David Montgomery, a genial Philadelphian whose wide-eyed devotion to his hometown Phillies ran so deep that even as their chief executive he kept score of virtually every game, died on Wednesday, after a five-year battle with cancer, the team announced. He was 72.
“He loved people, and when you’re around somebody who cares the way David did, it just rubs off on you,” team general partner John Middleton said. “He was one of those rare people who made the other people around him be a better person. You wanted to be a better person because you felt the goodness of his heart.”
Hired by the team as a sales apprentice in 1971, Mr. Montgomery ascended rapidly through the Phillies’ front-office ranks until he became president and general partner in 1997.
A Wharton School graduate who never lost his corner-bar congeniality, he led the organization until January 2015, when Middleton became the face of the group that has owned the club since 1981. Mr. Montgomery, who also had a share of the team, was named chairman at that time.
Mr. Montgomery was criticized early on as a buttoned-down tightwad, but his reputation improved when the Phillies did. While the team finished last in the National League East in three of his 18 seasons in charge, his tenure also brought five division titles, two pennants, and the 2008 World Series, plus a new stadium and a lucrative, $2.5 billion TV deal.
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An earnest, affable man with a twinkle in his eye and a nasal Philadelphia twang, Mr. Montgomery preferred the background to the spotlight. Even as he became a powerful advocate for such landmark changes in baseball as wild-card playoffs and revenue-sharing, he did so behind the scenes.
One of Mr. Montgomery’s most lasting imprints likely will be the camaraderie he fostered throughout an organization now widely seen as having one of baseball’s most collegial atmospheres. That spirit mirrored his personality and marketing philosophy.
“I believe that whatever capacity you work for us, you determine the Phillies family,” he said in March 2018, during an emotional ceremony at which the team named a Clearwater, Fla. training facility in his honor. “I believe that. As a family member, it’s our responsibility to treat you like family and get to know you the best we can. … The best way to treat fans right is to treat the people you work with right.”
» FROM THE ARCHIVES: David Montgomery is leader of Phillies family
Even in his final years, after surgery for jawbone cancer had left his face slightly scarred and his speech slurred, Mr. Montgomery continued to be the organization’s most upbeat spokesperson.
“I had wonderful parents,” he said. “My mother would say, `Treat people the way you want to be treated yourself.’ You say, ‘Well, that’s kind of trite.’ But the reality is, we’re all on this earth for 'X' number of years. … Why not enjoy each other? Why not make it easier for everybody?”
Former Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell met Montgomery when they were 20 and remained friends for the next five decades.
“I’ve known a lot of people in those 55 years, given what I’ve done, and he was simply the nicest person I ever knew," Rendell said. "He wasn’t a pushover. He could be competitive as hell, but he was the nicest person I ever knew.”
Mayor Jim Kenney, Sen. Pat Toomey, and others offered their condolences.
The son of a coal-company credit manager and an elementary-school teacher, Mr. Montgomery grew up in a simple brick home on Roxborough’s Pembroke Street. Like most boys in that post-World War II era, he was obsessed with baseball — in particular, the Phillies and their fleet center fielder, Richie Ashburn.
“We had a porch in the back of the house with this shiny and slippery linoleum floor,” he recalled in 2003. “I would slide across it like I was sliding into second base, the way I’d seen Richie do.”
From age 5, he traveled frequently to Phillies games at Connie Mack Stadium, first with his dad and later with friends. The sensations those visits engendered never left him.
“I can still remember seeing the lights of the ballpark above the neighborhood as you approached,” he said. “Then, you walked inside, and you saw that green grass and the players in their clean, white uniforms. It was all so thrilling.”
Baseball provided Mr. Montgomery with his first paying job. For $2 a day, the 12-year-old cared for a Henry Avenue ball field. He raked the infield dirt, put down the lines and, when the games began, kept score -- a habit he would indulge the rest of his life.
With $5,000 bequeathed by a grandfather, Mr. Montgomery attended Penn Charter School. After his 1964 graduation, he enrolled at Penn, where he was a history major. In addition to a bachelor’s degree, he went go on to earn an MBA from the Wharton School in 1970.
As a college student, Mr. Montgomery worked as a driver and delivery man for Dydee Diaper Service, and, in his free time, helped coach Germantown Academy’s football and baseball teams. Two of his baseball players were sons of Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons, former Phillies pitching stars.
Through Roberts’ son, Danny, Mr. Montgomery met Bill Giles, then the Phillies vice president for business operations. In 1971, when the team was looking to expand its staff after moving to Veterans Stadium, Mr. Montgomery applied.
