Ten days ago, tiny Bud Harrelson - once the toast of the Miracle Mets - was in retirement, playing softball on weekends for an antique shop's team.
Harrleson's game-winning hit today may have saved the perpetually endangered job of Philadelphia skipper Danny Ozark - the Dutch uncle master of malaprops who some say couldn't manage in a slow-pitch beer league.
Before Philadelphia split this afternoon's doubleheader with Cincinnati, 6-4, 2-12, the Phils had lost nine of 10 games and six in a row. Ozark, whose job has for years been in jeopardy on the best of days, was back on the girddle.
"Danny doesn't know whether to spit or go blind, " said one of his regulars after watching Ozark bat his pitcher eighth Friday, play three infielders out of their normal positions Saturday, then bat Del Unser at cleanup today.
"The team can sense that he's panicking. No one questions that he's a great guy . . . sort of the ideal third base coach. But he's no leader when things go bad."
Many a hard-hearted Philly fan who has suffered the vicissitudes of Ozark's seven kindly-but-dumb seasons as manager will growl that, the Philadelphians blew their big chance today.
One more doubleheader defeat might finally have been enough to force Phils President Ruly Carpenter to pick up the phone and call unemployed genius Sparky Anderson, that silver-haired heir apparent to a half-dozen managing jobs.
The Phils were a dispirited and desperate team as they lost three of four games here to fall into third place. In the nightcap, they played give-up baseball - waving at ground balls and fanning meekly at Tom Hume's curves.
"We have injuries (to Larry Bowa and Manny Trillo) but that's no excuse," said slugger Greg Luzinski. "The first six names in our lineup are the same as always."
Or they would be if Ozark would simply wrote down "McBride, Maddox, Rose, Luzinski, Schmidt, Boone" on the top his card instead of trying every perverse combination that come to him.
This weekened has been vintage Danny. He has batted ancient Tim McCarver second, played catcher Bob Boone at third, third baseman Mike Schmidt at shortstop and batted hurler Steve Carlton eighth. Every move has backfired.
Today, the Reds stole the Phils' signs in the opener. In the nightcap, Ozark gave Jim Lonborg, who has pitched two innings this year, a starting assignment. On consecutive pitches in the second inning, the Reds' eighth hitter doubled and pitcher Hume singled home two runs. In the third inning, George Foster and Dan Driessen hit second-deck homers on consecutive pitches.
Unser, Ozark's cleanup slugger for the day, fanned in his first three at bats.
Even the Reds were laughing.
On Saturday, Ozark accused Foster of using a corked bat to belt a 500-foot homer because, as he said, "No human being can hit the ball that far."
Great psychology, Danny.
Foster certainly looked immortal today, bashing three more monstrous homers, two in the nightcap.
What did Foster think of Ozark's remarks?
"Ozark?" asked Foster, whose five runs batted in today put him hot on the trail of a big-league-record fourth consecutive RBI title. "Oh, I didn't understand the question for a moment. I thought you meant Ozark Air Lines."
A team trying to shed its easygoing manager with an embarrassing display of lackadaisical effort would look just like the Phils did in the second game.
The exception was the feisty Harrelson - the man with the lowest salary on the highest-paid team in baseball. He can't afford to dog it like the wealthy Phils.
In his glory days, Harrelson was shortcap and captain of the New York Mets' World Series teams of 1969 and '73. Tom Seaver was his walking-'round-town chum.
For five years, the scrawny Harrelson's skills dwindled until last November, when he became a free agent after a 103-at-bat season with the Phils, no team offered him enough to make it worth his coming to spring training.
"I guess I retired too soon," Harrelson said. "My body wasn't old, and my desire wasn't gone. When the mailman told me that Bowa had gotten hurt, I said to my wife, 'I'm gonna call'em and ask them to take me back.'
"I think I got (General Manager) Paul Owens out of the shower. I told him, 'I know you're looking for bodies until the team gets healthy. I'm versatile. If I don't cut the mustard, you can pink-slip me without sending me back to the minors. I'll just retire again.'"
On those humble terms, the one-time all-star returned.
"I feel like a 35-year-old rookie," said Harrelson, who had a tie-breaking single in the ninth inning of the opener.
"I thought I had left baseball behind, but it must have been in the back of my mind. I was working for a commercial collection agency on Wall Street and playing softball on the weekend. We were one of those teams that drank the beer before the game. We couldn't have beaten my wife's team.
"It was a good life," Harrelson said. "People would ask me, 'Do you bring your bat with you to collect the bills?' I'd tell 'em, 'You must never have seen me hit.'
"Actually, all the collection is done on the phone. Knocking on doors is a good way to get shot."
At least for these three days, Harrelson has played like he did as a Met - better actually. In four games, he had seven hits (four today), stole a base and made several smooth fielding plays at second base.
"I'm getting this magnificent body of mine in shape in a big hurry," joked the 150-pounder. "In fact, I think this doubleheader may be the equivalent of spring training."
On this bleak Phillie afternoon, only Harrelson and Pete Rose were conspicuous for their hustle. Rose, anxious to prove to the Reds that they can't defense him like a weakling slap hitter, pulled a single, double and homer all to right field in the twin bill to finish a creditable 5-for-16 return-home weekend.
Ironically, on the day Bowa returns from the disabled list next week - making Harrelson expendable - all the Phils' problems may be solved. That year-after-year questions, "Could Danny Ozark lead a Cub Scout troop across the street?," may once again become moot.
"With all the talent on this team, we're not supposed to need to be led," pointed out Schmidt, who hit his 16th homer with the score 12-1 in the ninth inning of the nightcap. "All we're supposed to need is someone to point us toward the field."
When the Phils are happy, healthy and bumptious, that may well be the case. But for the team that has scored only nine runs in those 10 defeats in its last dozen games, leadership has been desperately needed, and largely lacking.
It was supplied today by a skinny refugee from a slow-pitch softball league.