PHILADELPHIA -- Dick Allen nicknamed Paul Owens “The Pope” because he looked so much like Pope Paul VI.
But Owens had more going for him than a holy doppelganger. He took the moribund Phillies and developed and acquired some of the greatest players in franchise history for one of the greatest runs in franchise history. He joined the organization in the 1950s and served as a manager, scout and farm director before he became general manager in June 1972. As general manager, he became one of the first GMs to travel regularly with the club because he believed it helped him feel the pulse of the clubhouse.
But The Pope inserted himself into the dugout when needed, too. A few weeks after he replaced John Quinn as GM, Owens dismissed Phillies manager and friend Frank Lucchesi and managed the team for the final 80 games of the season.
“I had to find out for myself who wanted to play and who would play,” Owens once said. "At the end of the season, I had determined we had seven players who would be the nucleus of turning this thing around.”
Owens turned it around. The Phillies won only two pennants in 88 years before Owens became GM. They won three consecutive National League East titles from 1976-78 before winning the 1980 World Series. Owens' team made the postseason again in the strike-shortened ’81 campaign. He returned to the dugout as manager in ’83, helping the Wheeze Kids win the NL pennant. Owens' time as GM ended in ’84. The Phillies honored him in ‘86, creating the Paul Owens Award for the organization’s best player and pitcher in the Minor Leagues.
The Pope had fun along the way. He got to the ballpark early and left late, often enjoying an adult beverage or two. He often held court in the hotel bar because he said he preferred to know where his players were than get a phone call in the middle of the night.
Anytime anybody asked him how he did it, he typically replied, “Bounceability.”
MLB.com has been choosing its all-time Phillies team over the past few months. It picked catcher Darren Daulton, first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, third baseman Mike Schmidt, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, left fielder Sherry Magee, center fielder Richie Ashburn and right fielder Bobby Abreu as its eight position players. It chose Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton as its top right-handed and left-handed starters, respectively. Tug McGraw got the nod as the top reliever and Charlie Manuel is the top manager. Owens is the greatest GM in Phillies history, which is saying something because Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick led the organization to its second championship in 2008.
“The Pope was legendary,” Gillick said in “The Big 50: The Men and Moments that Made the Philadelphia Phillies." “I’ll tell you, in the time I came up, he was one of the best by far. … Paul was a great guy that I think the players really respected, but at the same time he had a feel of when to cut a guy loose. He didn’t let his personal feelings interfere with the professional judgement.”
Owens drafted or developed Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, Bob Boone, Dick Ruthven and others. They, alongside Carlton, became the core that dominated the NL for years.
“If you don’t have good scouts, you’re never going to find the right guys,” former Phillies president Bill Giles said. “It all centered around Paul Owens. I consider him really the best judge of baseball that I’ve ever been associated with.”
But Owens knew how to wheel and deal, too. He acquired Tug McGraw, Pete Rose, Garry Maddox, Bake McBride, Manny Trillo and others during the run.
“He had great judgment, tremendous patience and a love and feel for this game,” Dallas Green once said.