For Dallas Green, past and present remain one
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Federal Building in Oklahoma City was Port St. Lucie, Fla. Columbine was Cincinnati. And 9/11 was Pittsburgh. Never will my whereabouts on the days of those sickening occurrences fade from my memory, no more than the classroom in which I sat when word of the shooting of John F. Kennedy was relayed by a history teacher who had lost all color in his face.
The too many other episodes of sickening public slaughter now are parts of a blur. I can't recall where I was when Virginia Tech was shot up, or when Aurora, Colo., was the dateline for more sad news. Or even my location when the massacre of Newtown happened. One episode was too many, of course. Multiple episodes blur the lines and datelines and dull the senses.
Yet each time since Jan. 8, 2011, that an armed madman has made me wonder about the current applicability of the Second Amendment, my mind quickly has gone, not to a place I had been when dreadful news reached me, but to the one man I knew personally whose life has been forever damaged by that sort of revolting violence -- Dallas Green.
In February 2011, some five weeks after his granddaughter, Christina-Taylor Green, was murdered by a bullet from the gun of Jared Lee Loughner, Green stood outside the Phillies' Spring Training complex here wearing sunglasses that failed to hide the moisture around his eyes. He spoke publicly of "that special little gal" for the first time.
I asked him then, when he was age 76, whether he had enough life left to heal. He shook his head from side to side. Green had moved no closer by Thursday morning, as he sat in an office at the Phillies' complex and again dealt with the most profound heartache of his time.
I'd been wrong to think that each instance of mass murder since the death of his granddaughter and five others had picked at a scab. No scab ever had formed for him, no healing ever had happened. The wound has been treated by time and well-wishers. But it remains open and raw.
"I can tear up with the best of them," Green said Thursday without sunglasses. A few times during our 40-minute conversation, he paused or swallowed or looked for a place to fix his stare. The pain remains as evident as his thick white hair of the man who is the valedictorian of baseball's old school.
I wasn't intent on touching a nerve. But since Newtown, I'd been searching for a means of expressing my own sorrow and rage. I have a public forum, but it's for baseball, Dallas Green afforded me the opportunity. I thanked him. We both hope legislation will be the immovable object the next time a Jared Lee Loughner goes to purchase a weapon.
"I didn't understand it then. And I don't get it now," Green said. "Why some folks think it's necessary for anyone to have the right to buy something that will be used only to kill people. They were smart men who put this country on the right course. But they couldn't have imagined where it would lead."
And now small, but sharp knives are to be deemed appropriate for air travel. Did someone forget the term "box-cutter" from Sept. 11, 2001? Who needs a knife when their plane is over Toledo? Neither of us was aware of the Swiss Army Knife lobby.
Green admitted in 2011 to being an avid hunter. He and son John, Christina's father, whose strength was so evident after the shooting, enjoyed the sport. And Green said Thursday that a Thanksgiving family tradition had been skeet shooting on the farm. The tradition has carried on in the two Thanksgivings since Christina's death.
But Green acknowledged, "I haven't taken the time to hunt since it happened."
Yes, of course, he's a changed man. Age sometimes makes us more willing to accept change; sometimes it has the opposite effect. Having a beloved granddaughter killed at age 9 because legislation hasn't changed with the times can create a bitterness. Green used that word in unprompted self-description on Thursday.
"I'm not a politician," he said. "I vote for people who are supposed to protect us. The bitterness I have is that I can't understand for the life of me how we let it go on when, I believe, there's been such an increase of nuts out there."
Loughner had intended to kill congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that day. Christina had a budding interest in politics. Her neighbor took her to the rally outside a supermarket in Tucson. Giffords and other survivors reunited at the scene for the first time Wednesday. Had a scab formed within Green, the gathering would have picked at it.
He was aware of the reunion. He understood why it took place. He characterizes his place, and that of his wife Sylvia in the anti-gun movement, as "supportive but uninvolved." Baseball still occupies much of his time. John has baseball, too, to afford him an escape. Green's daughter-in-law Roxanna, another strong member of a strong family, is quite active. Green says she has met several times with New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"Life goes on," he says, but the direction it takes is unplanned. He spent much of 2011 creating a scrapbook of "the entire business of Christina" -- cards, poems, photos and news reports. "I was tearing up as I glued the stuff in," he said. "The paper got soggy." That was quite an impromptu exercise.
No one who knows Green had anything approaching a grandfatherly, arts-and-crafts image of him. He did more of the scrapbook work than Sylvia. It was therapeutic. But little else is. When he and the family returned to Providenciales in the West Indies for their annual winter getaway, friends told him being there would help him forget.
"How can I forget?" he says. "Christina was there a week before she was killed."
And the Greens don't necessarily want to forget. "We're not at the point where we hide photos," he says.
The only positive that has come out of the painful ordeal is that Christina's older brother Dallas has made progress. He had been diagnosed as having Asperger disorder before his sister was killed. She was his big sister despite their ages.
"She helped him get through each day," Green said. "She protected him on the school bus, made sure his homework was done. And since she was killed, Little D has come out of the shell of autism. We're thankful. You have to go forward."
Green is Big D -- the upper-case letter stands for decibels. He is collaborating on a book about a lifetime in the game. He has managed the two New York teams and, of course, the Phillies. He essentially forced them to win the 1980 World Series. He put lights in Wrigley Field and, as general manager, the Cubs in the postseason. Which was the greater challenge?
He traded for Ryne Sandberg and surrendered the 100th home run of Jimmy Piersall's career. He shared dugouts with Yogi, Schmiddy, Mattingly, Lefty and scores of others.
And he wonders: "Who'll want to read what I have to say?" He'd prefer to bombard his reader with truth rather than cover-up. It'll be a page-turner entitled the "The Mouth that Roared." Perfect.
Dallas Green has left footprints and fingerprints all over the game, and probably has shattered glass with his booming voice. Sometimes, these days though, his voice loses its power. The decibels diminish. He's speaking of "that special little gal."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.