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05/07/09 8:42 PM ET

Phils past, present fondly recall Ozark

Manager, 85, led club to three straight division titles in '70s

NEW YORK -- Danny Ozark, the former Phillies manager who nurtured a young team into a perennial contender in the National League, died Wednesday in Vero Beach, Fla.

He was 85.

"I considered him a friend of mine," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said inside his office at Citi Field. "He was a great guy. A baseball guy. He was very dedicated. He studied the game. He loved the game. He was a good teacher, too. He came to see me a couple times when I first got this job."

Ozark had a long career in baseball.

He started as a first baseman in the Brooklyn Dodgers' organization in 1942. Following his career, he turned to managing and coaching, beginning as the Dodgers' Class B team manager in Wichita Falls in '56.

Ozark joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as a coach in 1964, and worked with the Dodgers until the Phillies hired him as their manager Nov. 1, 1972.

"He was a dedicated coach for the Dodgers under two Hall of Fame managers, Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda," Dodgers president Frank McCourt said. "Danny was a longtime fixture in the Vero Beach community after his retirement and was always especially welcome during Spring Training. He will be missed."

The Phillies won 71, 80 and 86 games in his first three seasons before they won 101 games in 1976, returning to the postseason for the first time since '50. The Reds swept the Phillies in the National League Championship Series in '76, but Philadelphia won 101 games in '77 to make the playoffs again.

But again the Phils lost, this time to the Dodgers in the NLCS.

The Phillies won their third consecutive NL East title in 1978, but fell short again to the Dodgers.

Ozark was dismissed during the 1979 season.

Ozark went 594-510 (.538) as Phillies manager. His winning percentage is seventh best in team history. He was named Manager of the Year in 1976 by The Associated Press and The Sporting News.

"He was a good friend, my first Major League manager, played a major role in the early years of my career, and he was instrumental in building us into prominence in the mid-1970s," Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt said. "He brought a wealth of baseball experience from his years with the Dodgers to Philadelphia, and we were fortunate to have him as our leader throughout that time."

"Danny was the guy that took us from last to first," Bob Boone said. "He was the perfect manager for the Phillies in the '70s. He had the patience of Job and helped all of us grow up as men and players. He was a wonderful man. He will be missed, but his legacy will live on."

Ozark rejoined the Dodgers as a coach from 1980-82. His career ended with the Giants as a coach (1983-84) and interim manager in '84.

Ozark served in the Army in World War II, and was one of the men who stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

"Until that moment, I never knew the meaning of the word 'chaos,'" Ozark told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1994.

Perhaps that chaos made life in Philadelphia seem a little easier, where he often took abuse for some of his managerial decisions. But Ozark remained fond of Philadelphia.

"Ginny and I really miss Philadelphia," Ozark said last month in Phillies Magazine. "We enjoyed our time there. That city is a great sports town. The fans are the greatest. They do express themselves, but that's OK. We made a lot of lifelong friends there."

Born Daniel Leonard Orzechowski on Nov. 24, 1923, in Buffalo, N.Y., he married Ginny Zdinski. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in February.

In addition to his wife, Ozark is survived by two children, Dwain and Darlene; three granddaughters; and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

"Danny was more than a baseball manager, he was a genuine human being," former Phillies president Ruly Carpenter said. "We would not have had the success in the '70s if it wasn't for him. He taught those guys how to play the game."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.