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Phillies chairman David Montgomery underappreciated

IT'S A funny little paradox. A boss who urges even interns under his employ to address him by his first name is to receive an award named for a boss whose highest-level employees refuse to do so out of respect . . .

IT'S A funny little paradox. A boss who urges even interns under his employ to address him by his first name is to receive an award named for a boss whose highest-level employees refuse to do so out of respect . . .

Or fear.

It's never been quite certain when it comes to Ed Snider. During his more cordial times - when he was not searing that unblinking stare of his through your forehead - Snider has insisted that he does not require his employees - even his general managers - to call him "Mr." and that it makes him a little uncomfortable when they do.

That's never been a problem for 69-year-old Phillies chairman David Montgomery. Ticket takers, ticket sellers, ushers, concessionaires either refer to him as "Dave" or "David." And if they don't, he instructs them to do so. He takes pride in even knowing the most recent intern's name. He takes pride, too, that several lower-level employees are invited each year to sit on the board of Phillies Charities, and nominate recipients for its generous grants.

"It's what you can control," he said recently, a few weeks after it was announced he would receive the Ed Snider Lifetime Distinguished Humanitarian Award at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Award dinner on Feb. 1. Inspired to a degree by Snider's various charities and particularly the Flyers Wives Fight For Lives, Phillies Charities issued grants that last year amounted to over $2 million.

"We can put together a great team on paper and it doesn't win it all," Montgomery said. "I have no control over that. But I can remember an intern's first name. And when an employee says hello in a friendly manner at the gate or concession - that I can control, too."

That vibe, even amid the losing of the last few years, has defined this organization, fueled even the continued perception of it as Mom and Pop. And while loyalty is a double-edged sword when it comes to Montgomery - he stayed too long with homegrown GMs Ed Wade and Rubern Amaro Jr., for example - he is also the man most responsible for bringing in Pat Gillick, and for a sea change when it comes to how this organization is perceived on both a local and national stage.

Despite that, he has been slighted, in my view, by faint praise - or none at all. Montgomery has presided over the Phillies' greatest era, by far, in the franchise's 133-year history. Consider that an entire generation has been born and raised amid the two decades in which this team has morphed from small-market excuse maker to big-market player, averaging 3 million fans in a new, club-run ballpark as it built and maintained a team that won five consecutive division championships, reached the World Series twice, and induced the first championship parade the city had seen in 25 years.

Our three children, now in their early 20s, know little of the decades upon decades of bad baseball enveloping this epoch. The sports memories they carry into adulthood are dominated by such names as Utley, Howard, Hamels, Halladay and Lee the way the teens and pre-teens of the late '70s and early '80s remember Schmidt, Carlton, Luzinski and the Tugger, and of course, Snider's Stanley Cup-winning Flyers teams.

It would be an interesting study/survey to somehow compare those connections with those experienced by the generation born in the early 1980s, watching mostly bad baseball played in a rapidly deteriorating and antiquated facility. Those born around or just after this town's previous parade no doubt feel their strongest allegiance to the Eagles, particularly those Andy Reid teams of a decade ago, when they reached the playoffs perennially and were oh-so-close to winning a Super Bowl.

"I remember driving back here after Camden Yards opened in 1992 with Bill Giles," Montgomery said. "Up until then, we were kind of hellbent on trying to get control of the Vet and become the operators, so that we could have more control over the fan experience. Once we saw Camden Yards we thought, 'Uh-oh.' Even if we could have turned the Vet into a palace . . . as much as we could . . . we would never be able to compete with some of the new ballparks.

"And that was a time where we were continually asked, 'Why are we acting like a small market?' When the reality is that we didn't have any concessions and we didn't have parking. And we didn't have control of the facility."

The opening of Citizens Bank Park in 2004, on which Montgomery and Giles worked tirelessly, changed that. Partly because it was a great place to see a game, but also because the team's core arrived as it was being built, heralding nearly a decade's worth of good to great baseball. Timing is everything only when luck is involved, and the Phillies' surge, both on the field and off, also coincided with Comcast's rise as a major player beyond supplying cable service.

No more talk of small market. Bolstered by a lucrative, long-term television rights/ownership deal with Comcast, the Phillies of today have the revenues to look really smart - such as when they acquired and paid for Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee - and really dumb - such as overpaying Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon, and trading Lee when they acquired Halladay.

Those were moves made by Amaro, a loyal Phillies soldier whose balance sheet finished in the red, but whose moves often reflected the views of those above him.

"We went from a 102-win season to an 81-win season," Montgomery said. "It's probably a fair criticism to say that we were too close to it. We didn't want to say we were done. We kept wanting to get Utley back. Kept wanting to get Ryan back to being Ryan . . .

"But put those decisions into the context in which they were made. Had we not signed Ryan Howard to that contract coming off World Series and MVPs and 58 home runs and all that? Had we not signed Cole Hamels, had we not pursued Cliff Lee when he became available. We were going for it. And we kept saying, we'll pay a price because we are trading a lot of minor leaguers who are a year away.

"We fired all our bullets."

Too often, they hit their own feet. Such as when they dispatched World Series hero Lee after obtaining Halladay. The Phillies could have paid both, should have paid both, if they wanted to give the team its best chance to win everything in 2010.

These days, those are Andy MacPhail's calls. Or Matt Klentak's. Montgomery is still the team's chairman, overseeing the business that is the Phillies, or he will be once the reconstruction of his once-cancerous jaw is completed in April, a few months short of his 70th birthday.

In truth, the premise they mortgaged their future to remain competitive has little empirical support. They would be marginally better, at best, had they held on to all the minor leaguers dealt to keep the run going.

But Montgomery is not about to throw anyone under the bus. It is his Achilles', this loyalty thing. In that regard, the hiring of Gillick was an uncomfortable sea change for him, and for the entire organization. Even the much-revered Paul Owens had risen through the ranks.

Montgomery pulled the trigger on Gillick.

In retrospect, it might have been the best bullet he fired.

And at the top of a long list of things for which he should be better appreciated.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon