by Clark Groome
I probably don’t need to remind you but the Phillies’ May, in which they had a record of 6-22, was the team’s worst since 1928.
Their year so far – and they’re 19-35 after last Sunday’s 9-7 victory over the San Francisco Giants – has been even worse than the most pessimistic preseason predictions and significantly inferior to Manager Pete Mackanin’s hope that they would be better than .500 this year and your humble, if obviously misguided, columnist’s belief they would win 79, eight more than last year.
Right now the Phillies have the worst record in baseball. By far. Their winning percentage is .352. The next weakest teams, The San Francisco Giants, and the San Diego Padres, both had a record of 23-35 for a winning percentage of .397 as of Sunday.
Their performance has, not unexpectedly and justifiably, riled up the fan base. Calls for everyone’s head have been heard on sports talk radio and at water coolers and coffee shops all around town.
To find out what it’s like “behind the scenes” at the Phillies at times like these, I talked with Phillies Chairman David Montgomery before the Phillies May 28 8-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
“First of all, to build a team, you have to know your teammates” the Wyndmoor resident said. “One of the strengths of our organization is we have tried hard to be friendly, compassionate and understanding of one another. When you have knowledge of the people you work with you hopefully develop trust in your decision-making. Right now everybody understands the direction that [General Manager] Matt [Klentak] and [President] Andy [MacPhail] are going.”
Montgomery, 70, the team’s president from 1997 until he was named chairman in 2015, said, “We tried the last few years I was president with [GM] Ruben [Amaro Jr.] to integrate youth with veterans. It turned out it wasn’t working. I would love Chase Utley to finish his career as a Phillie, but that would have blocked César Hernández, who’s one of the few developing players we have right now.
“The challenges remain while we’re in this period, but I don’t think we’ll be in it that much longer. There’s always a period of time during the season when you’re out of sync. What ‘out of sync’ means for me, is you get exposed because you got a well-pitched game by [Aaron] Nola and we don’t score.”
This year the team’s troubles have varied. One week the hitting’s good and the starting pitching is problematic. Another week the starters are good but the bullpen is the problem. The team’s only consistency this year, it seems, is its inconsistency.
The fans and the media raise the questions that, from what the team’s chairman says, are the same ones they’re asking themselves.
Working in an organization that is so public and so important to so many in the city isn’t always easy.
A Phillies’ employee – whether on the field, greeting people in the stands or in the executive offices – Montgomery said, are heroes when the team is going well, as it did from 2003 to 2011, and bums when things are going badly, as they are now.
“People used to say that I would be much tougher in a staff meeting when we were winning than when we were losing,” he added.
That approach is likely what made Montgomery such a popular leader not only at his own club but also in the sport generally.
One can only hope that the new president and general manager treat their employees well but also have the baseball sense to make the moves – and I won’t make any suggestions about what those moves should be because there are more than enough ideas about that floating around cyberspace and the airwaves and at the water coolers and such – that will bring the team back to the point where its CEO can get tough in staff meetings.