by Clark Groome
Whenever you listen to someone with the Phillies, from the front-office brass to a utility infielder, they almost always give a huge hunk of the credit for the team’s success to the fans. For management, it’s based on their loyalty and the financial support that they give by filling all those seats and buying all that neat stuff they eat or wear.
For the players, the fans are an often rambunctious, always loud – even when they’re booing – reminder of just how much they are loved and how much is expected of them.
With that in mind, I decided to ask some of those fans what questions they would put to Phillies president David Montgomery if they had the opportunity to chat with him.
Emails were sent to solicit the questions. Some, as you might imagine, didn’t make the cut. One friend’s 14-year-old son wanted to know how much Wyndmoor resident Montgomery, 64, makes in a year.
An Episcopal priest with an odd sense of humor wanted to know who cleans up the bubble gum and sunflower seeds in the dugout after each game, and how much of it there is. One family member wanted me to ask Montgomery when the powder-blue away uniforms would return.
Clearly trying to turn this column for one glorious moment into vox populi wasn’t going to be easy. Thankfully, several questions addressed a couple of areas that clearly need attention: how to keep what may now be the greatest era in Phillies history going after the current team no longer is playing and, considering the huge payroll the organization now has, how to keep the game affordable for the average fan.
Addressing the future of the club Montgomery said, “Although our behavior indicates our philosophy has changed, I don’t think it has changed as much as people might think.
“The best way to develop the nucleus for the club is certainly within the farm system,” he noted in an interview in his Citizens Bank Park office before a recent game against the Florida Marlins. “Yes, in the last couple of years in order to sustain a high-level club at the big league level, we’ve traded away some of our better prospects.
“This is why – and people have struggled to accept it at face value – we moved Cliff Lee a year ago to recapture some prospects [for] the organization with the hope that when we have to replace some of the current group, some of it – I wouldn’t say all of it – comes from within the system.
“The additional challenge we face is that we’re not drafting in the high positions that we had in the late ‘90s so we don’t get early picks.”
On fan support, Montgomery was expansive.
“Fan support has been phenomenal,” he said. “It has manifested itself in our attendance here, in our attendance on the road, in our attendance at spring training, and in the support our minor league clubs are getting. What we hope is that we can transfer some of the affinity for the current group to affinity for the next group.”
He mentioned that young players like Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. have grown up in the Phillies farm system, and that others also will be coming along.
But how about those ticket prices?
“We believe that the nature of fan support is that we want to have a long-term relationship with our fans,” he said. “Have we raised ticket prices? Yes. Have we raised them in our minds fairly modestly? That’s what we would say, although that’s in the eye of the beholder.”
Currently individual tickets range from $20 to $65, with standing room available at $17.
One question that he seemed pleased to hear, and to answer, was about the role character plays in the decision to sign a player.
“Character,” he said, “we value very highly. So if there’s a modest talent differential we would clearly attempt to bring the person in with the higher character.
“Character in our game is not just being ‘a model citizen.’ It’s being a good teammate and being a good guy in the clubhouse. The guys we’ve got here have made it clear that we’re a team here. Their focus is doing, first and foremost, what’s right for the team, not just for the individual. The players, and [Manager] Charlie [Manuel] and the coaches get a lot of credit.”
The other part of that question had to deal with how you handle a very popular, positive player when he is no longer as productive as he once was. That issue caused a stir when The Eagles let Brian Dawkins go a couple of seasons ago.
“You don’t want to become so attached to the player that you ignore the erosion, if that’s the case, in ability,” Montgomery said.” That’s where judging your own talent and being able to say that player X is not able to do things he was able to do three or four years ago [comes in]. You can’t let the personal attachment stand in the way of making the right baseball decision.”
Then, after taking a deep breath, he added, “It’s hard – it’s the hardest thing we have to do.”
Looking at the current season, he noted, “The concerns have been evidenced already. The concern is always to stay healthy.” Mentioning Domonic Brown, Brad Lidge and Chase Utley, he said, “We start every year trying to put a club together that will be one of the eight that qualifies for the post season.
“If you’re in, anything can happen and pitching becomes a big part of it. If we are healthy and fortunate enough to get through the regular season and participate [in the playoffs] again and we have starters like [Roy} Halladay, [Cliff] Lee, [Roy] Oswalt, [Cole] Hamels and even Joe [Blanton] healthy for the post season, that will put us in a good position.
As our interview ended, he restated his belief: “Fan support has put us where we are. There’s no question about that.”