebey called the owners' action a plan for settling the conflict and said that the players' association had responded by modifying some of its proposals and withdrawing some others during yesterday's session. Grebey called the new position "the basis for settlement" of negotiations that have continued for about 16 weeks without much visible progress.

 

"There is no reason why baseball should not start the season on time," Grebey said.

 

Miller, however, said of the withdrawn pay-scale proposal, "It's a little like you've been beating your wife and children for years... and now you want a medal because you stopped."

 

It was expected, however, that the players' association would continue to balk at any compensation clause for free agents, fearing that such a step would place severe limits on the market.

 

Earlier yesterday, management negotiators distributed to the offices of commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the two leagues and individual clubs an outline of their negotiation proposals, urging that it be made public. That was a reversal of previous policy; Grebey had insisted before that he would not "negotiate in the press."

 

The owners' proposals on free-agent compensation call for retaining current eligibility and procedures but establishes a formula for compensation.

 

A player drafted by three or fewer clubs could sign without his new team having to pay any compensation. If four to seven teams selected the free agent, the team affected would receive an amateur draft choice. If 8 to 13 clubs chose the player, the team involved would get an amateur draft choice plus one major or minor league player not on the team's 15-man protected list.

 

A player-relations committee noted that under the proposal only 39 players would have been affected in the last four years.

 

The owners had proposed a six-year range of salaries that they said would improve the relationship between pay and performance. The $50,800 in the first year would have increased in yearly increments to $192,000 in the fifth to sixth year.

 

The players' association, of course, objected strenuously, and apparently successfully, to this proposal because it would eliminate multimillion dollar contracts that young players like Keith Hernandez, Bruce Sutter, Garry Templeton and Fred Lynn have signed. Under these scales, a star player would have to accept the same salary as a utility player, regardless of performance.

 

According to the owners, nothing in the salary scale would have affected the pay of any player now under contract.

 

The owners noted that the average salary of the players on the 25-man roster of a club in 1980 was expected to reach nearly $140,000, compared to last year's average of $121,900. In 1976 the 25-man average was $51,500. The owners contend that the 1976-1979 average salary increase was more than five times the national increase in the cost of living.

 

The owners' other proposals:

 

•  Salary minimums: The owners would increase to $25,000 in 1980 and 1981 and to $28,500 in 1982 and 1983 major league salary minimums.

 

•  Pensions: The owners would give vested membership in the pension plan after one day of service and quarter-year credit for each 45 days of service. They estimate the increased benefits at about 40 percent.

 

Under the owners' plan, a player at age 45 with five years of service would receive monthly benefits of $465 and yearly benefits of $5,580, as against $333 and $3,996 under the agreement that expired Dec 31. At age 55 and with 10 years' service, the monthly payment would be $1,784 and the yearly pension $21,408, as against the current $1,276 and $15,312. At age 65 and with 20 years' service, the monthly stipend would be $4,217 and the yearly benefit $50,604, compared to the present $3,015 and $36,180.

 

These benefits, the owners noted, are in addition to Social Security and any other pension payments.

 

•  Life insurance: Under the owners' proposal, coverage would increase to $250,000 from $50,000, major medical benefits from $100,000 to $250,000.

 

The club owners said in their memo that proposals now on the table would cost them $26 million more during a new four-year contract than they cost during the previous four-year contract. They said that did not include salary increases or other increased expenses, such as travel and hotel charges or costs of minor league operations.

 

The owners' memo also said the average price of a ticket in 1979 was $4.12, up 3 percent from 1978. The increase in the consumer price index, according to the owners, was 11 percent. From 1970 to 1978, the memo said, ticket prices increased 52.9 percent and during that period the consumer price index advanced 73.1 percent.

 

 

Then, in an obvious attempt to forestall a strike on opening day, April 9, the player-relations committee said the old agreement would continue while negotiations proceed toward a new one.

Vukovich, Anderson as catchers?  It’s two-way insurance

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Between them, Mike Anderson and John Vukovich have spent four years in the glorious confines of Oklahoma City, Okla., four more in picturesque Eugene, Ore., three in resplendent Reading, Pa., and two in spine-tingling Spartanburg, S. C.

