Tag Archives: Pat Gillick

RIP David Montgomery, Phillies minority owner and club chairman

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David Montgomery was a Phillies driving force for nearly five decades

The Philadelphia Phillies announced this morning that club chairman and minority owner David Montgomery has passed away at the age of 72 years. Montgomery had battled cancer for more than five years.

In an official release from the team (see below Twitter link), majority owner John Middleton stated the following:
David was one of Philadelphia’s most influential business and civic leaders in his generation. For 25 years, he has been an invaluable business partner and, more importantly, an invaluable friend. He was beloved by everyone at the Phillies. Leigh and I are saddened beyond words at David’s passing and extend our love and sympathy to Lyn, his children and grandchildren.
Born and raised on Pembrook Road in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, Montgomery graduated from both William Penn Charter High School and the University of Pennsylvania. He then continued his education at The Wharton School, where he graduated in 1970.
While at Penn, Montgomery was a classmate and friend of future Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. The two would attend Phillies games together at old Connie Mack Stadium, and per a 2008 piece by Tyler Kepner in the New York Times, they were typical Philly fans. Kepner wrote:
“They would try to eat all the food that $5 could buy — back when hot dogs cost 50 cents — as they shared their thoughts with the players. “I remember one time riding Turk Farrell,” Rendell said, referring to a Phillies reliever of the 1960s. “He got so mad he looked like he was going to throw a ball at us, and Turk could really hum the ball. We were scared to death.””
After they graduated, Rendell tried to get Montgomery to apply for a job with basketball’s Philadelphia 76ers franchise. Instead, in 1971 Montgomery got a job in the sales office of baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies through a connection with the club’s former pitching great, Robin Roberts, as well as through his connections made while coaching with the Germantown Academy football team.

Phillies chairman and minority owner David Montgomery passed away earlier today after a six-year battle with cancer. (Centpacrr)
In that first job with the team he sold season and group ticket packages. Montgomery was also briefly the scoreboard operator at Veteran’s Stadium in the early years of that facility.
Within a few years he became the Phillies director of sales and marketing, and then in 1980 became the head of the Phillies business department. That same year, the franchise celebrated the first World Series victory in its then 97-year history.
In 1981, Montgomery joined a group headed by Bill Giles to organize the purchase of the Phillies from the Carpenter family. Montgomery was named as the executive vice-president following that purchase, and then was elevated to the role of chief operating officer in 1992.
In 1994, Montgomery acquired an even greater ownership interest in the team. Then in 1997 he was named to replace Giles as the 14th team president in franchise history. He was the first Philly native to run the club in six decades.
In the club’s official release (below Twitter link), Giles stated the following:
David was truly a great man. I have never known a person with more integrity or who truly cared so much about everyone who worked for the Phillies. He and I worked hand-in-hand for over 30 years. During that time, I saw his unparalleled love for his family, the Phillies and the team’s fans, and of course, the City of Philadelphia…He will be tremendously missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.
Cancer first affected Montgomery in the operation of the team when he left on an interim basis for treatment of jaw cancer in August 2014. After returning in January 2015, Montgomery took on the title of chairman, which he held until his passing, with Pat Gillick replacing him as the club president.
During his long career in baseball, Montgomery also served as the vice chair of the Board of Directors of Major League Baseball Enterprises (formerly MLB Properties) and was a member of the MLB Executive Council. He was a member of the MLB Schedule Committee, the Labor Policy Committee, and the Commissioner’s Special Committee for On-Field Matters.
Last March, the Phillies named their new indoor facility at the Carpenter Complex, their spring training home in Clearwater, Florida, as the “David P. Montgomery Baseball Performance Center” in his honor. On the occasion of that honor, Montgomery was quoted as follows in a piece by Matt Breen for Philly.com:
The word is overwhelmed but the reality is that it was special that the whole organization was here because, as you know, that’s what I believe in. I believe that in whatever capacity you work for us, you determine the Phillies family. I believe that.”
This past November, the former ‘Daisy Field’ ball fields on which Montgomery played during his Little League days with the Andorra A’s out in Wissahickon were re-named in his honor as well.

