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Make Way for the Wizard of Oze
Danny Ozark, in many ways, was like Frank Lucchesi; a minor league baseball ballplayer, hooked on the game, happy to be a manager in the low minors just to continue being paid to stay close to the game, and eager to work his way up in the system. With Ozark, the system was the Dodgers, and from 1965 to 1972 he was at the major league level, a coach for long-time Dodger manager, Walter Alston. Phillies’ new General Manager, Paul Owens, picked Ozark to manage his team in 1973 after putting up a 33-47 record himself in relief of Lucchesi in 1972.
Entering September the Phillies (62-72) still had a fighting chance, six games behind the league-leading St. Louis Cardinals who were barely over .500 at 68-66. Balanced mediocrity was the phrase sportswriters used to describe the NL East in 1973. Ozark could not rally his troops for a September push, they lost five out of six games to Montreal and the Mets to begin the month, and were never a factor, going 9-19 for the month. The Mets, under new manager Yogi Berra, went 19-9 and won the pennant by 1 ½ games over the Cardinals. The Mets (82-79) .509 winning percentage was the lowest in baseball history.
Yogi Berra is generally considered to be the all-time champion (there are Casey Stengel advocates) of malapropisms (books have been written), but Danny Ozark, dubbed the Wizard of Oze, though less publicized, was surely Yogi’s equal in this competition. When the two met at homeplate to exchange lineup cards, they agreed that where baseball was concerned, “90 per cent of the game is half mental,” but it was unclear who said it first. Ozark gets full credit for, “Like Napoleon, every manager has his Watergate.”
When they fired up the hot stove in Philadelphia following the 1973 season, the number one topic for discussion was Steve Carlton. If only … if only the big lefty could have been half as good in ’73 as he was in ’72 … The ugly fact was that he was twice as bad. His ERA was almost two runs higher – 3.90 to 1.97, he was a 20-game loser (13-20). How could a guy with that kind of stuff lose 20 games? The general consensus was that the 346 innings he pitched in 1972 had taken its toll. Some put the blame on new catcher Bob Boone – where was John Bateman, with whom Carlton worked so smoothly in ’72?
There was lots of talk about the young muscle; rookie third baseman Mike Schmidt hit only .196 and he struck out a lot, but when he connected, it was sweet music (18 home runs). And what about second-year man, Greg Luzinski? They called him “the Bull”, and when he connected, they ran for the tape measures; 29 home runs and 97 RBIs with a .285 average.
No discussion of the 1973 Phillies’ season would be complete without mention of Ken Brett. A five-year major league veteran at the age of 25, lefthander Brett came over from the American League Milwaukee Braves to have a very nice year with the Phillies; he was one of four pitchers to win 13 games (13-9); the others were Carlton, Wayne Twitchell (13-9), and Jim Lonborg (13-16). But as good as Brett’s pitching was, what Phillies’ fans will remember about Ken Brett in 1973, is that he set a record for home runs in consecutive games by a pitcher, connecting for long balls on June 9, 13, 18, and 23, all Phillies’ wins.