CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Spring training hasn't been the same this year.
You can see the difference.
You can hear it.
Dallas Green didn't make it to camp this year, and it just wasn't the same.
We missed his hulking presence ambling across the fields of Carpenter Complex during early workouts. We missed seeing him on the rooftop, under a big, straw hat, evaluating young prospects just like he had for decades.
We missed the booming, bellowing voice, the one that once lit up some of the best players in Phillies history and acted as the cattle prod that transformed them from underachievers to champions back in 1980.
The Phillies, the baseball world, the Philadelphia sporting community -- shoot, all of us -- lost a great one today when Big D lost his courageous battle with kidney disease.
He was 82.
And he was one of a kind, from the thick shock of white hair on top his head to those huge, rough hands, to that imposing 6-foot-5 inch frame, to the booming voice, to the demeanor and personality that could one minute be in-your-face and confrontational and the next soothing and gentle.
. . .
A local guy, Green came out of the University of Delaware and was destined to be a great pitcher before he hurt his arm in the days when surgery couldn't yet fix those things. He pitched six seasons with the Phillies, lived through the '64 collapse, and when his playing career ended stayed in the organization as a member of the player-development staff.
It was in this role that Green helped develop that great core of players that arrived at Veterans Stadium in the 1970s and blossomed into the organization's first World Series championship team in 1980.
From Schmidt and Carlton to Bowa, Maddox, Luzinski and Boone, the Phils had a great collection of talent in those days. But they were too often the bridesmaid and never had their day in the sun.
Late in the 1979 season, general manager Paul Owens began to worry that the clock was ticking on this collection of talent. Those Phillies were just a little too country club, he believed, to get over the hump. Owens decided they needed some old-school toughness, so he summoned Green from his player-development role and installed him as manager.
Green immediately took some sandpaper to those shiny, big egos.
And if they didn't like it, too bad.
Predictably, they hated him at first.
Green thought nothing of ripping a player face to face, or in the newspaper, if he sensed they needed it.
And the players thought nothing of ripping him back.
But on the night Tug McGraw threw that pitch past Willie Wilson at the Vet, they all loved him.
Larry Bowa, who had been a vocal critic of Green during that season, approached the skipper in the joyous clubhouse after the final game. With tears in his eyes and a champagne bottle in his hand, Bowa hugged Green.
"We couldn't have done it without you," the shortstop told the manager.
. . .
Controversy followed Green. That tends to happen to those who are loud, opinionated and prone to speak their mind. A few years after spraying champagne and hugging Paul Owens in the winning clubhouse -- what an awesome picture that is! -- Green got sideways with a new Phillies management group. He moved on to run the Chicago Cubs and in the process pulled one over on his old team and managed to take an infielder named Ryne Sandberg with him. Sandberg, a throw-in in the trade, blossomed into a Hall of Famer.
Eventually Green moved on from Chicago. He managed the Yankees and the Mets and never took an ounce of crap from anyone along the way.
But he was always a Phillie. In fact, 46 of his 62 years in pro ball were with the Phils.
He ended up back with the club in 1998 as a front office adviser. He remained outspoken, clashing with Scott Rolen and Charlie Manuel. But one of the things about Dallas was that he spoke his mind, said what he had to say, and the next day it was over. After he and Manuel had clashed over Manuel's managing style, the two men talked out their differences. Green admitted that he was wrong, that he saw the merits of Manuel's managerial style, and a wonderful friendship developed between the only two men to lead the Phillies to a World Series championship.
Green was never afraid to show his emotions and we saw a lot of them over the years, some we wished we never had to see.
All of our hearts bled for him and his family in January 2011 when his precious, little granddaughter, 9-year-old Christina, was killed in the shooting that seriously injured Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.
Five weeks later, Dallas was on the field at Carpenter Complex for the first day of spring training. I recall pitcher J.P. Romero breaking free from a drill, sprinting over to Dallas and saying, "Mr. Green, I'm so sorry." A couple of days later, Dallas decided that he would talk about the tragedy and how his family was doing. I remember a couple of reporters from New York, guys that Dallas had locked horns with over the years, showed up because they wanted to pay their respects to the great baseball man. On that day, with tears welling in his eyes, Dallas talked about his precious, little granddaughter. Coming to spring training helped, he said, because, "I don't see a little girl with a hole in her chest."
. . .
It was clear that Dallas wasn't doing well last spring training. He was in Clearwater, but going to dialysis three days a week. He talked about the possibility of getting a kidney transplant. But he didn't want any sympathy. He just wanted to feel better and help out around the team that he loved so much.
But you knew he wasn't right. He wasn't at the ballpark much last season. I remember calling him late last summer and getting a little worried because the booming voice was soft and hushed. But I also remember the Thursday before Thanksgiving. It was crazy warm that day. I called Dallas and was thrilled to hear the old boom back in his voice. I told him I wanted to come by for a visit.
"Bring your dog," he barked.
I pulled up to his home and immediately noticed a peacock roaming the property. Needless to say, Hazel stayed in the truck. I didn't want to feel the wrath of Big D if something went wrong.
For the next hour, I sat with Dallas in his big, old farmhouse. We talked about a lot of things, but mostly baseball, the rise of the '80 team, the clashes, the triumphs, working for George Steinbrenner. Dallas was feeling good that day and was especially enthused because Andy MacPhail, the Phillies club president, had called the day before to make sure he'd be in spring training.
"I'm tickled you came down," Dallas said as I left that day. "See you in Clearwater."
Well, Big D, it was me that was tickled that day. It was magic talking to you, magic knowing you. You were missed in Clearwater this year. And you'll never be forgotten. By anyone. You were one of a kind, a great baseball man and a Phillies legend.