WILMINGTON, Del. - So many emotions flooded through Ruly Carpenter when the Phillies finally won the World Series in 1980. Thirty years had passed since The Whiz Kids had won the National League pennant under the stewardship of his dad, Bob Carpenter, who did not even come close again to winning until the Phillies blew that 6 1/2-game lead with 12 games remaining in 1964. The old man passed the presidency of the club in 1972 down to Ruly, who worked hand-in-hand with general manager Paul Owens to overhaul the organization and field a team that became recognized for sustained excellence.
When Ruly thinks back on the 1970s, it is seldom without contemplating what could have been. Even with a core of stars that included Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, the Phillies were beaten in the National League Championship Series by the Reds in 1976 and the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978. They signed Pete Rose yet finished 14 games out the following year, but in 1980 Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson for the final out in the World Series and the Carpenters had won a championship in their fifth decade (1943 to '81) of ownership.
"What I am happiest about was that Dad had lived long enough to see it," says Ruly, seated at a conference table at his office in Wilmington. "I remember he was there in his old office at Veterans Stadium and I walked in there. I just . . . "
Ruly purses his lips as his voice begins to crack.
"Excuse me," he says. He removes his glasses and rubs his eyes, now shining with tears.
"From 1943 to 1980, we had never won a world championship," he says. "There were so many years of frustration."
Twenty-eight years have passed and the Phillies have still not won another world championship. In the many years that have passed since the Carpenters sold the team to a consortium led by Bill Giles in 1981, the club had just two World Series appearances and were beaten in each: by the Orioles in 1983 and the Blue Jays in 1993. When they play in it again beginning Wednesday, they will be cheered on as always by Ruly Carpenter, who is 68 years old and still avidly follows the ups and downs of his old team. He says he is so pleased for Giles and club president Dave Montgomery, both of whom worked for him when he owned the team.
"Great bullpen - especially Brad Lidge," Ruly says of the 2008 Phillies. "And Charlie Manuel is underappreciated as a manager. Press conferences are not his forte, but he knows how to get 25 players to work together. And he knows what buttons to push. Remember how he got on Jimmy Rollins and Brett Myers?"
The history of the organization is engrained in Ruly, whose grandfather purchased the team in 1943 for an estimated $400,000 and passed it on to Bob Jr. in 1949 upon his death. Ruly was 10 years old when The Whiz Kids went to the World Series, and remembers the day at Connie Mack Stadium when Joe DiMaggio slammed a home run that hit up on the roof. "I think it would have been one of those 500-foot jobs if it had kept traveling," says Ruly, who describes himself now "as the little brat dad used to take to spring training" in Clearwater. A baseball and football player, Ruly graduated from Yale and began working for his dad in 1963 in the front office. He still contends that the Phillies team that folded the following year was made up of "overachievers."
"[Manager] Gene Mauch had done a great job just keeping that team in contention," says Ruly, who has been a devoted supporter of the University of Delaware athletic program. "Go through that team and compare them player for player with the other teams in the league. The wheels just came off that last week. The law of averages caught up with them."
Ruly found his place in the organization in player development. He recommended that his dad appoint Owens as farm director in 1965. "It was very obvious that 'The Pope' was an astute baseball man," says Ruly, who also helped weed out the scouting department. "Anyone can sit there with a stopwatch and see that a player can run a 60- or a 40-yard dash. But 'The Pope' had that innate sense to see what was inside a player." Owens would later replace John Quinn as general manager. Together, Ruly and Owens began acquiring the pieces that would lead to that 1980 World Series victory over the Kansas City Royals. Carpenter remembers how irate fans during those years used to call him on the phone to complain.
"When you are the general, you have to take the heat," says Ruly. "And I would take every call. I would tell the stadium operator to put them through. And the letters! Well, a lot of them were vulgar but if someone wrote a rational letter and left their phone number, I would always call them back. When I got them on the phone, I would say, 'This is Ruly Carpenter.' And they would say, 'Ruly Carpenter, my ass!' But once I got them to believe me and we had a chance to talk, some of them would even later write to apologize to me."
Carpenter even got calls at home. "Can you believe that?" he asks. "Usually, they would call to second-guess the manager. And it always seemed they were calling from a bar. You could hear the noise in the background. They would holler, 'Well, I told Carpenter how to straighten this mess out.' I finally got an unlisted number."
But that was a far different time, and it was not long after the champagne dried that Ruly sold the team. Free agency had changed the economics of baseball, and Ruly soon realized that he would have to take on partners if he was going to be able to continue to operate. Players now had agents and owners had agreed to resolve contract disputes through arbitration, which Ruly contends is "the dumbest thing owners had ever done." Salaries for even average players were escalating to irrational levels. So Carpenter sold the team in 1981 to a group led by Giles, which has included "silent partners" who are not only unlisted in the phone book but probably undetectable by CAT scan.
"I just never liked the idea of having to contact three or four other partners if there was a big financial decision that had to be reached," says Ruly. "And in 1981 I just looked at where baseball was and said, 'Boys, this is never going to change. This is just going to go on and on and on.' "
Ruly sold the team for $32.5 million. He suspects that it is now worth $800 million to $900 million.
So, does he harbor any regrets?
"Financially, I suppose you would have to say that what I should have done was get some partners, hang in there and keep battling," he says. "But it is like that corner lot that in 1950 was worth $5,000 and is now worth $3 million. But no, I am just hardheaded enough to say I would do the same thing over again. Hindsight is always 20/20."
Does he miss it?
No, because "the business aspect" of baseball indeed became the headache he envisioned. Heck, Alex Rodriguez earns in a single year close to what he sold the Phillies for. And there is always the threat of labor unrest and assorted other problems that detract from the essential joy of the game.
And that is what still tugs at him.
"The field end of things," he says with a smile. "What happens between the white lines is the part I will always miss." *