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Friday, October 22, 2021

Lee Elia played, managed, remembered for what he said

Lee Elia 1990 Clearwater Phillies card

Managing the Phillies' AAA club late in 1979, Lee Elia found himself looking ahead, maybe to a shot at managing the big club in 1980, The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote.

"I'd like to go there," Elia told The Inquirer then. "I'd be a liar if I said I didn't. But whatever happens, happens."

For Elia, he didn't make it up to Philadelphia that next year, but he did make it to the majors two years later, as manager of the Cubs in 1982.

His tenure in Chicago, however, ended up being marked by something else Elia definitely did say - a three-minute long recorded, frustrated tirade that has ended up following him for the rest of a long career in baseball.

Elia's long career began in 1959, signed by the Phillies as a free agent out of the University of Delaware.

Elia started as a player at short-season Elmira. He made AA Chattanooga in 1961, then AAA Buffalo in 1962. After moving to the White Sox system, he finally broke through to the majors in Chicago in 1966.

Elia saw 80 games with the White Sox that year and hit .205. He then returned to the bigs two years later, with the Cubs. He saw 15 games and hit .176.

He's credited as briefly returning to the minors in 1969, then seeing another 16 games at AAA in 1973, ending his playing days.

By 1975, he'd started his coaching and managerial career. He managed at single-A Spartanburg that year,  then made AA Reading  in 1977 and AAA Oklahoma City in 1979.

Along the way, Elia worked with the Phillies' Dallas Green. After Green moved to the Cubs as general manager, he soon brought Elia over, too, as Cubs manager for 1982.

"We kind of think alike," Elia told reporters of Green after being hired. "We yell at each other a lot."

The next April, Green had something to yell at Elia about - his frustrated, expletive-laden tirade. After a rough start and an incident between fans and a couple of his players, he let out the three-minute-plus rant that included 49 bleeped words, by one count from ESPN, and included suggesting fans get jobs.

Elia didn't know he was being recorded, ESPN wrote later.

"I was completely oblivious," Elia recounted to ESPN in 2008. "With God as my witness, when Dallas called me to his office, I told him I had to get to Park Ridge to umpire my daughter's softball game. And he told me, 'If you don't get up here, you can start packing your bags.'"

Elia lasted four more months, before being fired.

Elia then returned to the Phillies, first as manager at AAA Portland, then as bench coach in Philadelphia. In June 1987, he was hired as manager himself.

"Lee was the only candidate I wanted. Lee is the perfect man for the job," Phillies President Bill Giles  told The Chicago Tribune after the hire.

Elia stayed on for 1988, but, with the team in last place, had been fired again by season's end.

He then spent a season as a Yankees base coach. In 1990, he returned to the Phillies as a minor league manager, at high-A Clearwater.

For 1993, he made it back to the majors, as bench coach for the Mariners. He continued as a coach in the majors, also spending time with the Blue Jays, Devil Rays and Orioles, most recently with the Mariners in 2008. 

In 2018, he served as a senior advisor for player development with the Braves.

Lee Elia 1990 Clearwater Phillies card

1990 Minor League Tally 
Players/Coaches Featured:3,761
Made the Majors:1,273-33.9%-X
Never Made Majors:2,488-66.1%
5+ Seasons in the Majors:524
10+ Seasons in the Minors:312

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