ROUGHLY 13 blocks from the spot where, earlier in the week, the nation's governors flocked from their respective corners of this homeland, a smaller yet similarly diverse group of seasoned baseball men sat around a long table in the back room of the Mission Grill in Center City.
One hails from upstate New York, an undersized power forward who played 2 years of junior-college basketball. One came from Seattle, by way of Oklahoma, a former minor league catcher who in 1966 was scouted by a budding baseball mind named Pat Gillick.
One still makes his home in Clearwater, Fla., where for 10 years he laid the foundation for the Rays - the team that this season represented the final hurdle between the Phillies and their first world-bleepin'-title in 28 years.
And at the head of the table sat the youngest of them all, a former Stanford standout and Phillies outfielder who a month-and-a-half ago was thrust behind the wheel of a franchise already moving at full bore.
"You are only as good as the people who work with you," Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "And your organization is only as good as the people who work with you, and I think that we've put together - I'm sure that we've put together - the kind of people and experience in the game that will move this organization forward."
Their names - assistant GMs Scott Proefrock, Benny Looper and Chuck Lamar - and their new boss, general manager Amaro, represent the renovated face of this Phillies organization. And with major league baseball's annual winter meetings set to begin this weekend, necessity has forced the chemistry among them to be instant.
In an informal sitdown with various members of the media yesterday, Amaro laid out his vision for his four-headed management team. The previous decade of Phillies baseball had been marked by little change, with Amaro and Mike Arbuckle - now a special assistant with the Kansas City Royals - spending the bulk of that time serving under Ed Wade and Pat Gillick.
The philosophical structure of the front office remains in place, with positions focused on both scouting/player development and the logistical side of running a franchise. Even Gillick, who retired in October after three seasons at the helm, will continue to serve as a consultant. But there are new roles and more overlap created by the convergence of four impressive baseball backgrounds.
Lamar, who spent 10 years as general manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, was Amaro's first hire. A well-respected scouting mind who helped build the powerhouse Braves teams of the early-to-mid-1990s, Lamar is something of a swingman in the Phillies' new four-corners front office. He'll spend the majority of time working on player development, but also will play a big part in pro scouting. During the team's playoff run, Lamar was part of an advance scout team that deserves a lot of credit for the Phillies' World Series win.
"Ruben is going to be his own man," said Lamar, who was initially hired by the Phillies last offseason as their professional scouting director. "But with Pat being a consultant and [Amaro] being with him the last 3 years and building a world championship club, we don't miss a beat from that standpoint . . . You've got good baseball people working together for a common goal, so it's been extremely smooth."
Lamar was close to Arbuckle, who spent 15 seasons working for the Phillies and resigned after losing out to Amaro for the GM position. Lamar acknowledged Arbuckle's role in building the team, but also lauded Arbuckle's de facto successor sitting two seats down.
Looper, an imposing Oklahoman who played his high-school baseball at aptly named Granite High, seems cut from the same cloth that outfitted Gillick's success as a general manger. He served under Gillick as Seattle's vice president of player development from from 2000-03 - a time that saw the Mariners advance to the ALCS twice - and was a candidate to replace him after he left. But he first encountered the former Phillies general manager in 1966 when Gillick, then working for the Houston Colt .45s, scouted him and attempted to get him to sign after Houston drafted him in the 27th round of that year's amateur draft.
Looper turned down a $2,000 bonus and attended college, ultimately signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968 as a second-round draft choice. Twenty years later, Looper ran into Gillick during spring training and decided to test the longtime GM's legendary memory.
"I walked up to him and said, 'Pat Gillick, my name is Benny Looper,' " Looper recalled. "And he said, 'Yeah, from Granite, Oklahoma, right?' "
In the subsequent 2 decades, Looper has established himself as a similarly respected executive with a polished scouting eye. Talk to baseball insiders who have worked with him throughout his 3-plus decades in the game and they'll tell you he is the quintessential baseball man. Although you won't find his face many places, you will find his fingerprints, particularly on a Mariners organization for which he worked the previous 23 seasons.
If Looper is the Arbuckle of this new regime, then Proefrock is Amaro, a sharp mind whose specialty lies in the intricate world of contract negotiation and roster management. Growing up in upstate New York and, later, New England, he was a basketball player who played 2 years in junior college. He has worked with Lamar extensively, serving under him for 10 years in Tampa Bay.
Proefrock, who spent the last 3 years as the Orioles' director of baseball administration, will play an important role in sorting out the Phillies' massive arbitration load that features 10 players currently eligible.
Proefrock plans to commute to Philadelphia from his home outside Baltimore. He also has in-laws in Wilmington, Del.
Amaro emphasized that all three of his assistants will have responsibilities that overlap. For sure, next week's winter meetings in Las Vegas will provide a good look at the quartet in action. The Phillies have expressed interest in free-agent starter Derek Lowe, who is represented by Scott Boras. The agent also represents Phils reliever Ryan Madson, who is eligible for arbitration and could be a candidate for a multiyear extension. Free-agent leftfielder Pat Burrell makes his offseason home in nearby Arizona.
The Phillies' first title defense in nearly 3 decades is in its early stages. But from the early look of things, it seems to be in capable hands.
"When I started in Seattle we were unknowns," Looper said. "In 2001, we won 116 games and had a good stretch there. A lesson learned is that you have to keep adding players. You can't rest on your laurels. You have to keep adding players, you have to keep developing players, you have to keep making good trades. You can't let up on that." *