No Degrees of Separation

Dallas Green is seemingly a hard guy, never shy about criticizing players in the press. In his Yankees tenure, he ended the career of Tommy John, which was probably right, but as TJ was a favorite of mine I greatly disliked the call. He let the 23-year-old Al Leiter throw 163 pitches in a game, which today might get you canned before the game was over. He was also hard on young pitchers with the Mets, something that might have set that organization back years. We can say more good things about his Cubs and Phillies teams, but (but, but, but, but, but) none of that is even slightly relevant at this time. The only thing that matters is that someone we know, not just a stranger in a news report, has lost his granddaughter. Christina-Taylor Green, nine years old, was among those cut down on Saturday by that cursed lunatic in Tucson.

For those of us who love baseball, the people in the game become something of an extended family to us, even those we have never met. When, in addition, the tragedy is not frivolous but all too real, when the loss is that of a child, something that all parents can, at least (and hopefully only on an abstract level) empathize with then there is hardly any distance at all. I have never spoken with Green. The only connection I have with him is one-sided relationship that most of us have with those in the game, that of actor and observer. When I was a child, he was there as manager of the world-champion Phillies. When I was a teenager, he was the general manager of a surprisingly successful Cubs team, then, briefly, the manager of the Yankees. Finally, as an adult, I watched his difficult turn as manager of the Mets and his occasionally controversial turn as adviser to the Phillies. He has been part of the baseball scene, with varying degrees of prominence, all of my life.

There is not much for me to offer on what happened beyond homilies, and I don’t want to use this forum to get into political issues, be they the paranoid strain in our rhetoric that equates dissent with disloyalty, or even gun control, although whereas I recognize that there will always be sick people in this world who in their twisted fantasies will elevate themselves by being the big man with a gun in a room full of unarmed men, women, and children, it does seem to me that when events such as this one and Virginia Tech and Columbine can occur with such seeming ease that unfettered access to firearms begins to be more of a hindrance to our safety than a help, and thus defeats its own purpose. I hasten to emphasize that I do not intend that to be a statement of any kind of position on the issue, but a simple observation, along with this basic truth: no one deserves to go through this kind of pain. In a world of your-rights-versus-mine, either we all give and enter the circle of compromise together, or hold to our positions and enter the circle of sorrow. Only a shallow mind is still an ideologue when there is the blood of children on the pavement.

Dallas Green was born in Delware. He was a pitcher, not a good one. He went 20-22 with a 4.26 ERA in eight seasons at a time when a 4.26 ERA was like a 5.26 ERA today. He pitched out of the bullpen for the infamous Gene Mauch collapsing Phillies of 1964. He also put in some time with the Senators and the Mets. He started his career in 1955 with Mattoon of the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League and finished in 1967 with the Reading Phillies of the Eastern League. He pitched in Miami and San Diego when they were minor-league cities. He managed at Huron and Pulaski in the late 60s. He ran the Phillies’ minor-league department for many years, ran the Cubs for a half-dozen years and was the guy who traded for Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe. He could be a very smart baseball man. He could be obnoxious. Like all of us, he was probably mostly somewhere in the middle. He built a great career from very little, had a family, a son, John, a scout with the Dodgers, who in turn had a daughter. Dallas Green did what all of us want to do—have a family, excel in our profession, live out our years in love and security.

Love and security is a kind of illusion in a world as random and unfair as ours, but it still hurts to see it snatched away from a member of our baseball family. Ballplayers are just people, flawed people who swing bats and throw balls and make mistakes and bleed and suffer loss and cry. None of what they do on the field means anything of significance, and all the moral lines we draw regarding their activities there are arbitrary. The only thing that is absolute is that we all are born and we all die, and in between things happen, hopefully more of them good than bad. I don’t care about anything today except showing my solidarity with the people who are part of the world I care about, the world of baseball, with Dallas Green and his family at this terrible time.

God protect your children. God protect my children. Pitchers and catchers can’t report soon enough.

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