Green's inner strength faces a test
Granddaughter possessed many of former manager's best traits
Dallas Green walked across the Dodger Stadium field en route to the Mets' buses, idling beyond the wall in center field, on a late August Sunday in 1996. He didn't know it at the time, but he had managed for the last time. The Mets would discard him the following day.
Green wore a solid sports jacket that was more pink than salmon and, even from 500 feet away, he was easily spotted in the crowd that assembled by the buses. Not many of his players were so tall. None had white hair.
Green has always been striking figure, even before his changed hair color added a touch of sage to his image. When the Clearwater, Fla., sun darkens his complexion in March, the contrast of white and deep tan seems almost unnatural. He favors bright colors. Because he is a big man, any garment he wears can fill a room with the color he chooses.
I haven't seen Dallas since the summer in Cooperstown, N.Y. He often attends the induction ceremonies. Someone snapped a photograph of us chatting during a rain delay. His expressions have softened since his days as the unyielding manager of the Phillies, Yankees and Mets, when he railed about "today's" players and sought "head and heart" from those on his roster.
He wasn't glaring in the photo, but those John Wayne attributes that have always distinguished him were evident. He looked into the camera's lens the way he routinely looked others in the eye. In one's first meetings with Dallas, his look was a tad unnerving. The unmistakable conclusion is that he sees inside and that he is always evaluating.
His expression in the photo reminded me of the reaction Mets co-owner Nelson Doubleday had in May 1993 on the day he met his new manager. Doubleday, no longer involved in book publishing then, told of a party Doubleday & Company had staged years earlier for the release of a book about Sophia Loren.
"When I met her," Doubleday said, "she looked at me. And when Sophia Loren looks at you, you know you've been looked at.
"It's the same with Mr. Green."
I haven't seen or read about Dallas in any of the photographs or news reports about the tragic death of his granddaughter Christina Taylor Green during the shootings in Tuscon 10 days ago. But I've thought of him and his wife, Sylvia, empathized with them from afar and imagined the size of the holes in their heart. I recall Dallas telling me how much I would enjoy my grandchild before Harrison Martin Mylowe arrived in 2009 -- he was right -- and how much he enjoyed the role of patriarch. I've wondered whether his posture has been something less that upright in the knee-weakening days that have followed, whether his shoulders have slumped, whether a new line, one caused by profound grief, had crossed his forehead.
How does a grandfather deal with the madness of guns and the death of his 9-year-old granddaughter? How does anyone crawl through the sickening sorrow of what happened? The thought that "Sometimes bad things happen to good people" applies, but it doesn't explain a thing. It provides scant comfort. It is merely a sentence that describes what happened. It's what we say when events of the day defy every attempt to rationalize or understand.
Dallas is a good, upright and strong man. We shouldn't assume his strength and goodness will allow him to move past this loss and its aftermath without pain and scars, though. "Turn the page," the baseball credo, has no effect in these circumstances.
How noticeable the influences of Dallas and Sylvia were in Christina is impossible for most of us to know. But news reports about her suggest her approach to life was consistent with the steadfast, strong-willed and motivated way her paternal grandfather goes about his business.
The touching televised interviews with Christina's father, John, said Dallas and Sylvia had profound influence on their son. John sounded like Dallas, looked like both parents. And, like Dallas and Sylvia, he had something to say. He was weakened, no doubt, but remarkably composed, as was his wife. They found enough strength in the first days after losing Christina to tell the world what a wonderful person their daughter had become in nine years.
I wasn't taking notes as I watched John speak, but I heard him mention the "free society" in which we live. He recognized that freedom, in the wrong hands, is a danger as well as a privilege. He endorsed free society while acknowledging the role it played in his daughter's death.
What a remarkable thought to express at so sad a time.
I don't know whether Dallas and Sylvia saw that or any other interview with their son. If there is a time for them to feel pride during this unspeakably horrid experience, it is when they see and hear the strength of the man they reared and the goodness of their granddaughter.
Sometimes, bad things happen to the best of people.
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.