Phillies

Former Phillies president David Montgomery dies at 72

Former Phillies president David Montgomery dies at 72

A few years ago, David Montgomery and I were having a conversation. Montgomery was wrapping up a 17-year run as Phillies club president and transitioning into an emeritus role with the ball club. I asked him how he wanted to be remembered.

I thought David’s answer would be something along the lines of spearheading the construction of Citizens Bank Park, one of the most beautiful ballparks in the land, or being at the helm when the franchise rose to the top of the baseball world, winning the 2008 World Series.

David’s answer was neither and at first that surprised me. But the more I thought about it, and the more I think about it now, it shouldn’t have surprised me.

For if you knew David Montgomery, you knew a man of great humility — and a man of great humanity — a man who always deflected attention from himself and was dedicated to giving back to the hometown he loved so much through the sport that had given him so much.

“It’s about the people,” he often said.

•••

Philadelphia has lost a great one. David Montgomery died on Wednesday morning after a courageous and inspiring battle of nearly five years with cancer. A proud Philadelphian from Roxborough, Montgomery was 72. He was educated at Penn Charter, Penn and in the seats of Connie Mack Stadium, where he used to study Richie Ashburn’s slide into bases (then practice it at home) and show up early just to watch Roberto Clemente throw in warm-ups when the Pirates were in town. Montgomery started working for his hometown team in the ticket sales office in 1971. He rose to club president and part owner in 1997, but never forgot his roots.

One day back in the late 90’s, after he had become club president, a woman approached him on the concourse at Veterans Stadium.

“I remember you when you were just a little ticket seller,” the woman said.

David laughed.

“I still am just a little ticket seller,” he responded.

When you consider what pro sports are all about, he was probably right.

But David Montgomery was so much more than a guy who sold tickets, got a ballpark built, watched a championship team come to flower and negotiated a big TV deal that will help the ball club stay competitive for decades.

For some, the word “friend” is just another word in the dictionary. For David, the word was gold, as important to him as the air he breathed. There were times when he’d do something nice for someone — countless times, actually — and that person would try to express their thanks and he’d stop them and say, “I’m your friend.”

He wanted no thanks. He wasn’t just from the City of Brotherly Love. He lived the concept. He was an amazing example of what a good man should be.

•••

With David Montgomery, it was always about someone else. But in November, it was about him and it was beautiful. The city dedicated his boyhood ball field in his honor. It was a wonderful gesture of thanks for all the good that he’d done for the community. On that day, Montgomery paid special thanks to his family and to Bill Giles, the man who brought him into the game nearly a half-century ago. 

The 2008 World Series title was the high point of Montgomery’s time running the Phillies. But I’m still not sure who he was happier for when the Phillies won it all, the fans who he had once sat amongst and now sold-out Citizens Bank Park each night, or Charlie Manuel, the salt-of-the-earth skipper who got kicked around like an old football early in his time as manager only to ride down Broad Street as a champion. Remember the rally at the ballpark after that parade? Remember what Montgomery did at the rally? He led the crowd in chants of “Charlie! … Charlie! … Charlie!” and it was awesome.

Montgomery was always thinking about someone else and that showed in the way he ran the ball club. Yes, wins and losses mattered above all else. That’s why the championship of 2008 felt so good and the lean years hurt so badly. But Montgomery believed that the organization’s responsibility transcended what happened on the field. Maybe it was because he was a hometown kid in love with all things Philly. Maybe it was the way he was raised because he frequently mentioned the blessing of his parents and his upbringing. Whatever the reason — and thank God it existed — David Montgomery was supremely committed to the community, giving back to it, making it a little better. He made that a mandate for the organization and the Phillies’ role as a charitable giant in the community is a tribute to him and the people with whom he surrounded himself.

I’ve always loved a story that former mayor Ed Rendell tells. One hot summer, the city was struggling to come up with the funds needed to open some community swimming pools. Rendell called his buddy Montgomery and the Phillies stepped in and helped to get the pools open for the kids.

There are many more of these stories told by fans, people who work for the Phillies or just regular folks who benefited from the sense of community inspired by Montgomery.

Here’s another story about David Montgomery that I love. I witnessed it. In the summer of 2014, the Taney Little League team from South Philadelphia made an inspiring run to the Little League World Series in Williamsport. David was very sick that summer but never took a day off. (In baseball terms, he was a gamer. He was a fixture at the ballpark throughout his illness, including this spring in Florida.) That Taney Little League team embodied so much of what Montgomery loved — Philadelphia, the community, kids and baseball — that he refused to take a day off until he could get that group of kids to Citizens Bank Park for a pre-game honor that none of them will ever forget. I can still see David, wearing a Taney Little League shirt, high-fiving every one of those kids.

Soon after, Montgomery did take a day off to take care of himself. And soon after that, he transitioned into the role of club chairman. In spring training 2018, the owners of the club recognized Montgomery’s contributions to the franchise by naming the indoor training facility in Clearwater in his honor. The David P. Montgomery Baseball Performance Center sits on the same plot of land that is dotted with fields and buildings bearing the names of Carpenter, Owens, Schmidt, Carlton, Ashburn and Roberts. David Montgomery’s name fits nicely with all of those franchise icons.

•••

So getting back to that question I asked David several years ago, the one about how he wanted to be remembered. A baseball man who got a stadium built and won a World Series would have been a great, fitting and lasting answer, something to be proud of, something on which to hang your hat.

