The stories had a number without any names. More than 80 people will be purged from the Phillies’ payroll by the end of the year as the team attempts to financially recover from a season without fans forced by the COVID-19 virus that continues to spread wildly throughout the country.
What’s vital to remember is that these are real people losing and leaving their jobs. They are people of all ages and incomes, men and women, some of whom have spent their entire lives working for the organization. We talked to three of them this week and you might be surprised to learn that they are not leaving mad. Instead, they are departing with a lifetime of memories that they could not have achieved in another line of work.
Here are their stories.
The Phillies’ director of graphic production started working for the team in September of 1981 shortly after showing up at Veterans Stadium to audition for a part-time job as a “Hot Pants” usher. At the time, she was 21 years old and working for a consulting firm in the city. Bill Giles, in the process of forming a coalition to buy the team from Ruly Carpenter, attended the tryout and informed her she had the job.
“Mr. Giles said, ‘OK, we are going to hire you, but you should know that there is a woman working in public relations who is leaving because she is having a child, so that job is available, too,’ " Urban said. “My mom was so excited when I told her that Bill Giles from the Phillies wanted to hire me. I started working on Labor Day weekend.”
Her first job, in addition to serving two seasons as a “Hot Pants” usher, was working as an assistant to media relations director Larry Shenk.
“I started with Larry, Chris Wheeler, and Dennis Lehman,” Urban said. “I took care of a lot of fan mail and did a lot of typing for Larry. I was filing slides and photos.”
Shenk and Wheeler went on to have legendary careers with the Phillies. Lehman left to work for the Cleveland Indians and is still their executive vice president in charge of business.
Urban climbed through the ranks as well. Without a college degree, she eventually became the head of the graphics department, spanning an era that went from black-and-white photos to glossy digital prints.
“A fabulous ride,” she said. “The things that have happened in my life because of the Phillies have been incredible. When I started, players like Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton and Greg Luzinski and Tug McGraw and Larry Bowa and Garry Maddox would all come up to the office and we’d sit and talk. I got to watch Darren Daulton grow up.”
Mostly, however, the Phillies allowed her to grow into the role she will be leaving this month at the age of 62.
“That’s a testament to all the people who saw something in me,” she said. “I didn’t go to college and I don’t think someone today without a college education would get the chance to do what I have done. I became the manager of publications in 1993 and that grew into the job of being a director.
“I really fell in love with the photography side of things. It became a great joy for me. I loved so many of the double-play images between Jimmy and Chase and just the skillful way they worked around each other.”
Urban also fell in love with the many women she worked with during her 39-plus years.
“I made lifelong friends and grew up together with so many people,” she said. “One day you’re going to their weddings and then their baby showers. I think what I find particularly poetic as I’m walking out the door is that baseball just got its first female general manager. I don’t know if I can be so bold to say that we have broken through the glass ceiling, but if we have I’d like to think that those of us on the business side maybe nudged things a little bit.”
Urban is even grateful for the way the Phillies are allowing her to leave. She had planned to retire at the age of 65 and was not initially satisfied with the first severance package offered by the team.
“I think the Phillies have been portrayed unfairly in this,” she said. “This was termed a voluntary separation from the beginning. The first package that came out was kind of cookie cutter and standard, so I wrote to [executive vice president] Dave Buck and told him what I’d need in order to be able to leave. He took it to the ownership group and we got a much better offer. I really believe the club has always wanted to take care of its people and that started with Bill Giles and David Montgomery.”
Video Dan’s career with the Phillies started with a-guy-walks-into-a-bar story. The guy was Chris Wheeler. The bar was the now-defunct Downey’s and the year was 1982. Stephenson was a bartender and a Phillies fan who owned a small video business. Wheeler told him the Phillies were looking for a video guy. Two weeks later, during a team party, Larry Shenk told Bill Giles that Stephenson was the team’s new video guy.
“And that was it,” Stephenson said. “No interview. No background check. They could have been hiring a mass murderer.”
It’s a great story that led to an incredible number of great stories being told through Video Dan’s camera lens. With the exception of the dreadful last-place seasons of 1996 and 2000, Stephenson has written and edited highlight reels of every season since 1991. You see Harry Kalas singing “High Hopes” after a Phillies victory at Citizens Bank Park and that’s the work of Dan Stephenson. It was filmed during the 2002 weekend of Kalas’ Hall of Fame recognition in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“I’m still working on the 2020 Yearbook as we speak,” Stephenson said. “I know the baseball and the 60-game season wasn’t all that stimulating, but when I started to do it I realized there were some really cool stories in there. You had the cutouts, the Phandemic Krew, Andrew McCutchen’s social justice platform, the one-day strike, the masks, the Zoom meetings, and Dick Allen’s retirement.”
Allen’s ceremony really struck Stephenson.
“The story he told about being in Little Rock as a minor-leaguer and going to a soda machine and a squad car pulling up and him saying, ‘They’re trying to kill me and I’m in America,’ that really grabbed me,” Stephenson said. “That was a really interesting day and I guess this yearbook will be the last story I tell as an official Phillies employee.”
