a sense, Dave Montgomery has been preparing for this job from childhood.
He grew up in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, and can give a detailed
description of the route he followed to make the 20-minute drive to old
Connie Mack Stadium. When he was four, his parents bought their first
TV in order to watch the Phils play the Yankees in the 1950 World Series.
(The Whiz Kids lost in four games.) His longtime friend and first roommate
at Penn, U.S. Attorney Michael Stiles C67, remembers going to a
Phillies game with a group that included Montgomery, whose attempt to
win an informal hot-dog-and-ice-cream-eating contest left him lying on
the Connie Mack concrete, moaning piteously. Montgomery spent a lot of
evenings listening to his "beloved Phils" on the radio, and
as a Penn freshman, he was in the stands that fateful night in September
1964 when the Reds Chico Ruiz stole home against the then-first-place
Phils, triggering one of the most famous late-season collapses in baseball
history. History is not a Phillies fan.
remember as we turned the corner onto Market Street, seeing the
joy on the faces of all those thousands of people. The fan in me
exploded along with everybody else."
Montgomery, now an alumni trustee, was a history
major at Penn, but it was his "math aptitude" that helped get
him into Whartons MBA program, where he steered clear of finance
and accounting and ended up in marketing, hoping to become what he calls
a "business generalist." He was also a sports generalist, ardently
following Penn football and basketball, and after earning his MBA in 1970
he began interviewing with the citys professional sports teams while
coaching football at Germantown Academy. His young players there included
the son of former Whiz Kid Robin Roberts, a connection that helped get
him an interview with the Phils.
"I went from the initial meetings with
the Scott Papers and the Quaker Oats of the world," Montgomery recalls,
"with all these structured series of interviews, to meeting somebody
who talked to me for about two minutes and said, Well, when do you
want to start?"
was Bill Giles, in February 1971, as the Phillies were preparing to move
into their bland new homeVeterans Stadium in South Philadelphia.
Giles, then the Phils vice president for business operations, was
looking for salespeople at the time. "Dave had a Wharton and baseball
background," he recalls, "and Robin Roberts introduced me to
him and said he was a great guy. I said, Thats enough for
melets put you to work and see what you can do."
Montgomery took over a ticket-sales beat from
the late Richie Ashburn, the Phils announcer and former Whiz Kid,
who was about to head south for spring training. Ashburn handed him a
big stack of index cards with a name and a phone number scrawled on each
one and told him there were a "lot of good leads there." The
fourth number Montgomery dialed got him through to Laurel Hill Cemetery.
The Phils were owned by the Carpenter family
back then, and though they were pretty terrible (again), Ruly Carpenter
was laying the foundations that would transform the team into a powerhouse
by the end of the decade. Between 1976 and 1983 they would win five division
championships (51/2 if you include the strike-split 1981 season),
two National League pennants and one World Championship, largely on the
strength of a great farm system that produced such home-grown talent as
Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Bob Boone.
Montgomery was the Phils director of sales
when they won the franchises only World Championship in 1980. The
day after the Series ended, he was about to get onto the float that would
take the team and its brass down Market Street and Broad Street to Veterans
Stadium for a very-long-overdue victory parade and chest-thumping. He
had been feeling strangely washed out since the climactic moment the night
before, as though the roaring adrenalin and frantic pace that had marked
the pennant race and the playoffs against the Astros and those six hard-fought
Series games against the Kansas City Royals had swept everything away.
"I was standing next to [Phillies
announcer] Chris Wheeler, and I said, I dont know, thats
not really me," he recalls. "It was not my style to be
out front on a float. But I finally got up on it, and I still remember
as we turned the corner onto Market Street, seeing the joy on the faces
of all those thousands of people. The fan in me exploded along with everybody
It was a reaffirmation of his chosen vocation
"We all run into these points where we
say, Am I doing the most meaningful thing?" he says.
"Im not in a position where I can deliver world peace or cure
a disease or anything like that. But seeing what happiness this game can
bring to peoples lives made it all worthwhile."
The following year, Carpenterappalled
by the lavish contracts some of his fellow owners were handing out to
second-tier free agents, and convinced that the game was heading for financial
ruinsold the team for the then-record price of $30 million to an
ownership group headed by Giles, who immediately appointed Montgomery
as his executive vice president.
"After two or three years, I could tell
he was the main man to groom to take over my role," recalls Giles.
