Tribute to Paul Owens

Paul Owens, general manager and architect of the 1980 World Champion Phillies, passed away on December 26, 2003, at the age of 79.  Below is webmaster Richard Summers' outlook on the Pope and what he meant, both to the team and to himself.

An Original Article:

Tribute to the Pope

By Richard Summers

Another small piece of my childhood disappeared when I heard the news of the death of Paul Owens.  Owens, 79, was the general manager of the lone World Series winner in Philadelphia Phillies history, and the architect of the longest stretch of team excellence in 120 years of Phillies baseball.

Owens had suffered a lengthy illness, and had missed his first spring training in a half century last season.  He spent most of 2003 in hospice care, but did manager to attend the closing ceremonies for Veterans Stadium, which he helped turn into the Phillies’ synthetic version of the Field of Dreams in 1980.  He put the exclamation point on the ceremony and on 32 seasons at the Vet when, with the help of longtime friend Dallas Green and current general manager Ed Wade, Owens touched home plate.

Owens began his career with the Phillies as a player-manager for the minor league affiliate in Olean, New York in 1955.  Owens served in many capacities in the course of a 48-year career with the Phillies, from minor league manager to scout to farm director to general manager.  Since the beginning of Ed Wade’s tenure as general manager, Owens has served as a Senior Advisor.

It is as a general manager that Owens will be best remembered.  Upon taking over for John Quinn in 1972, Owens would blend his knowledge of the Phillies’ prospects from his days as farm director, with his knack for making trades, to bring the team into the Renaissance in the late 1970s.

Before Paul Owens took the reigns of the Phillies, the team had played in only two World Series in 69 possible tries, and had won zero championships.  Under the guidance of “the Pope,” the Phillies would play in two World Series in the next eleven years, and would, in 1980, finally bring to an end a 97-year-long drought by beating the Kansas City Royal in six games in the World Series.

Twice during Owens’ tenure as GM he took over more direct control of the team by becoming manager.  The first time was shortly after taking the job, in 1972.  Owens later said that he went to the field to get a better feel of what he had to work with.  What he had was a team that, except for the legendary pitching of Steve Carlton (who went 27-10 that season, including 15 in a row), may have been one of the worst teams of all-time.  Phillies pitchers other than Carlton won an aggregate total of 32 games.

Of course, the foundation was already being laid for future success.  Along with Carlton, the 1972 Phillies also featured catcher Bob Boone, outfielder Greg Luzinski, and shortstop Larry Bowa, all fixtures on the 1980 World Champions.  Making his debut that September would be future Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt.  Clearly, the Phillies had budding talent.  It just had to be cultivated, and added to.

Which Owens did.  The farm system produced the foundation (Boone, Bowa, Luzinski, Schmidt), along with other major contributors (Larry Christenson, Keith Moreland, Lonnie Smith, Bob Walk).  Trades would bring others, such as Garry Maddox, Bake McBride, Tug McGraw, Dick Ruthven and Manny Trillo (though Ruthven and Trillo were originally Phillies farmhands as well).  The final piece of the puzzle, Pete Rose, came via free agency, then in its infancy.

Though the highwater mark for the Phillies was the 1980 World Series, the team has the longest stretch of winning baseball in team history.  That 1972 team that went 59-97 (a short players strike at the beginning of the season may have been all that prevented yet another 100-loss season) would, by 1975, finish in second place with a winning record.  That was the launching point that saw the Phils win four division crown in 5 years, with the 1976 and 1977 teams being the only two in 120 years to win over 100 games.

I cannot claim friendship with Paul Owens, only a deep admiration as a fan.  I was able to meet him several times in the last 5 years, mainly during my once-yearly pilgrimage north from my Florida home to the Phils’ spring training site in Clearwater.  Among the Phillies, the Old Guard (Owens and 1980 manager Dallas Green) were the ones who were most willing to talk with fans and sign a few autographs.  Owens was always willing to talk baseball, and even though he was no longer in active charge of the team, he was nevertheless always knowledgeable about the team, its players, and the league.

I also ran into him a few years ago when traveling with my wife and oldest nephew in 2000 through Philadelphia.  My nephew (14 at the time), the lone Phillies fan in my family besides myself, talked with Owens for a good 20 minutes about things baseball, and was thoroughly impressed with the man, even though the World Series he won for the Phillies was five years before he was born!  I was even more impressed with the class that the Pope showed in talking with this young man, not talking at him, but talking with him.  My nephew, already in love with the game of baseball, is currently in his senior year of high school, a starting catcher on the varsity team with dreams of playing professionally, and still talks of the time he met Paul Owens during a rain delay.

For that, even more than the winning baseball or even the World Series, I will always be a Paul Owens fan.  God bless you, Pope!
 

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