Montgomery is survived by his wife Lyn; their three children, and three grandchildren. Memorial services are pending, and we will pass those along at our social media sites when available. Our entire staff joins with all of Phillies Nation in mourning the passing of not just a great baseball man, but an outstanding Philadelphian.

Join Phillies Nation in fan polling for Wall of Fame ‘March Madness’

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Manuel, Thome, Carlton (L-R) are part of March Madness

The calendar showing that it is the third week in March can mean only one thing. Okay, two. Alright, alright, at least three things. The first thing is that Spring has arrived! It was a long, cold winter. But now it’s finally over. Soon flowers will begin to bloom and grass will start to grow again.

The other two big things about this time of year involve the sports world. For baseball fans, spring training is winding to a close. The Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues have just days remaining in their schedules.
For fans of college basketball and many sports fans who barely follow the game at any other time of year this is “March Madness” time. The excitement and drama of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament is unfolding.
Here at Phillies Nation we decided to run our own “March Madness” involving our favorite ball club. As subject matter we chose the Wall of Famers, those 40 individuals who have been honored to this point with a plaque at Citizens Bank Park.

Our tournament is being run at our Twitter feed: @PhilliesNation. If you aren’t following, fix that right away. If you are, head on over and be sure to follow regularly over the next week as we poll followers for their selections.
Phillies Nation “March Madness” began with a Play-in showdown between 1960’s-70’s infielder and later a coach with the team, Tony Taylor, facing off against 1950’s ‘Whiz Kids’ shortstop Granny Hamner. The popular Taylor took an early lead in voting and coasted to victory by 61%-39% of the 157 followers who cast a vote.

PHILLIES NATION * WALL OF FAME * MARCH MADNESS
Okay, with time running out Tony Taylor holds a comfortable Play-In Poll lead on Granny Hamner and will advance to our Opening Round. Two four-player polls. Winners later today battle to enter the Round of 32. Vote now!

See Phillies Nation’s other Tweets

That moved Taylor into one of two four-man Opening Round match-ups. Taylor was placed in a tough grouping: Sam Thompson, a Baseball Hall of Famer and 19th century star; 1920’s star outfielder Cy Williams; 1950’s ‘Whiz Kids’ third baseman Willie Jones.
The other four-man Opening Round grouping included 1960’s all-star Johnny Callison; star outfielder Gavvy Cravath of the 1915 NL pennant-winners and runner-up for the 1913 NL MVP; 1950’s star pitcher Curt Simmons who won 193 big-league games including 17 with the ‘Whiz Kids’ in 1950; Pat Gillick, the general manager of the 2008 World Series champions.

Taylor emerged victorious once again, winning his group with 42% of the 130 votes cast. Williams (28%), Thompson (18%) and Jones (12%) rounded out the group. Gillick was a somewhat surprising easy winner of his group, drawing 59% of 199 votes cast. Callison (24%), Simmons (15%) and Cravath (2%) rounded out that group.
Those results have moved Gillick and Taylor into a mano-a-mano Opening Round Finals vote which will conclude at 10am on Thursday morning. The winner of that vote will move into a Round-of-32 in which each of the others has already been ranked 1-31.
Head over to our Twitter feed and vote in the Gillick-Taylor Opening Round Finals poll now. While there you can enjoy numerous informative articles on the ball club. Look for the polling results on Thursday morning, which will be followed in the afternoon by the announcement of those Round-of-32 matches. Keep coming back to vote each round.

Congratulations to Bobby Abreu, who was named today as the 2019 Phillies Wall of Fame honoree. That announcement came after our tournament had been seeded and gotten underway, so Bobby is not part of the voting. Stop by the Phillies Nation feed at Twitter and join in our Wall of Fame March Madness today.