He got a job as a sales apprentice “for $20 less than I was making with Dydee Diapers,” he recalled.
Mr. Montgomery did almost everything in his rise up the corporate ladder, including working the big scoreboard. That’s where he was on Oct. 21, 1980, when, in their 98th season, the Phillies finally won a World Series.
“We had the parade the next day, and I thought that wasn’t really my style,” he said. “But, as soon as we turned the corner on one of those flatbeds, and we saw the expressions on the people’s faces, how happy they were, that’s when I felt totally different about what I’d been doing for a living.”
When, in 1981, Ruly Carpenter sold the Phils to a group fronted by Giles, Mr. Montgomery became the team’s executive vice president. He was promoted again in 1992, this time to chief operating officer.
Mr. Montgomery missed very few home games in his 47 years with the Phillies. He usually was in a box seat or corporate suite meticulously scoring each play. When the Phils were on the road, he often recorded their games and scored them later.
He was still operating in near-anonymity in 1994, when he was given a share of the team and made a co-general partner. Finally, on June 30, 1997, ownership asked Giles — then president, general partner, and the Phillies’ public face — to step aside. Mr. Montgomery was tagged to replace him.
“I told my partners David would do a better job,” Giles said. “He’s very smart, very high morals, and he’s got great virtue. I don’t think he’s ever told a lie.”
The Phillies finished last in 1996 and 1997, and their frustrated fan base turned quickly on Mr. Montgomery, demanding that he spend money for talent and a new ballpark.
To Phillies fans, "he was `Due Diligence Dave,’ ” a 2002 Inquirer profile noted, “the tight-fisted, numbers-crunching Wharton grad.”
Mr. Montgomery, aware the team was losing considerable money, absorbed the criticism silently.
Rendell said, “He was a very good businessman, and he was a better baseball man than people gave him credit for. Because he was on the business side of it and hadn’t played ball in the minors or majors, people didn’t think he was a baseball man. But he learned it ... . He got a lot of crap in the late 1990s for not getting into free agency. But he was convinced they had a pipeline of young players in the minor leagues, and he wasn’t going to sacrifice them. It turned out he was right.”
In 2002, he did get into free agency, when he agreed to the signing of slugger Jim Thome. That helped ease the transition to Citizens Bank Park, which, after years of questions about funding and location, finally opened at South Philadelphia’s sports complex in April 2004.
Mr. Montgomery was able to get it done, in part, because the city and state committed more than $200 million to its construction. Perhaps not coincidentally, those negotiations occurred during a period when Rendell, his fraternity brother at Penn, was Philadelphia’s mayor and later Pennsylvania’s governor.
Mr. Montgomery’s roots as a Philadelphian and a lifelong Phillies fan were evident in the ballpark’s design. He insisted on a Hall of Fame level that showcased the city’s baseball history and on various homages to former Phillies greats, such as Ashburn Alley and the Wall of Fame. He even managed to incorporate a concession stand that sold Schmitters, specialty sandwiches featured at his favorite Chestnut Hill tavern, McNally’s.
The state-of-the-art ballpark immediately put the team on sounder financial footing, and four years later, the Phillies won another World Series. Their resurgence triggered a sizable upswing in civic interest. The Phils, who beginning in 2007 won five straight NL East titles, sold out 257 consecutive games between 2009 and 2012. In 2014, they signed a 25-year TV deal with Comcast SportsNet -- now NBC Sports Philadelphia -- valued at $2.5 billion.
Not long afterward, Mr. Montgomery, then undergoing treatment for jawbone cancer, was himself bumped upstairs, assuming the chairmanship while Middleton took the operational reins.
As the Phillies’ top executive, Mr. Montgomery had been an influential ally of commissioner Bud Selig, who credited him with helping to create revenue sharing and the wild-card system.
“I have the utmost respect for him as a person,” Selig told the New York Times in 2008. “He is very, very smart, and he always does what he believes is best for the game.”
Over the years, Mr. Montgomery also served on MLB’s Labor Policy and Strategic Planning Committees, on the board of Major League Baseball Enterprises, and on the Scheduling Committee.
Mr. Montgomery never strayed far. Raised in Roxborough, he helped his wife, Lyn, raise their three children in Wyndmoor. He liked to say that he still walked his dogs on the same Valley Green bridle paths where he played as a child.
“I feel so fortunate,” he said often. “I got to spend my entire life working for the team I rooted for my whole life in the city I loved and lived in.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Susa; two sons, Harry and Sam; and three grandchildren, Elizabeth, Cameron, and Will.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
Said Rendell: “For me and a lot of other people, life isn’t going to be nearly as nice.”