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.