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Bill Conlin | Phils' brass fiddles while team burns

MOST MAJOR LEAGUE baseball team presidents enjoy the collegial company of kindred spirits. Unlike other professional sports, there is a ballgame nearly every day in a season that runs from last melting snowdrift of March to first frost of October.

MOST MAJOR LEAGUE baseball team presidents enjoy the collegial company of kindred spirits. Unlike other professional sports, there is a ballgame nearly every day in a season that runs from last melting snowdrift of March to first frost of October.

So, the 30 hale fellows well met surround themselves with a few good men and the more the merrier, particularly if all the special assistants say "Yes" a lot.

For a gregarious man like Bill Giles, buying the Phillies from the Carpenter family with $31 million of Other People's Money in 1981 was just about the coolest possible achievement.

It was a joyous, reverse slam dunk for the son of Warren Giles, who was president of the Reds during Bill's boyhood and later National League president.

Bill Giles always wanted to be more than a mere club president. He also wanted to make trades, sign off on the draft picks and have final say on payroll, the manager, the coaching staff and the structure and productivity of a dynamic minor league organization that would keep the Phillies fueled with first-rate talent for decades to come. In fact, after the aging nucleus of the championship 1980 Phillies won the last-hurrah 1983 pennant, Giles announced at a postseason luncheon that his goal was to make the Phillies the "Team of the '80s."

By 1985, Giles had surrounded himself with a committee of advisers I dubbed the "Gang of Six." Giles had stripped all of the GM powers once enjoyed by Paul Owens by then and moved the Pope into a broom closet of an office that defined his duties as a special assistant to the president. The other four were head of minor league operations Jim Baumer, minister of trade Hugh Alexander, assistant to the president Tony Siegle (an expert on baseball's complex Blue Book rules), and superscout Ray Shore, a longtime pal and a top scout. The manager of the moment also had a say, but it was basically a show conducted above field level in the paneled sanctums of Veterans Stadium. "If it was 3-3, Bill would break the tie," Alexander told me. "If it was 4-3 against him, Bill would break the tie. What it came down to was Bill almost always got what he wanted - unless it was something we all shouted down."

The Gang should have shouted down the scouting pullout from the Caribbean at a time when the talent explosion there was well under way. They should have shouted down Baumer running off great scouts like Doug Gassaway (The Gasser turned Texas into a small state where every high school coach knew him) and Moose Johnson (Moose staked his reputation on a late-round draft pick named Ryne Sandberg).

The Phillies under Giles collapsed like a giant soufflé, but I'm here to tell you the Gang of Six had itself a merry old time orchestrating the demise of a great organization built by Owens and Dallas Green. They fiddled faster than Nero when Rome was burning.

The look of today's Phillies is starting to suspiciously resemble the unwinding organization of the 1980s. The ballclub has moved from the upholstered sewer that was the Vet. But now, as then, the farm system is thinner than jailhouse gravy. Now as then, there is a solid nucleus in place, but the roster depth is teacup shallow and the modern salary ethic prevents good old Charlie Manuel from fielding his best lineup. A penny for his real thoughts when the decision was made that Tom Gordon at 38 would be a healthier closer than Billy Wagner at 34. I don't know about you, but I can watch Placido Polanco tearing up the American League daily on the MLB TV package. To see Ugueth Urbina in a Venezuelan prison, however, I need a visa, plane ticket and bribe money.

Meanwhile, the ka-ching factor has never been higher. The big bucks generated by the Money Pit that fans and non-fans of the city and state helped them build require a big committee.

It appears that Dave Montgomery, the lineal successor of autobiographer and limited partner Bill Giles, now presides over a Gang of Eight. That's inflation for you.

According to various people close to the ballclub, the inner circle around Monty consists of (in a rough guesstimate of importance) GM Pat Gillick, special assistant to the GM Charley Kerfeld (Pat's offseason hire), director of major league scouting Gordon Lakey (worked for Pat in Toronto, but hired by Phils in 1998), assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. (Gillick's heir apparent), assistant GM Mike Arbuckle (two more assistant GMs and Gillick will be an Ace), and manager Charlie Manuel ("Hey, Charlie, I'm getting you Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs and Antonio Alfonseca. Excited?") Last, and possibly least, according to some conjecturers, is longtime organization conscience Dallas Green. He's become the guy in every country club 19th hole who is always the loudest and most opinionated, but is tolerated because he plays scratch golf and has the trophies to prove it. His radio shot at Manuel's managing last season could have lowered his stock. Or, just maybe, Dallas has grown weary of telling them to stop signing 5-10, 175-pound position players just because they meet stopwatch standards.

This is a big, diverse committee, I guarantee, and Monty only breaks ties where big money is concerned. Unfortunately, big money is concerned in just about every phase of the operation.

Perhaps someday we will learn exactly what terms Gillick agreed to when he began this late-career road trip to Nowhereville. Did Manuel really grow on him last season after his troops rallied into contention after the trade-deadline massacre?

Personally, I'm hoping Pat Gillick has a book in him. I just could be available to help him write it. We'll make a fortune. Particularly if he brings the minutes of the meetings . . .


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