Former major-league manager Dallas Green spoke of the loss of his 9-year-old granddaughter, who was killed last month in the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Dallas Green was always known as a swaggering tough guy, a larger-than-life figure who intimidated players and stood up to management.
Teams made a habit of hiring Green as an antidote to easygoing managers who had let the players walk all over them. He was the resident disciplinarian brought in to restore order.
Green once said of his managerial style, “A lot of guys get tired of fighting me. I’m a screamer and I don’t get tired of screaming. I wear them down. … It’s the only way I know how to deal with ballplayers.”
But now Green is the one that has been brought to his knees, his world shattered by a madman’s bullet on Jan. 8 in Tucson, Ariz. The target was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, but the shooting didn’t stop there. By the time the gun had been wrestled away, 13 people had been injured, and six killed.
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One of those six dead was Christina Taylor Green, the beautiful 9-year-old granddaughter of the baseball lifer, Dallas Green. And so as Green met the media on Wednesday, finally able to control his emotions enough to express his grief publicly, his face was drawn and his voice quivered occasionally. Sunglasses hid Green’s eyes, but he admitted he cries easily and often now.
A big bear of a man, still in good shape at age 76, Green obviously remains in deep emotional pain. At one point, as his voice broke, he said, “You know, I’m supposed to be a tough sucker, but I’m not very tough when it comes to this, so I apologize.”
Now Green is a special adviser for the Phillies, but mostly he is a grandpa and dad, mourning for his granddaughter, trying to support the family of his son, Dodgers scout John Green, and struggling to make sense of the senseless.
With Christina, an already unspeakably horrifying tragedy now had a youthful face for the nation — the world, really — to weep for, and the outpouring of grief for her was overwhelming.
It’s all overwhelming, still, to Green, who nevertheless decided to report to spring training this week, as he has done for more than a half century. Baseball would be therapeutic, he and his wife, Sylvia, decided. But baseball can only do so much.
“You sink yourself into the work and you don’t see a little girl with a hole in her chest as much,” he said. “I get through it, but John’s going to hurt like the devil for a long time.”
The elder Greens were at their winter home in the Caribbean when they found out about Christina. But it wasn’t until they flew to Tucson for the funeral that they realized the impact of the smiling girl whose biography — born on 9/11/2001, only girl on the Little League team, recently elected to student council in her third-grade class — just highlighted the random cruelty of the rampage.
“We thought it was just our family and our neighborhood out in Tucson,” Green said. “But that little girl woke an awful lot of people up. We just miss the hell out of her. … She was really a special young lady, probably older than her years.”
Green said he was grateful that at least Christina and the rest of her family — she has a brother, Dallas Jr., that Green calls “Little D” — had been able to visit their grandparents in the Caribbean, a place she loved, at Christmas time. He chuckled as he remembered Christina stating a goal of being the first female major-leaguer, and then said, huskily, “She was pretty good.”
The outpouring of support from the baseball community was tremendous, Green said. He’s still going through cards and letters from fans, a tough task because each one tugs at a heart that’s all tugged out.
“It hit everybody,” he said. “The way it happened and the fact she was only 9 years old obviously hit a lot of people hard. It brought up the gun business and the craziness the country seems to be going through at times. But she embodied what’s good about kids and what’s good about growing up in the United States. She wanted desperately just to be a little girl that loved doing what she did.”
In an especially emotional moment, Green spoke of the neighbor, Susan Hileman, who had brought Christina to the meeting with constituents of Rep. Giffords at a grocery store parking lot. In Green’s eyes, she’s a hero. She, too, was shot, but survived.
“God bless the lady that took her,” Green said. “She took three bullets and tried to protect Christina. Couldn’t do it. But she was just a wonderful person for the family and for Christina. We’ll never forget her. I know she’s going through her own hell. But she shouldn’t, because Christina would have wanted to go, did want to go, and wanted to be part of that.”
Dallas said he was deeply proud of his son’s eulogy at Christina’s funeral.
“To be able to stand up and talk about his daughter, the way he did at the funeral, was unbelievable,” he said. “Roxanna (Christina’s mother) has been a rock. I know how desperate she feels. Little D is back in action. John took him to his Little League game the other day. He missed the first ground ball. Hit him right in the face. But John said, ‘I was proud of him, Dad. He caught the next four and threw them to first.’
“They’re a tough family, and yet they’re a loving family. They’re going to hurt for a long time.”
Asked what positive he hoped came out of Christina’s death, he said, “I’m not sure anything can come of it, even though we just talked of living in the United States and how important it is to understand it’s still the best country in the world to live in. You would hope that there would be some understanding that there are crazies in this world.
“I guess the one thing I can’t get through my mind, even though I’m a hunter and I love to shoot and I love to have my guns, I don’t have a Glock or whatever it is, and I don’t have a magazine with 33 bullets in it. That doesn’t make sense for me, to be able to sell those kind of things. I guess I never thought about it until this happened. What reason is there to have those kind of guns other than to kill people? And I just don’t understand that.”
There’s much to confound and confuse in this story. In the end, it’s about a little girl who should have led a long, happy life.
“John called her princess, and I did, too,” said Dallas Green, one tough sucker. “She was our angel.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org