Montgomery’s Biggest Impact With Phillies Was Felt Here
I always wondered why, outside of Philadelphia, so few baseball fans realized the impact David Montgomery made on the game.
Even here, where the truest impacts of Montgomery’s biggest decisions percolated, long before they led to dramatic postseason runs and wild parades down Broad Street.
Montgomery became the president of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997, and that meant the buck stopped with him from that point on. It’s no coincidence the glory years of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, on the field anyway, began shortly thereafter.
Montgomery, the longtime minority owner of the Phillies who became the first native Philadelphian to ascend to the team presidency in more than six decades, died Wednesday after a nearly five-year battle with cancer. He was 72, and he leaves behind one of the great legacies in Philly sports history.
He went from ticket salesman by day, scoreboard operator at night, to executive vice president a decade later. Throughout the Red Barons’ tenure as the Phillies’ top farm club from 1986 through 1989, Montgomery stood as one of the most influential voices in the organization. By the time he became president, though, the Phillies were an organization at a crossroads.
Frankly, it was rotting from the bottom up.
From the time the Phillies won the National League championship in 1993 through the time Montgomery became president four years later, the Phillies drafted only three players who wound up making a consistent, longer-term impact in Philadelphia: Scott Rolen, Jimmy Rollins and Randy Wolf. Outside of them, the Phillies minor league system dried up, providing a big-league club that aged poorly after the championship run with just a trickle’s worth of the flood of youth it needed.
But the Phillies made some difficult decisions that worked once Montgomery became president. Carbondale native Ed Wade became general manager late in 1997. Mike Arbuckle, the player development whiz, became his top assistant shortly thereafter, and the Phillies officially had a change in focus. They’d no longer skimp on the player development side of their operation, stop watching their minor-league teams with half an eye while the majority of their focus remained on a big-league club not getting it done.
That was the easy way to do things, the way the Phillies had done them for a decade and a half, and really, it’s underrated how difficult a decision it is for someone in charge of a business’ financial decisions to allocate more money away from the cash cow and more toward an area that is going to require imagination, fan belief and patience. Especially in Philadelphia, where imagination, fan belief and patience don’t exactly grow in bulk.
At a time when the Phillies needed a major change in direction and philosophy, Montgomery provided the impetus. He OK’d it. He backed the financing of it. He put the people in place who’d be dedicated enough to see it through. And from 1998 through 2004, when the Phillies built what would be the core of its 2008 world championship team and 2009 National League title winners through the amateur draft, they selected and developed guys like Pat Burrell, Ryan Madson, Nick Punto, Brett Myers, Marlon Byrd, Chase Utley, Gavin Floyd, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and J.A. Happ.
Bottom line is, the Phillies did what it took under Montgomery’s leadership to change what became a stagnant, unsuccessful organization — one of baseball’s worst. They turned it into one that won a World Series, five National League East championships, two NL titles, and at least 85 games 10 times in 11 seasons from 2001 through 2011.
In the wake of his passing, so many around the Phillies and the city are going to be talking about the obvious impacts Montgomery made. A spring training facility that is second-to-none, which he helped build. A major-league stadium that is second-to-none, the building of which he oversaw. Expanded playoffs with a new wild-card structure, which he became an impassioned voice of support for behind the scenes. Some of the biggest free-agents in baseball over the years, coming to Philadelphia because they recognized the Phillies had built a family atmosphere that seemed somehow entirely different from any other in baseball, which was also a credit to Montgomery’s unassuming way.
Nationally, the Phillies were Howard’s mammoth homers and Rollins’ consistency and Utley’s grit and power and Hamels’ gifts and Roy Halladay’s brilliance during those glory years. But none of that would have been possible if David Montgomery didn’t do what was necessary in the late 1990s. Quietly, he made all the right moves, and it set the franchise he loved on a decades-long course for success.
DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.