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A retread with nifty mileage
Jim Kaplan
August 22, 1983
In his second tour as the Phillies' manager, G.M. Paul Owens is motoring
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August 22, 1983

A Retread With Nifty Mileage

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

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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, 1� 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, 6� 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."

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