But David’s answer was so much more than that.

“There’s a statue of John Wanamaker outside of City Hall,” he told me. “Next time you ride by, look at the word under it. That’s all I tried to be. That’s how I want to be remembered.”

The next time I rode by City Hall, I looked for the statue. 

I found the word.

Citizen.

Thank you, David Montgomery. You indeed were a great one.

Phillies Talk podcast: Could we see front-office shakeup if Phils miss playoffs?

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Phillies Talk podcast: Could we see front-office shakeup if Phils miss playoffs?

If the Phillies miss the playoffs again, even in a shortened season, could we see a front-office shakeup? What would it mean for GM Matt Klentak? Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman discussed on Friday's Phillies Talk podcast.

• Are Phils even capable of going on a hot streak with this bullpen?

• Starting pitching has also stumbled some, blowing four multi-run leads.

• How much more money has J.T. Realmuto made himself with his ridiculous start?

• The excellence of Harper and Realmuto has been wasted so far.

• The impact of Alec Bohm on Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery and Phillies' infield.

• Factors that will play into Realmuto's free-agent decision.

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Who is the best player in the NL East?

Who is the best player in the NL East?

Calling the NL East loaded would be an understatement.

The division has the top two starting pitchers in the National League in Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, whom the Phillies face tonight. Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler ... so many upper echelon arms in the division.

Among position players, the Braves have two perennial MVP candidates in Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. 

The Nationals have one in Juan Soto. (The division thanked the Angels for signing away Anthony Rendon.) 

The Phillies have a former MVP in Bryce Harper and one of the best all-around players in baseball in J.T. Realmuto. 

The Mets have two exciting newcomers in Pete Alonso, who hit 53 homers as a rookie last season, and Jeff McNeil, who has hit .319 in 882 plate appearances since debuting in 2018.

Who is the best player in the NL East?

Jim Salisbury (Phillies insider)

There's no right or wrong answer to this question. You could go with Freeman, Acuña Jr., Soto, Realmuto, Harper, Scherzer or deGrom and not be wrong. If I were building a team long term, I'd go with Acuña or Soto. If I needed to win a game right now, I'd go with deGrom. That kind of stinks for the Phillies because they have to face him Friday night. In an era of small parks, tiny strike zones, rock hard bats and baseballs that fly like Titleists, he has won the National League Cy Young Award the last two seasons. He regularly racks up 200 innings and 240-plus strikeouts. I'm figuring that most of my colleagues will go with offense; I'll go with something that stops offense — starting pitching — and someone who does it well.

Ricky Bottalico (Phillies Pre/Postgame Live analyst)

No-brainer: Soto. A perfect home run swing. Doesn't strike out a lot. He missed the beginning of the season but doesn't look even a little impacted by the time off. He's hitting .414 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in only eight games. He's 21 years old with a long career ahead. 

Corey Seidman (Phillies writer, Pre/Postgame Live analyst)

Even though Freeman is still probably the more feared hitter, I'm going with Acuña, who I'd have slightly ahead of Soto and Freeman for his five-tool skill set. Acuña can do it all — hit close to .300, hit for power, run, field, throw. Last season he hit 41 homers, drove in 101 runs and led the NL with 37 stolen bases and 127 runs scored. He hits righties and lefties alike. 

He's also not even 23 years old yet, and he's on one of the best contracts in all of baseball — an eight-year, $100 million contract that pays him just $1 million in 2020.

I do think Freeman and Soto are slightly better overall hitters — Freeman because the guy just exudes clutch and Soto because his plate selection is at the very highest level. But the gap is not large enough to ignore the other ways Acuña offers more overall value.

Michael Barkann (Phillies Pre/Postgame Live host)

Not going with deGrom, Freeman, Acuña Jr. or even Soto. Call me a homer ("you're a freakin' homer!") but Harper is the man. He entered Thursday night with numbers that would translate to 50 homers and 125 RBIs over a full season. He's put up MVP-type numbers so far this season, then there's his defense and leadership. Number 3 is the answer.

Casey Feeney (Phillies producer)

In my mind, there are seven players worthy of consideration: Harper, Soto, Scherzer, deGrom, Alonso, Freeman and Acuña Jr.

Because of their everyday impact, I’m inclined to go with a position player over a pitcher. Perhaps there is bias from watching him everyday, but I would take Harper ahead of the other position players mentioned.

Freeman and Soto are better pure hitters than Harper. Acuña Jr is a more electric athlete and might have the highest ceiling of any player in baseball. But Harper strikes me as the most complete package of the group. He’s also being asked to carry an otherwise incomplete roster to a greater degree than the other hitters mentioned.

Sean Kane (Phillies Pre/Postgame Live producer)

There are so many great players in the NL East — several Cy Young caliber pitchers and MVP-worthy position players. But Freeman is the best player in the division. He’s certainly the guy I would pick first for my team. His skills speak for themselves. He’s one of the best all-around hitters in baseball, he plays a tremendous first base and he’s a better baserunner than he gets credit for. Most importantly, he sets the standard for the team that sets the standard in the NL East. He is the unquestioned leader of the Braves, both on the field and in the clubhouse. He always plays hard and he always makes the right play. If you’re interested in winning baseball games, Freddie Freeman is your guy.

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