Andy MacPhail addresses the media at Phillies 2019 spring training

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Team president Andy MacPhail addressed the media at 2019 spring training

The Philadelphia Phillies have been running their decision-makers out in front of the media this week as spring training has gotten underway down in Clearwater, Florida. Two days ago it was manager Gabe Kapler, and yesterday general manager Matt Klentak took his turn in front of the press.

Today it was president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail who sat down and provided organizational updates and then answered questions from the gathered media members.
MacPhail started off wanting to provide a history of how the Phillies got to the point where they are today during his tenure with the club. That tenure began when he was hired as a special assistant to then-president Pat Gillick in June 2015. MacPhail would succeed Gillick as the club president at the conclusion of that season.
I don’t think this organization really committed to a rebuild until July of 2015,” said MacPhail, obviously equating that start with his arrival in town. He went on to list some of the player salaries shed in the aftermath of his arrival, and then said that the contract savings were used to make “a series of significant investments in the infrastructure of the franchise while our payroll was diminished.

Those investments came in the areas of facilities, personnel, and technology.
Funds invested in the area of facilities took a number of forms, including a new Phillies academy opened in 2016 in the Dominican Republic, which is a traditional hotbed of amateur baseball talent.
There were also improvements made last year at Citizens Bank Park, including major changes to the fan experience in the right field area of Ashburn Alley. MacPhail said there will be further noticeable improvements this year to the third base/outfield area.
Fans who live and travel in the area have noticed scaffolding around the perimeter of the ballpark during this off-season. This was described by MacPhail as part of a process that the organization is undergoing in applying for their Safety Act to help “create an environment where it is a much more secure and safe place for our fans.
MacPhail also told of “a huge new building that’s being built” on Darien Street near the ballpark which fans will notice as they arrive to games for the 2019 season. He said that when he addressed the personnel area, there would be further explanation of what this building would be used for, but never specifically got back to the topic, unless this will be the place to house the new hires.
Funds invested by the club in the personnel area took on three forms: traditional baseball roles, “new ground” areas as far as the Phillies interest in hiring people to such positions, and finally the hiring of new personnel on the business side.
The Phillies have added two minor league teams and added a fourth coach at each affiliate in the traditional baseball area. The club has “increased our scouting in every way, shape, and form that you can, whether it be domestic, professional, or international,” said MacPhail. “Specifically, a huge investment in international because now we have a good prominence in the Far East, where we did not in the past.
MacPhail became the Phillies president in fall 2015. He addressed the media today at 2019 spring training. (Photo by Keith Allison/WikiCommons)
MacPhail went on to explain what he meant by “new ground” personnel, stating that these were the types of resources that some other clubs already employed but that are new to the Phillies, specifically mental skills coaches, a robust analytics department, a team chef, a cultural assimilation department, player information coordinators at both the big-league and minor league levels, nutritionists, and more.
On the business side, MacPhail emphasized that the Phillies had to “significantly increase the technology footprint, personnel-wise, of our organization.” He described roles for those individuals as having to do with social media and business analytics.
MacPhail then wrapped his description of the recent improvements made by the Phillies organization by speaking to the increased use of technological advances by the club, much of which he described as “proprietary” and which could evaluate a player’s development from rookie ball through the major leagues.

“It’s an arms race. Our opponents have it, and if we want to compete, we need to have it.“

