by Clark Groome
In last week’s column, Philadelphia Phillies Chairman David Montgomery talked about how moving from the team’s presidency to his new role has changed his responsibilities.
When he returned from his medical leave in January, he came back as chairman, and Pat Gillick, who had been serving as interim president in Montgomery’s absence, had the interim tag removed from his title.
Just after that column was written and filed, it became apparent that Montgomery’s changes were but the first of many – some expected some not – to occur as the Phillies struggle in what is potentially their worst season in decades.
On June 26, manager Ryne Sandberg resigned at a hastily scheduled news conference. It was, according to sources close to the team (and from the stunned look on his bosses’ faces) totally his decision. He didn’t like losing and it was clear to him, he said, that it would be better for him and for the team if he were to step down. Clearly, he resigned in advance of his inevitable firing.
Third base coach Pete Mackanin was named interim manager for the rest of the home stand.
Three days later, at a better-scheduled news conference, John Middleton, one of the Phillies owners (the other two are Jim Buck and Peter Buck), announced that they had hired longtime baseball executive Andy MacPhail to be the team’s president at the end of this season. Until October he will work with current president Gillick, whose intentions were always to stay just one year.
MacPhail described his job for the next period of time as having “three main functions – to read, to watch and to listen. And then, hopefully,” he said, “I’ll have a clear idea of what I think is appropriate and needs to be done.”
More: A couple of days later, just to keep things from being too chaotic, General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. announced that Mackanin would be the interim manager for the rest of the year, a move that caused the skipper to quip that he is no longer “the interim interim manager just the interim manager.”
Change is the one constant with the team and the organization at the moment. And it clearly isn’t over. The likelihood is that several of the Phillies – most notably Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon and possibly Ryan Howard, Ben Revere and Jeff Francoeur – will be traded before the end of the month. They will be sent to teams more in contention for the prospects the team needs to rebuild and become the contender it was from 2007 to 2011.
As much as all this change may help the team going forward, many people still want some constants when they go to the ballpark, constants that are more pleasant than the odds the team will lose in an ugly way despite some good pitching (Hamels) or some impressive individual players (third baseman Maikel Franco, second baseman Cesar Hernandez, catcher Cameron Rupp and outfielders Revere and Francoeur).
There are lots of constants: Baseball is a great sport; Citizens Bank Park is a great place to watch a ball game; the food there is very good.
And then there’s the Phanatic.
In a chat with Tom Burgoyne, the Phanatic’s “best friend” for the last 21 years, I asked him if his furry companion did anything differently when the Phillies are headed towards 100-plus losses than he does when they’re winning 102, as they did four years ago.
“There’s no change,” Burgoyne says. “There’s still the same response people have for the Phanatic. The same act. People understand where we are as a club right now. So when the Phanatic comes out and is silly people think this really is OK, ‘we can still laugh and have fun at the ballpark.’”
He goes on to say that “The Phanatic has this great reputation. I want to make sure that the actual performance and the act matches that great expectation that’s out there. Wins and loses don’t make much difference.”
While the Phillies are making change after change in the front office, in the dugout and on the field, it’s good to know that the funny furry fellow from the Galapagos brings a sense of continuity and consistency – and delight – to the games. It’s sorely needed.