Skip to main content
Original Issue

A retread with nifty mileage

In his second tour as the Phillies' manager, G.M. Paul Owens is motoring

How tough is it to be manager and MM general manager—in other words, to wear baseball shoes and street shoes at the same time? Well, Philadelphia's "Pope" Paul Owens performs both duties, and he recently couldn't even wear one pair. Owens, 59, borrowed some spikes when the Phillies were in St. Louis, only to discover that they were a size too small. "And the way I pace," he moaned, "my feet were killing me."

Other than that, Owens has fitted in quite nicely as manager of the team he general manages. Owens replaced the fired Pat Corrales as manager on July 18, when the Phillies were 43-42 and tied for first with St. Louis in the National League East. Through Sunday the Phillies were 17-10 under Owens and held undisputed possession of first, 1½ games ahead of second-place Pittsburgh. As for the defending world champion Cardinals, they had lost 16 of 26—including five of six to Philadelphia over the last two weeks—and had fallen to fourth, 6½ games out.

Until Corrales got the ax in Philadelphia, no manager of a first-place team had ever been fired during a season. And for a general manager adding the manager's duties, you had to go back 11 years—to Paul Owens with these same Phillies, in fact—to find a precedent.

"So many players had fallen off and communication was so bad that I felt we had to do something immediately," says Phillie President Bill Giles of the decision to dismiss Corrales. "I hired Paul because I didn't want to make a decision on a full-time manager, and we'd had good luck bringing in people from our own organization. Dallas Green was farm director when we made him manager in late 1979, and the next year we won the World Series."

"I've managed in two different situations," says Owens, who has a voice that sounds like the hum of an air conditioner, with some vowels and consonants thrown in. "We didn't have a good club in 1972, but we had the makings of one. I felt if I ate and slept with the players and watched them every day, I could see what moves we needed to make."

After replacing Frank Lucchesi, Owens managed that last-place team to a 33-47 record, an improvement over Lucchesi's 26-50 mark. But that was enough. Owens hired Danny Ozark as manager in 1973, concentrated on his front-office responsibilities and made the moves that produced the first of four division titles in 1976 and a world championship in 1980. "This time," says Owens, "I feel we can win right away. In fact, under the circumstances, we have to."

Since Owens took over, there has been a change in atmosphere. "Much more upbeat," says Outfielder Joe Lefebvre, who has batted .394 for Owens. "I didn't know my role before—now I do," says Long Reliever Tug McGraw. Even disgruntled Leftfielder Gary Matthews, a starter-turned-platoonee, concedes, "For most of the guys, things are better."

"Our players were very frustrated," Owens says. "I tried to get them to realize that what's over is over. I said, 'Just take 100 at bats and see what you can do. If you get 35 hits, you're batting .350, no matter what you did before.' I tried to make it fun. There's nothing worse than going to a job you dread."

Shades of easygoing Harvey Kuenn and the 1982 Brewers? Not that simple. When Owens took over, he discovered that some Phillies had been hanging out in the clubhouse eating hamburgers during games. Calling a clubhouse meeting, he insisted that all players remain on the bench unless they were on the field or in the bullpen. He also scolded Outfielder Garry Maddox for saying he'd been used for "mop-up duty" when he was put into a game in which the Phillies trailed 9-2 and eventually lost 12-4. "A few guys are thinking about themselves too much and not about the team," Owens told the players.

Talking tough is something of an unnatural act for Owens. "When he took over as manager in '72," says Mike Ryan, then a Phillies player, now the bullpen coach, "he gave one of those get-tough talks, and at the end he kicked a waste-basket just for effect. But his foot went through, and he couldn't get it out. He just kept walking, right to the office, while dragging that damn bucket."

Owens got off on the right foot this time by having at least one private meeting with each player. "I liked Pat Corrales, but he was miscast," says Third Baseman Mike Schmidt. "He was a very firm individual, but certain people on this club needed to be stroked."

Owens has been using six different players in the outfield and has frequently followed the advice of coaches Claude Osteen (concerning pitchers) and Bobby Wine (on matters of strategy) in game situations. So how much of the Phillie success owes to Owens?

A lot, says his executive assistant, Tony Siegle. "He's using 25 different men and they're all contributing."

Not much, says a Phillie who asked anonymity. "Some people are trying to put words in our mouth," he says. "They're having us say it's more fun to play for Owens than it was for Corrales. But there are still as many people here who are unhappy with the way they are being used as there were before. Those feelings have been submerged because we're winning. Not taking anything away from Paul Owens, but we were a team that was due to start winning."

Schmidt takes the argument even farther. "If [outfielders] Matthews, Maddox and Hayes were in the lineup every day, we could win," he says. "If we had an astute guy who wasn't so concerned about making people happy, we might be doing better."

"It's always tough to tell how much success can be attributed to the players and how much belongs to the manager," says McGraw, who's accepting his limited role better.

The case for the manager: Longtime subs like Greg Gross (.380 through Sunday under Owens) have blossomed with increased usage, and First Baseman Pete Rose, who complained nightly to Giles during a one-week benching by Corrales, has played more regularly and hit better under Owens. "Pete will be on the team next year if he gets about 160 hits," says Giles (Rose had 103 through Sunday in 112 games and was batting .263).

Case for the players: John Denny, probably Philadelphia's MVP, has won seven of his last eight starts, and Steve Carlton's back troubles have cleared up. He has pitched well in his last three starts, including a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh last week that made his record 11-11.

It's no slight to say that Owens' best friend as manager may well be his general manager. In spring training the general manager tabbed Charles Hudson as the first pitcher who would be brought up in an emergency. Hudson joined the Phillies May 31, replacing the disabled Larry Christenson, and has a 7-4 record. The general manager also traded for Lefebvre and Reliever Willie Hernandez, who has had eight saves for the Phillies.

Wearing two hats, not to mention two pairs of shoes, definitely suits Owens. "I don't like people who don't like baseball 24 hours a day," he says.

By the time Owens was 22, he had splashed ashore at Omaha Beach, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, married a Belgian woman (the former Marcelle Le-Clercq) and done some studying at St. Bonaventure University. The Cardinals signed him as a first baseman, and he batted .407 at Class D Olean, but by the time he'd advanced to Class A Omaha, he was 27. "That was awfully old in those days," he says, "and I didn't want to be a baseball bum." In 1951 he became a schoolteacher.

But he still had the baseball bug, and in 1956 the Phillies signed him to manage Olean—for $4,500. He has also served the franchise as a scout and chief of the farm system. "In 1961, when I was a West Coast scout, I checked into an L.A. hotel and told them I was with the Phillies," he says. "They thought I worked for the tobacco company." As farm director, Owens persuaded the Phillies to build a $400,000 minor league complex in Florida, join the winter instructional league and scout players in foreign countries; he also transformed a pathetic farm system into one of the best.

Along the way, Owens, a Catholic, acquired one of baseball's most unusual nicknames. He got it in 1963 when Cardinal Montini became Pope Paul VI. Does Owens like what he has seen since he put on his baseball shoes?

Is the Pope Catholic?


Since Owens returned to the dugout, Philadelphia has strengthened its hold on first.