The Phillies thus used most of the money saved by a greatly decreased payroll to improve their base infrastructure. MacPhail then stated that with that firmer base established, it has now become time to use funds to improve the actual player roster.
We were by far the youngest team in baseball as we started the 2018 season. We were coming off a 66-win season the year before. That team (the 2018 Phillies) would end up improving by 14 games, and we would spend 38 days in first place over the course of the summer.
MacPhail recognized what he termed the “abysmal” finish of the team over the final seven weeks of that 2018 campaign. However, the performance as a whole led the Phillies decision-makers to determine that it was time to “support that ’18 group” by adding to the payroll.
I think the acquisitions that Matt (Klentak) and the baseball operations made are gonna do a lot to improve our defense. Moving Rhys (Hoskins) back to first base, the acquisitions of Segura and McCutchen, uh, Realmuto. Those things will only help, significantly.
MacPhail believes that one of the major challenges that the Phillies faced a year ago was the “wampum” from big lefty hitters in the lineups of their NL East opponents. The 2018 team had a 23-34 combined record against the Braves, Nationals, and Mets a year ago. Finding a way to reverse that record would make them a true playoff contender.
He feels that the addition of righty reliever David Robertson, who has strong career numbers against left-handed hitters, as well as lefty arms James Pazos and Jose Alvarez will help turn around those divisional results by better neutralizing those lefty opposition bats in the late innings.
I sit, at this point, largely happy that those areas that I thought were important have been addressed.” MacPhail went on to note that “We are still, despite all the acquisitions…a very young baseball team. We stand to only have one position player on the roster on Opening Day that’s reached 30. And we still have 80% of our starting rotation as under 27. So, I’m pretty happy and pleased with where we sit at the present time.

MEDIA QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION

At that, MacPhail opened the floor to questions from the gathered media representatives. Howard Eskin of SportsRadio 94.1FM WIP opened the session by getting right to the biggest issue on the minds of fans, the pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
Eskin asked whether MacPhail was “concerned that the fan base will not be happy if that one major free agent is not signed, and, since there’s reports every day, why don’t I just ask you, do you know anything about the reports?
To begin his response, MacPhail immediately highlighted that he may not be capable of fully relating to his club’s fan base. “I’ve been around a long time. I won’t pretend to be something I’m not. I’m not a Philly-centric guy. I spent four years in Carlisle (123 miles west of Philadelphia), that’s as close as I got.
Asked about the labor situation in baseball, you can hear in his response an acknowledgment of the Harper and Machado situations.
I don’t think that we should make the assumption…that a lack of a signature on a contract on February 15th necessarily means that’s lack of interest or lack of a market. And all we have to do is go back and look at last year…from February 15 to Opening Day (2018)…Major League Baseball clubs committed over a half-billion dollars to contracts…35 players were signed…so just because the market is moving slowly doesn’t mean that there isn’t interest. I have to think that it is a strategy employed by some who think that is in their best interest.
Harper (L) and Machado (R) became the main topics focused on by the media during their Q&A with MacPhail on Friday. (Arturo Pardavila III and Ian D’Andrea)
When specifically asked about the wisdom of handing a lengthy contract to a player in the 8-10-year range, MacPhail responded as follows:
I think each case you have to evaluate individually. I’m not talking about either one of them (Harper or Machado) specifically. But I think your appetite for something long is going to be significantly different for someone who is 26 as opposed to someone who is 30-31. That’s why you have to make a series of judgments about whatever player you’re talking about in terms of how will he hold up, what position does he play, what else can he do. There’s just a host of variables that go into that.
Later asked whether he would be disappointed to not land either Harper or Machado, MacPhail reiterated his happiness with where the team stands right now.
I think it would be a hard thing to make a case that we are not a considerably better team than we were a year ago…I would like us to get better yet…It’s conceivable that could happen. It may not. But if it doesn’t happen, we’re still gonna be a considerably better team than we were a year ago.”
When faced with a question regarding overwhelming fan preference for Harper to Machado, the club president responded, “You can make the case that they bring different things, but I think they’re both beneficial to your club.
Asked whether the messaging to fans that the Phillies are supposedly trying to become big winners might not be accepted well by fans considering the marquee players remain unsigned and available, MacPhail stated that “we’re just half of the equation“, implying that the Phillies are ready and willing to sign one of them, but the players need to also be willing.

