by Clark Groome

David Montgomery is optimistic, not only that the cancer that sidelined him last year is history, but that the team over which he presided for 17 of the last 18 years is on the road to once again being a major contender.

In a far-ranging interview at Citizens Bank Park, Wyndmoor resident Montgomery, 68, commented on the jaw cancer surgery he had 13 months ago that caused him to take a medical leave beginning last August.

“I’m doing great – I’m doing fine,” he said.

When he came back to work in January his role with the club changed. Formerly he was the team’s general partner, president and chief executive officer. He’s now chairman.

“What I did,” Montgomery said, “was to relinquish the duties of direct oversight of the baseball side. What that means is I can continue in my new role longer than I could have in my old one because the old one was 24/7. I didn’t ever miss home games. I don’t miss many now but I’ve missed a few.

“I was always available whenever [General Manager] Ruben [Amaro] needed me. Now [President] Pat [Gillick is] filling that role.”

And most satisfying of all, I would imagine, is that he said, “I don’t go to as many meetings as I used to – it gives me an opportunity to stay involved with the club longer term than I would otherwise. That’s a plus.”

Montgomery also talked about the struggles the Phillies are currently facing. Having worked for the Phillies since 1971, he said, “The value of 45 years is understanding the game has cycles. You want to maximize the good ones.”

Reflecting on the successes of the last decade, he said, “We had a great nucleus. We made a conscious decision to try to win more than one World Series with that group. We added pieces like Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence. The irony of that club is that – with the exception of [Cole] Hamels – [Jimmy] Rollins, [Chase] Utley, [Carlos] Ruiz, [Ryan] Howard, [Roy] Halladay, [Jayson] Werth, [Shane] Victorino and [Cliff] Lee, [Raul] Ibanez are all with 18 months of each other age-wise. They all got old together and they all got expensive together.

“When you’re in the midst of [all that winning and success] you tend not to think, ‘Well, we’re going to lose Howard, Utley, Lee and Halladay in the next year.’ If you’re planning, you’re assuming a part of that group will still be with you.”

The club has faced a lot of criticism about not cutting some of those older players, most notably Howard, loose. But, Montgomery says, when they signed Howard to the long-term deal that now looks like a mistake, he was healthy and very productive.

“We would have been horribly criticized,” he said, “if we had not re-signed Ryan.”

So things are changing, and Montgomery actually thinks “our becoming a better club isn’t that far in the future.

“We now have a situation where we can see a couple of young players,” he said. “We have [Cody] Asche and [Maikel] Franco here. Domonic [Brown] we still don’t know about entirely yet.”

As for the pitchers, he’s very bullish about the prospects in the system.

“If you have numbers on the pitching side – whether it’s [Aaron] Nola, [Jesse] Biddle, [Zach] Elfin, [Ben] Lively or [David] Buchanan again or Adam Morgan, who’s one of our best pitching prospects – the reality is if you have a half-a-dozen, I’m not sure which two or three will make it but two or three will,” he added.”

He agrees with the plan not to rush prospects to the big club before they are ready because that can do, and often does, more harm than good.

Just what will happen with the veterans on the trading block and just when the prospects will be ready to lead the team into a new successful era is unclear, but Montgomery’s optimistic it’ll happen sooner rather than later.

And he was right before. In early 2007 when people were saying the team was two or three years away from being a contender he thought they were closer than that. They went to the playoffs that year and won the World Series the next.

Let’s hope he’s right again.