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Phils president backs Amaro's calls - even on Manuel

An era ended with a phone call from Atlanta to Cooperstown on Aug. 14. Ruben Amaro Jr. offered David Montgomery a summary of his talks with Charlie Manuel and subsequent decision to replace the longtime Phillies manager with Ryne Sandberg.

Phillies president David Montgomery. (Ron Tarver/Staff Photographer)
Phillies president David Montgomery. (Ron Tarver/Staff Photographer)Read more

An era ended with a phone call from Atlanta to Cooperstown on Aug. 14. Ruben Amaro Jr. offered David Montgomery a summary of his talks with Charlie Manuel and subsequent decision to replace the longtime Phillies manager with Ryne Sandberg.

Montgomery, attending baseball's owners meetings at the Hall of Fame, told Amaro he accepted the verdict.

The Phillies president made one request: Delay the announcement so he could speak to Manuel in person two days later before the world knew. Montgomery informed the other ownership partners. He spent one more day in Upstate New York.

"Some people think when we did it was disrespectful," Montgomery said Wednesday before the Phillies defeated the San Diego Padres, 4-2. "But to do it much earlier than that would have really been . . ."

He paused.

"We were not the club we envisioned to be in either of the last two years coming out of spring training. I probably would have been very accepting of letting Charlie finish the year. But I think we owed him, when Charlie asked if he was going to be renewed, an honest answer."

In a wide-ranging interview with The Inquirer, Montgomery said he harbored no regrets about the way Manuel's firing was handled. He endorsed Amaro as the team's general manager and said no further changes are required in the front office, even after two straight failed seasons. Negotiations with Comcast on the organization's momentous television contract have begun, although a cash influx may not beget rampant free-agent expenditures.

"We have a lot more evaluation to do before we can say, 'This is the way,' " Montgomery said. "We will be active. We just don't know how. It has become tougher and tougher to depend upon free agency to improve your club. And the reason for that is not economics. The reason for that is the talented young players are now increasingly being locked up by their clubs."

Montgomery, 67, said Amaro is the executive who will lead a renaissance. "Oh," he said, "Ruben is our general manager." He cited Amaro's willingness to consider a variety of opinions before making a decision.

Many of those transactions have not succeeded. Amaro was a spectator during last winter's spending spree. If drafting and developing players is the way to rebuild, the Phillies still have work to mend a minor-league system depleted by Amaro trades.

Both Montgomery and Amaro do not fault the player-evaluation staff. They contend that players were signed for certain roles and asked to perform beyond their capabilities because of injuries to others.

"Marti Wolever has been picking our amateur talent for a long time. And he picked some pretty good ones," Montgomery said of the assistant general manager. "The same group that identified Jayson Werth to be a pretty good rightfielder when nobody else was chasing him is still the same people identifying that talent today."

Montgomery said discussions continue with Manuel about a potential front-office job. Even if Manuel lands elsewhere, Montgomery thought it important to preserve a relationship with the deposed manager.

"Forget working for us," Montgomery said. "I told him, 'I just don't want you to wait until 2018 and have a 10-year anniversary of the 2008 World Series to come in here. I want what has been your home for 11 years to continue to be a place you want to be and feel welcomed.' "

Montgomery spoke highly of Sandberg, his interim manager. He talked about an improved team unity under the Hall of Famer and the overwhelming respect he commands. The decision to promote Sandberg, like the one to remove Manuel, is Amaro's.

The team president's realm is securing the TV contract, which could reap billions. The current one expires after the 2015 season. For now, the Phillies are contractually limited to talks with Comcast. They will have an opportunity to solicit other offers later. A reunion with Comcast is expected.

"We are having some discussions," Montgomery said. "I don't know how fruitful they will be."

Why is that?

"We'll see," he said.

Montgomery said Amaro kept him informed during the days leading up to the managerial change. He said ownership was not involved.

"I'm a chain-of-command person," Montgomery said. "I believe the clubhouse is the manager's. He should be the presence there. Ruben's responsibility is all of baseball operations, including the decision on the manager. My role as president and CEO is to make the global decisions, including the GM decision and other senior personnel. If you get out of that chain of command, you can have problems."

For Montgomery, that means maintaining the status quo.

on Twitter @magelb.