All the life in Dallas Green, a great baseball man, finally came out of him on Wednesday. He managed the Phillies to a World Series once, and became one of a handful of men who managed both the Yankees and the Mets, and as an executive built a Chicago Cubs team that a lot of people thought might finally win the Cubs a World Series as far back in 1984. He was a big man, with a lot of white hair, and a voice big enough to fill old Veterans Stadium in Philly, or Wrigley, or Shea Stadium, or the old Yankee Stadium. Nobody ever had to wonder if he was in the room.
But the truth about Dallas Green is that the life really began to come out of him on a Saturday in January of 2011, in Tucson, Ariz., when his granddaughter, Christina-Taylor Green, was shot dead by the same shooter who put a bullet in the head of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that day at a meet-and-greet. The little girl was 9. She already loved politics. She was there to meet her congresswoman. And then she was gone.
Dallas Green was at his winter home when he got the terrible news that day from Tucson, a bullet this time from a gun in the wrong hands fired into the heart of his family. He was in Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean, in a place officially known as Providenciales. It was a dream house there for him and his wife, Sylvia. Now came the nightmare news about this beautiful child. It is an unspeakable thing for a parent to think about outliving his children. There are no words for a grandchild.
I had heard about the shooting the day it happened, the way the rest of America did. I had known Dallas Green when he managed the Yankees, before he grew tired of being pecked at by George Steinbrenner, and started calling him "Manager George" and effectively fired himself. I knew him when he managed the Mets in the 1990s. I liked the big man a lot. He was one of the toughest and most honest men I had ever met in baseball.
When I realized that Christina was his, I began trying to track him down. He and his wife made it to Miami on Saturday night. I talked to Dallas Green on Sunday morning as he was getting on another plane to be with his son John, another baseball man in the family, working as a scout for the Dodgers at the time, and John's wife, Roxanna.
"We're all hurting pretty hard," Dallas Green said, the voice small now, the big man sounding so much older than his 76 years.
"I can't believe this could happen to any 9-year-old child," he said, "much less our own."
He found out about the shooting watching television, before he even got the call, never dreaming that his granddaughter was there, or a part of it. Later he would find out that a man named Jared Lee Loughner, Glock in his hand, had walked up to that Safeway in Tucson and opened fire on the congresswoman from the 8th Congressional district. Loughner killed six people that day, including Chief U.S. District Court Judge John Roll, and wounded 13 others. One of the dead was a little girl from Mesa Verde Elementary School, a little girl playing second base on a boys' Little League team, a little girl from a baseball family whose patriarch was Dallas Green.
"They shot our little Christina," Sylvia Green said to her husband after she called their son, trying to find out what he knew about the shooting. Then John Green told Sylvia Green what had happened in front of the Safeway. Later Roxanna, the little girl's mother, would tell a television station how interested in government her daughter had been. Government and baseball.
The little girl's grandfather was some baseball man. He had been a tall, skinny journeyman pitcher once, winning 20 games and losing 22 in his career and finally retiring in 1967. He would eventually manage over 900 games with the Phillies and Yankees and Mets. But you better know that he was the manager when the Phillies finally won that World Series in 1980 against the Royals.
He was in the Phillies' front office when they fired Danny Ozark and asked Dallas to replace him. Before long he was in Chicago, and making all these moves, and building a baseball team that was up 2-0 on the Padres in 1984 before things fell apart. He brought Gary (Sarge) Matthews and Bobby Dernier to Wrigley, and then he made the deal that a lot of people thought was going to put the Cubs in the World Series that year, because after Rick Sutcliffe, Dallas' big play, came over from the Cleveland Indians, all he did was go 16-1. The second game he lost for the Cubbies that year turned out to be Game 5 against the Padres in San Diego.
Green's big plays had put the Cubs back in play. By 1987, though, they were back in last place and Dallas said the team quit, and then he quit himself that October. But he still had all this baseball in him. Yogi Berra had managed both the Yankees and Mets. Joe Torre would later manage both the Yankees and Mets. But so did Dallas Green, even if he never managed to turn either franchise around; even though he never made it back to the World Series. His last job in baseball was with the Phillies, as a senior advisor. But they still knew he was around, don't worry.
If you ever knew him, you know what I am talking about: If Dallas was in the ballpark, in a dugout or manager's office or passing through the press box, you knew he was there. You knew it was him. He was supposed to live out his years in the Caribbean, and at Spring Training with the Phillies, and with as many summer days and nights at the fancy new ballpark in Philly as he wanted. Then the active shooter in Tucson was shooting a 9-year-old granddaughter whom he adored. Then gun violence in America had found its way to him, because the little girl who loved baseball enough to play with the boys loved politics just as much; a little girl who had been born on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The worst thing to ever happen to us," Dallas Green said to me on the telephone that day from the airport in Miami.
He is gone now, at the age of 82, gone after a wonderful baseball life, one that saw all that winning in Philly in 1980, even if a lot of losing came later. It wasn't supposed to end the way it did, an ending for Dallas Green that began six years ago in front of a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona.