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Ruly Carpenter, who owned the Phillies when they won the 1980 World Series, dies at 81

Mr. Carpenter was just 32 when he took over for his father, making him baseball’s youngest club president. He helped build the Phillies' farm system that won the team their first World Series title.

"What happens between the white lines is the part I will always miss," former Phillies president Ruly Carpenter says. (Tim Shaffer/For the Daily News)
"What happens between the white lines is the part I will always miss," former Phillies president Ruly Carpenter says. (Tim Shaffer/For the Daily News)Read more

Ruly Carpenter, the charismatic owner who brought the Phillies their first World Series title and then sold the franchise the following spring due to an uneasiness with the rising of player salaries, died Monday. Mr. Carpenter lived in Montchanin, Del., and was 81.

Mr. Carpenter was team president from 1972 to 1981 after inheriting the team from his father, Bob. His grandfather, R.R.M. Carpenter, bought the Phillies for $400,000 in 1943 after the club fell into bankruptcy. The Carpenters drew their wealth from the du Pont family as R.R.M. Carpenter married a du Pont and was on the company’s board of directors.

Mr. Carpenter sold the team -- which is now valued at more than $2 billion -- for $32.5 million in 1981 to a group of investors led by Bill Giles.

By then, baseball had become big business as even nominal players were scoring contracts worth nearly $1 million. Mr. Carpenter made Mike Schmidt the game’s highest-paid player in 1977 and signed Pete Rose before the 1979 season for $3.2 million, but he did not think his family business could keep up with the money being spent on players.

The Phillies had baseball’s second-highest payroll (the average player earned $221,274) when they won the 1980 World Series. This season, the Phillies have a payroll of $183 million, which is almost six times as much as Mr. Carpenter sold the team for.

“I just don’t think you can continue to operate this business paying players this kind of money,” Mr. Carpenter said in March of 1981 when he put the team up for sale. “I can’t fault players and their agents for asking, but I can fault my peers for giving it, including myself.”

Before the 1980 season, Mr. Carpenter told some of the team’s key players that he would have to break up the roster if they didn’t win the World Series that fall. The Phillies won the division in 1976, 1977, and 1978 before finishing fourth in 1979.

Mr. Carpenter reminded the players as they worked out in the offseason at Veterans Stadium that they needed to break through.

“He said ‘Guys, I don’t want to do this. I know it’s been a pitch, a play, or an umpire’s call, but we have to get over this hump,’” former shortstop, manager and coach Larry Bowa said Monday. “I’m just glad that we did it for him.”

Mr. Carpenter was just 32 when he took over for his father, making him baseball’s youngest club president. He played football and baseball at Yale and made the Phillies a perennial contender by focusing on player development. Mr. Carpenter worked as an amateur scout and oversaw the team’s camp in Leesburg, Fla., where they trained their youngest players.

Knowing how poor the talent pool was, Mr. Carpenter pushed his father to hire legendary Paul Owens in 1965 as the farm director. Owens, Carpenter, and Dallas Green helped build a farm system that produced the homegrown nucleus of the 1980 team.

Players like Schmidt, Bowa, Bob Boone, and Greg Luzinski climbed through the minors in the 1960s and 1970s under the watch of Carpenter, Owens, and Green. In 1980, Carpenter was president, Owens was the general manager, and Green was manager,

“He had a heart as big as gold,” Bowa said. “He was just a great guy. I had to sit down when I heard the news. I was very fortunate that I got to meet his dad. You talk about someone who is well off and everything but they were so down to earth that you wouldn’t know that. He didn’t flaunt anything. He was just a great guy. I can’t describe it any other way. If anyone ever needed anything, and even not about baseball, he would be there for them.”

Mr. Carpenter formed a kinship with his players, many of whom saw Mr. Carpenter as a teammate and not an owner. They were stunned that spring training when Mr. Carpenter called a team meeting in the clubhouse at Clearwater, Fla., and told them that he was selling. Just six months earlier, they brought the Phillies their first World Series title.

Bowa told reporters that day that he didn’t care if ever played another game again. Rose said Carpenter was “like a player to me” and John Vukovich said, “It goes without saying that to players, he’s the No. 1 owner in the game.”

“Some of us were close to his age, it was like a brother relationship,” Bowa said. “You could go up there and talk to him about anything. About life, about real estate, about baseball. When they say, ‘My door is always open,’ it didn’t matter if you were the 25th man on the team or a superstar like Schmitty or Lefty. He had time for everyone. When it came time to make decisions, he made them.”

Mr. Carpenter kept in regular contact with his former players and was at Citizens Bank Park this summer for the team’s Alumni Weekend. He told Bowa that he was planning a hunting trip later this year with his sons and looked to be in great shape.

“He was a guy who went on principle,” Bowa said. “And he felt like, ‘I don’t understand why some of these guys are getting this kind of money.’ He said, ‘I’d be willing to spend that money on great players, but the industry is giving that money out right now to players’ who he said were good players but not impact players. I think that’s basically the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was sad when he left. It really was. A great family guy.”