"I thought he could easily take over after four or five years. Of
all my lieutenants at that time, he had the potential to be something
special. He was very bright and hard-working, very good with numbers and
with people, and fun to be around. He even slept in my bed one timebut
I had a golden retriever between us."
Although the Phils did win the pennant in 1983
and again in the magical freak-season of 1993, the franchise declined
fairly steadilyfirst through a series of ill-advised trades and
the departure of some key baseball people, then through some crippling
injuries and a woefully neglected farm system. Montgomery became the teams
chief operating officer in 1992, and in 1994, the ownership group made
him a co-general partner, giving him a percentage of ownership and signalling
his eventual ascension.
By June 1997, the eventuality had arrived. The
Phillies had the worst record in baseball, and a deeply frustrated Giles
had reluctantly concluded that he would be better off putting his energies
into getting a new, fan-friendly stadium for the team. (See sidebar on
page 30.) On June 20 of that year, he announced in a press release that
he was turning over the reins to Montgomery, who quickly made it clear
that the days of quick fixes were over, and that the Phils were going
to rebuild with younger players.
Though the Phils have played approximately .500
ball during his two-year reign, it will be a while before anyone can really
begin to assess the Montgomery Era. But in the view of Paul Hagen, its
wrong to assume that Montgomery is a "new face riding in to save
Montgomery, he says, "has been the ultimate
insider for 20 years, so to suggest that somehow he had nothing to do
with everything that happened before he took this title, I think, is a
Be that as it may, Montgomery has shown himself
willing to make key changesor at least to allow them to be made.
His appointment of Ed Wade as general manager has met with almost universal
approval, as has Wades decision to bring back such horsehide sages
as Dallas Green, Lee Elia and Paul Owens. This past winter, at Greens
recommendation, some unproductive personnel in the farm system were fired
and some highly regarded ones (such as Steve Noworyta) hired. The Phils
significantly increased the budget for the annual summer draft, allowing
them to sign some promising young players. And after years of near-total
neglect in Latin America and Asia, they have staked some new claims in
those deep lodes of talent.
Baseball America, which recently ranked
the Phils system 21st out of the 30 major league farm systems, nonetheless
indicated that it was a system on the rise, noting that the Phils
excellent 1998 draft picks, "plus a complete makeover of the clubs
development staff and philosophy, have injected energy into an underachieving
"Id say their [farm] system is definitely
on the upswing," says managing editor Will Lingo. "In the early-to-mid-nineties,
it was probably regarded as one of the lesser systems in baseball, because
the team didnt put enough resources into scouting and player development.
Now theyve rededicated themselves in that regard."
Still, it will probably take a while for the
publics perception to change. Especially after the Phils first-round
draft pick in 1997a Florida State standout named J.D. Drewrefused,
following a year-long holdout, to sign for what the Phillies offered.
The fact that they offered him a multi-year package worth (with options)
up to $6 million, the highest ever offered to a draft choice at the time,
was not enough. Drew eventually went back into the draft and signed with
the St. Louis Cardinals for a reported $7 million over four years (plus
another $1.5 million in incentives). "The Phillies did not understand
the market," gloated Drews agent, Scott Boras. "The St.
Louis Cardinals did."
After a slow, injury-plagued start with the
Cardinals this season, Drew was sent down to the minors. But the contract
he signed once again raised the stakes: The Phils number-one pick
in 1998, slugging first-baseman Pat Burrell, ended up demanding $8 million
for five years, knowing that the team faced a public-relations disaster
if they got spurned and outbid again. This time, they paid.
"It was a gamble that didnt work,"
says Dolson of the Drew incident. "I certainly dont blame them
for refusing to pay the money he demandedIve seen too many
cases of young players with cant-miss labels who do
miss. And its entirely possible that he never wanted to come to
Philly in the first place. So it was a mistake made with the best intentionsthey
drafted the best prospect out there. But they seem to have recovered nicely"
in the 1998 draft.
Dolson, Montgomerys approach of building up the farm system and
bringing in young players makes a lot of senseas does his willingness
to tap the expertise of people like Dallas Green and Lee Elia.
"Bringing those people in, to me, is more
important than X number of dollars you spend on some free agent who may
or may not help you," he says, adding that the subsequent shakeup
in the farm system was a "huge plus" for Montgomery. "It
took somebody to step in there who was willing to make changes. And its
apparent now that the changes were for the better. Course, they
couldnt be for the worse."