Stephenson, 66, is rightfully proud of his work, especially his award-winning documentary about the Philadelphia Stars, the city’s Negro Leagues team that played from 1934 through 1952. He also wrote and edited a biography about Richie Ashburn and a documentary about Veterans Stadium.
“If you had told my 25-year-old self that I’d make a living telling stories about my favorite baseball team, I’d have told you I was the luckiest guy in the world,” Stephenson said. “It was far from hard labor. The cool thing about baseball is the fabric of the sport. Those stories are told 10,000 times in bars at night and they are precious things. I got to tell that narrative and make a living at it.”
His work is still not done and he’s hoping even in retirement that he can tell some more stories about his favorite team.
“If I had done my own retirement and planned everything, it probably would have been different,” he said. “But the whole world is so strange right now that you have to keep perspective on everything. But I do still have stuff I want to do. I’m leaving a lot of stuff behind. There’s an entire room in the Hall of Fame club filled with video tapes and most of them don’t even have machines that can play them anymore. There is thousands of hours of video and probably 80 percent of it is not useful. But the other 20 percent is a bunch of nuggets I can use. I was going to spend last summer and this summer digitizing that stuff, but I was like a librarian shut out of the library.”
Stephenson hopes the Phillies still need him for contract work because he still has stories he wants to tell. In the meantime, he intends to enjoy his new condo in Ventnor and work on a book about his late father’s military career.
“If things ever return to normal, I’m available to do projects,” Stephenson said. “I’ll probably never be a Phillies employee again, but hopefully I’ll always have a relationship with the team. I’ve appreciated everything they’ve done and I consider myself a Phillie forever. We had a lot of younger people in my department who were worried about their future this year and I’m hoping they are secure. There was a lot of work for them and they did an incredible job.
“The Phillies’ culture is they always take care of their people here, so when a volunteer separation came up, I said that works for me. I’m annoyed that the virus is dictating me leaving my job, but I don’t look at it as the Phillies making me leave. The people who own restaurants and bars, they are the ones I feel sorry for.”
As the director of ticket services and the Phillies’ intern program, it has been Phil Feather’s job to recruit and mentor college kids, many of whom hoped to have a future of some sort working in baseball. It was a job he was meant for because he was once one of those college kids.
A 1985 graduate of Penn State, he had grown up about an hour south of State College in a one-stop-light town. That’s where he worked his first job at the Morrisons Cove Herald, writing obituaries, covering some local high school sports and, most memorably, photographing an escaped cow in front of a beauty shop.
He wanted more and ended up in the big city as a Temple graduate student. At night, he took classes in pursuit of his master’s degree in education and communications. During the day, he found an intern job working in the 76ers ticket office, which was located inside Veterans Stadium.
Eventually he had a serendipitous meeting with Brian Lamoreaux, a longtime Phillies front-office worker.
“His name was on my list of people who I had to call to re-up their Sixers’ tickets,” Feather said. “I didn’t know how to pronounce the name and I said it out loud and he happened to be walking by and said, ‘That’s me.’ "
Lamoureaux hired Feather as a Phillies intern and that led to a full-time job as a computer systems employee.
“I didn’t know anything about computers, but I was good working with people,” Feather said. “Brian saw that and he hired me full-time. I had an office by the batting cages at the Vet and everybody always wondered what I did.”
Kathy Killian, then the team’s director of group sales and now the vice president of administration, felt Feather needed a bigger role and that he belonged back in the phone center.
That’s the position in which he became a master recruiter and mentor, according to his colleagues.
“Over the years I tried to grow the intern positions from being more than just answering phones and selling tickets,” he said. “We opened things up to other departments and it was an avenue for people to get their foot in the door. We ended up with some pretty good people.”
The list of interns includes A.J. Preller, general manager of the San Diego Padres; and Mike Elias, executive vice president and GM of the Baltimore Orioles.
“I do remember that A.J. partnered up with another one of our interns named Carl for our Phillies fantasy league and they crushed it,” Feather said. “They won the league going away. Mike was a real straight-laced kid who was suggested to me by [former clubhouse manager and traveling secretary] Frank Coppenbarger. I just remember he was a former player who got hurt and he was willing to do anything. It was a lot of fun to follow both their careers.”
Feather’s list of interns also includes Mike Ondo, the Phillies director of professional scouting; Jameson Hall, the coordinator of team travel; Mary Ann Moyer, the director of community initiatives; Jamie Trout, the director of marketing events and special projects; and Greg Casterioto, the director of communications.
“On average, we have about 20 to 25 interns a year and the majority of them wanted to stay full-time,” Feather said. “On occasion they did. The other day I was cleaning out my office and there were a bunch of files from when we hired kids over the last 26 years. I made one pile of the people who are still with us and another pile who are still working in baseball or in other avenues of sports.”
At 57, Feather is not done working, but he was ready to step away from his long career with the Phillies.