NON-HARPER/MACHADO QUESTIONS

When asked about the controversy which cropped up involving Kapler’s response to the assault on a young female during his days with the Dodgers, MacPhail stated: “All the stuff that was regurgitated again this winter, there was nothing in there that made me think that the vetting (of Kapler when hired) was anything but very thorough, very impartial, and very fair. We were satisfied then when we hired him. We’re satisfied today.
On fan interest reflected in ticket sales, MacPhail stated that “we’re about 150,000 ahead of where we were a year ago…we’re good, but we’re not great.
On owner John Middleton and his desire to win: “I think the thing that separates John is that if we won this year, he’d want to win just as much next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Which is one of the reasons why it’s essential to us to make sure that we have enough resources to address future needs as they evolve from year to year to year.”

Some potential nominees for the 2019 Phillies Wall of Fame honors

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Manny Trillo of the 1980 World Series champs is a legit Wall of Fame candidate

Approximately one month from now the Philadelphia Phillies will announce the 2019 honoree who will be enshrined on the franchise Wall of Fame this coming summer.

Last year for the very first time the team honored two individuals, and in a rare occurrence, Phillies fans had no say in either selection. One of those was Pat Gillick, who has served for 14 years as general manager, president, and senior advisor. Gillick was the first “executive inductee” to the Wall of Fame.
The other honored a year ago was former pitcher Roy Halladay, who had died suddenly and tragically in Florida back in November 2017 while piloting his private plane. Publicly released ballots seem to reveal that ‘Doc’ is also about to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame this coming summer.
Those two joined the manager of the 2008 World Series champions, Charlie Manuel (2014), the organization’s all-time greatest pitcher Steve Carlton (1989), and the greatest player in Phillies history, Mike Schmidt (1990) in becoming the only individuals honored without fan voting as part of the process.
The Phillies had honored no one in the prior summer of 2017. That year, Pete Rose had been scheduled to be enshrined on the Wall of Fame. In early-August, less than two weeks before that was to take place, the club cancelled the ceremony after Rose became embroiled in controversy surrounding allegations that he had sex with a minor while a player with the Cincinnati Reds back in the 1970’s.
Otherwise, the Phillies have honored one individual each year other than 1983. That year an entire “Centennial Team” was named and celebrated in honor of the 100th anniversary of the franchise.
Odds are that one individual will be honored when next month’s announcement is made, so who might that be? One thing that should be obvious is that with an increasing number of worthy individuals now retiring from the 2008 world championship team, we are going to see many of those players enshrined in the coming years.

PARADE TO THE WALL COULD CONTINUE FOR ’08 CHAMPS

Already on the Wall of Fame from that team, joining general manager Gillick and manager Manuel, is outfielder Pat Burrell. The Phillies already have individual ceremonies scheduled for this summer to honor Jimmy RollinsRyan Howard, and Chase Utley due to the announcement of their formal retirements as players.
If the honor goes to another member of those 2008 World Series champions this time around, the leading candidates would be Shane VictorinoCarlos RuizJayson WerthBrad Lidge, and Jamie Moyer. The favorite might be Victorino after the popular Flyin’ Hawaiian was fetted just last season at Citizens Bank Park upon his formal retirement from baseball.
But the Phillies could also take another tack, choosing to honor some other worthy individuals before beginning what should prove to become a veritable parade to the Wall of Fame for a half-dozen or more of those 2008 players during the decade of the 2020’s.
If the club chooses through their own selection, or through a fan vote, or some combination to honor someone other than a 2008 player, who might be a few worthy candidates to consider?

NINE POTENTIAL NON-2008 WALL CONTENDERS

Baker has been Phillies PA announcer
for nearly a half-century
(Phillygd1/WikiCommons)

Before getting into the players, there is one non-player who absolutely deserves consideration. That would be 72-year-old public address announcer Dan Baker.