 

This, of course, is not to mention their one season each in Pulaski, Peninsula, Huron, Tidewater, Indianapolis a-a-a-nd Toledo.

 

These guys have been in more out-of-the-way places than Piedmont Airlines. If they ever get tired of baseball, they could always open the Obscure Horizons Travel Agency.

 

The last full season that Vukovich, 32, spent in the major leagues was 1974. The last time Anderson, 28, made it from April to October in the bigs was 1977.

 

So you could understand why, if someone offered them an all-expense-paid summer in Philadelphia merely for doing something as minimally crazy as learning to be a catcher, they would say, "Bring on the shin guards." Heck, these guys probably would learn to play middle linebacker if it meant escaping from Oklahoma City.

 

"Oklahoma City's a nice town and all," Anderson said with distinct lack of nostalgia, "but it's not Philadelphia. And it's not the major leagues."

 

Which is why Anderson has been seen fitting his hand into a catcher's mitt, squatting in the locker room for no obvious reason and trying to figure out which end of a chest protector is right-side up.

 

It is still tough to tell which of those intricate catchers' skills Anderson has mastered best.

 

"Right now," Anderson said, "I don't know that I do anything best."

 

So far, fortunately, the Phillies have been patient. Since they plan to be only a two-catcher team this year, Dallas Green figured it would be wise if somebody – presumably some non-catcher utility type – learned a few basics of catching, in case Bob Boone ever breaks a leg some night after Keith Moreland already has pinch-hit.

 

Either Anderson or Vukovich, by special invitation of Green, appears likely to be that somebody.

 

"It'll be interesting to see what happens," Anderson said. "It's fun in a way to see if you can do something. I just have the feeling it would be more fun to see if I could play third or first than to see if I could catch."

 

Anderson is understandably discomforted at the thought of people bouncing baseballs off the dirt and onto various parts of his body. But Vukovich is taking it as just another day at the office.

 

That is partly because he volunteered, and partly because six years ago in Milwaukee, the Brewers asked him to be their third catcher, too.

 

"It was basically the same type of situation," Vukovich said. "They wanted to go with two, so they started me in the spring. I even caught two spring training games. But with the DH in the American League, they never really needed me. I was just an insurance policy."

 

This spring Vukovich has caught batting practice regularly and worked an inning behind the plate during an intrasquad game. He already looks as comfortable back there as Choo-Choo Coleman ever did. For this, he credits his private tutor, Mike Ryan, who has spent hours conducting a one-man course of "Catcher 101."

 

"I'd feel much more confident going in there now than at any time in Milwaukee," Vukovich said. "That was a real crash course there. They just said, 'Here's the glove,' and that was it. I didn't even know how to put the equipment on. Here, I've worked consistently on it every day.'

 

While Anderson's progress has been slowed by a neck injury, Green has expressed pleasure with Vukovich’s rapid assimilation of the catching business.

 

"He can catch, and he can throw,” the manager said. "And that's really all we want him to do."

 

Nobody has to tell either Vukovich or Anderson that they are men on the fringe, that they might not make it even if they learn to play all nine positions at once.  They no longer seek to be starters, only survivors.

 

“Boonie s not going to be in jeopardy o flossing his spot on the all-star team,”, Vukovicn says. Timmy (McCarver) isn't going to lose his cemetery plot 60 feet, 6 inches from Steve Carlton.... I just want to be going to Philadelphia April 8.

 

"It's important to me. It's not just wanting to make more money or wanting the prestige of being in the big leagues. The overriding thing for me is that I know some people wrote me off in this game, I know I was down for a couple years, but l never let it get me down.

 

“I didn’t quit, i staved with it. And now I think I'm in a pretty good position to make it again. That would be the biggest reward for me – I've been down and I've bounced back."

 

 

NOTES: Neither Nino Espinosa nor Warren Brusstar has pitched in a game yet. Green says he would like to get Espinosa out there soon but insists he will not use Brusstar until he is cleared by the trainers.... The Phillies lost to the Expos, 2-0, yesterday at Daytona Beach in a pitchers' duel. Steve Carlton allowed just one hit in four innings, and Scott Munninghoff again was impressive for the Phils, throwing two innings of one-hit ball.