"I really believe they are
turning things around," says Frank Dolson C54, longtime sports
columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer and now a scout for the
New York Yankees ["Alumni Profiles," May/June]. "I dont
know if theyre going to make the playoffsit would be a long
shot, even though at this moment theyre right in the mix. Its
questionable whether theyve got the pitching. But the fact is, theyre
a legitimate, competitive ball club now, which is something they havent
been for a while. Give Dave the credit for it. Hes the guy who would
take the heat if they were still lousy."
Well, actually, hes taking some heat anyway.
Thats partly owing to his conservative, low-key style, which some
apparently misinterpret as lackadaisical. Its also partly owing
to the perceptionwhich does have some basis in realitythat
when the leaves turn brown, the teams that keep playing are usually lavish
with the green.
"I know there are people in Philadelphia in my
former business who are always knocking Dave for being too tight with
the purse strings," says Dolson. "You knowlets see
what happens with this club hes put together. You can look 90 miles
to the south to see what Baltimores done. Theyre spending
$75-$80 million in salaries, and theyve got a last-place ballclub
now that was under .500 last year. Just spending $80 million doesnt
guarantee that youre going to be in the World Series. Or the playoffs.
Or out of the cellar, for that matter. Brains do figure in somewhereand
so does running the thing right."
sort of building equity in the term Phillies," Montgomery
was saying a few nights before, as the Phils were locked in a scoreless
tie with the Cincinnati Reds. Equity is a rather odd bit of Whartonspeak
to be tossing about in a ballpark, though its a legitimate word
for the CEO of a corporation. He was talking about the organizations
new approach in the farm system, making sure the young players in their
six minor-league teams are all getting the same caliber of instruction.
Its a theme that crops up repeatedly in discussions with Phillies
executives. Montgomery, its clear, wants everyone to be reading
off the same page.
Its probably the combination
of his Wharton background and fiscal conservatism that has prompted the
local Fourth Estate to paint him as a steely, buttoned-down executive
more concerned with getting the team into the black than into the playoffs.
(One has gone so far as to compare him to Ebenezer Scrooge.) Sportswriters
often have their reasons, but from a human standpoint, at least, the portrait
seems almost comically severe. Based on the grand total of one evening
spent in his company and a bundle of interviews with associatessome
disinterested, some notI will put my reputation on the line and
say that if Montgomery is not in fact a warm, down-to-earth, good-humored
man who genuinely likes people and genuinely loves baseball, then hes
one hell of a Method actor.
He is not, as he cheerfully
acknowledges, a colorful font of sound bites, and its clear that
he finds all the questions about his clubs payroll distasteful.
Unlike former Phillies CEO (and current chairman) Bill Giles, who enjoyed
schmoozing with the press and stirring things up in the papers, Montgomery
avoids the limelight as much as possible. But apart from the occasional
disgruntled sportswriter, most observers say his touch with people is
as real as his facility with numbers.
"The thing about Dave
is, he has excellent people skills," says Ruly Carpenter, who
owned the Phillies for the first decade of Montgomerys employment.
"Hes a good listenerable to communicate with anybody
in the organization, from the top echelon down to the guys who sweep the
stadium. Hes also very good at controlling his emotions. Hes
always the same, regardless of whats going on on the field."
That steady hand and those
people skills should not be dismissed as nice-but-irrelevant. They have
enabled himor rather, his general manager, Ed Wadeto bring
some first-rate baseball men back to the organization after years of personality-driven
exile during the Giles era, and to make some long-overdue personnel changes
based on their recommendations.
The charge that he wants
to get the team into the black has some truth to it, but thats a
more complicated issue.
"People dont like
to hear that the guy running their team is a smart businessman, but it
does help," says Douglas Myers WG92, author of The Scouting
Report: 1997 and an upcoming book about the Chicago Cubs, Essential
Cubs. "They might not think it does, especially when he makes
unpopular decisionseverybody wants short-term, no one wants long-term.
But if he indeed is true to his word, and puts that revenue back [into
the farm system], and wont be satisfied with just filling a stadium
with a little lousy team, then I think he will look like a very wise baseball
man, not just a good businessman."
Paul Hagen, who covers the
Phils for the Philadelphia Daily News, is less impressed by Montgomerys
business acumen. "Im not one of these people who thinks you
should just go out and buy a championship," he says, "but I
do know that you have to spend money to make money in baseballparticularly
in Philadelphia. It seems to me that Dave would rather improve five games
a year for four years than improve 20 games this year. And in this day
and age, I dont think you have five-year plans anymore. Plus, youre
in the entertainment industry. Youve got to give people a reason."
The Phillies hope to end
up in the black this year after several seasons in the red, and having
raised ticket prices and trimmed the fat from their major-league payroll,
they may be able to. Its not the fan-friendliest timing, but as
Montgomery points out, the Phils have upped their spending considerably
in a variety of not-so-visible ways, and they know that in a few years
theyll be paying a lot more for their young nucleus than they are
now. Although Forbes magazine recently claimedbased on a
formula derived from some available numbersthat the Phillies turned
a $4.5 million profit last year, Montgomery says the magazine, which did
not have access to the teams books, was actually "off by 15
"We did pretty well
financially until 1994," says Giles, "but whatever money we
made we always put back into acquiring better players. Since 94,
weve managed to lose quite a bit of money." The following year,
incidentally, was the last time that the Phils made a big splash in the
free-agent market, giving a four-year, $20-million contract to Gregg Jefferieswho
turned out to be an expensive disappointment.
For all his Wharton background
and facility with numbers, Montgomery wishes that people "would look
at individual players as components of a team" without worrying so
much about their salaries.
"When you narrow down
to a 25-man payroll, youre missing a great deal of the true picture
of where the organizations going," he says. "Last year,
we ranked third or fourth in spending on player development. Theres
a reason for that; we had a high draft pick and some other things. But
there are many baseball [dollars] spent outside of just the payroll number.
"The fact that Scott
Rolen this year makes a million, and in two years makes $5.5 million,
doesnt make him any different as a player," he points out.
"And right now, weve gone the directionintentionally,
because we think its the right directionof building the nucleus
of what we think are talented young players. Where they are in the salary
cycle today, and where theyll be in a year or two, are things youd
better be aware of and plan for. And hopefully, over time, we will build
fan identification with this nucleus."
Trying to break even should
not be a crime for a baseball team, or any other business. But in a time
when Major League Baseball has taken on a crazy, Gold Rush qualitywhen
huge corporations and multi-millionaires buy teams and dangle hundred-million-dollar
contracts in front of free-agent stars in order to bring home a championship,
then dismantle their championship teams like car thieves in a chop shopthe
Phillies approach has a retro quality. Their goal, as they put it
in one of their commercials, is to "get good and stay good."
The means to that end involves sound fundamentals, organizational
consistency, long-term investmentand patience.
"What happens in sports
ispeople tend to make rash judgments," says Robert P. Levy
C52, a former member of the Phils ownership group. "Were
all guilty of it. Guy pops up four times, you say the son of a bitch cant
play. David doesnt do that. Hes very, very methodical; very,
very thorough; and when he makes a decision, its usually a good
"The key with David
is patience," agrees Dallas Green, the Phils senior advisor,
who has held almost every important job in baseball. "He understands
the problems, but he also understands that there are no quick solutions,
and patience is something were all going to have to have. And hes
the leader in that category."
Its a laudable quality
in a CEO. Its not one for which Philadelphia fans are famous.
But Montgomery is not easily
fazed. The key to a franchises success, he insists, "is customer
services. If youre consistent in your treatment of fans, over time,
they reward you with their loyalty."
Especially if you win.