A native of Philadelphia, Baker became the PA announcer for Phillies games at Veteran’s Stadium beginning with its second season in 1972. His voice has now greeted, entertained, and informed generations of fans over nearly a half-century at both ‘The Vet’ and Citizens Bank Park.
There are eight former Phillies players who, in my opinion, deserve at least some measure of consideration for the Wall of Fame, and who are not associated with the 2008 world championship team. They are: Fred LuderusBobby WineRon ReedManny TrilloScott RolenBobby AbreuCliff Lee, and Rose.
Luderus was the Phillies starting first baseman, one of the best in all of baseball during the ‘Dead Ball Era’ of the 1910’s. I have previously championed his cause in a pair of pieces when he was nominated for the Wall of Fame back in 2016 and the previous year.
Now 80 years of age, Wine was the Phillies starting shortstop for much of the 1960’s, winning the 1963 National League Gold Glove Award at the position. After retiring from baseball, Wine joined the Phillies coaching staff. He remained a valuable coach under four managers during the club’s rise to power, serving from July 1972 through the 1983 NL pennant-winning campaign.
Reed already had a dozen big-league seasons under his belt when he joined the Phillies in a January 1975 trade from the Saint Louis Cardinals. Over the next 10 seasons, the tall right-hander became one of the most effective relief pitchers in club history, going 57-38 with 90 Saves and allowing 702 hits over 809 innings. He registered a 3.06 ERA over 458 games with the club, including nine starts. Reed further appeared in 21 postseason games, and recorded a Save in Game One of the 1980 World Series.
Trillo, now 68-years-old, originally signed with the Phillies as an amateur free agent in January 1968 but was left unprotected and was lost to the Oakland A’s in the Rule 5 Draft in December 1969.
He returned to the club as part of an eight-player swap with the Chicago Cubs in February 1979 and became a vital key over the next four years. Trillo won three Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, appeared in three MLB All-Star games, and was the MVP of the dramatic 1980 National League Championship Series.

Abreu was an offensive machine as the Phillies grew from late-90’s also-ran to mid-00’s contender (Rdikeman/WikiCommons)
Rolen is 43-years-old and is now the director of player development for the University of Indiana Hoosiers collegiate baseball program. He was the Phillies second round pick in the 1993 MLB Amateur Draft out of high school in Indiana.
Rolen broke into the big-leagues in 1996 and became the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year. He then won four Gold Glove Awards at third base over the next five years and was also an NL All-Star and Silver Slugger winner in 2002, his final year with the club.
Abreu was just 23-years-old when he joined the Phillies in a November 1997 trade with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He became an immediate starter with the Phillies, and over nine seasons was a key performer as the club rose from also-ran to contender.
Abreu, now 44, was a 2x NL All-Star, a 2004 Silver Slugger winner, and a 2005 Gold Glove Award winner. He also won the 2005 Home Run Derby at the MLB All-Star festivities. For seven straight seasons he was a 20/20 player, including two 30/30 campaigns.
The 40-year-old Lee is easily the most well-known of these candidates to current Phillies fans. He was already an AL Cy Young Award winner when he arrived from the Cleveland Indians in July 2009 as part of a six-player deal.
After he led the Phillies back to the World Series that October, GM Ruben Amaro dealt him away on the same December 2009 day that Halladay was acquired. But Lee chose to return when the became a free agent a year later, and was part of the 2011 ‘Four Aces’ starting rotation that led the Phillies to a franchise-record 102 regular season victories.
Over parts of five seasons with the club, Lee put together a 48-34 record with a 2.94 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 1.089 WHIP. He allowed 777 hits over 827.1 innings with an incredible 6.56 K:BB ratio. Lee was also a 2x NL All-Star with the club, and finished top six in the NL Cy Young Award voting.
And then there is Rose. As with the Baseball Hall of Fame, on playing credentials alone he is worthy of the Phillies Wall of Fame. He was the first-ever big Phillies free agent signing in December 1978 and was an NL All-Star each of the next four years with the club.
Rose won the 1981 NL Silver Slugger at first base, received NL MVP votes twice including a top ten finish in that 1981 campaign, and has been credited with pushing the Phillies over the hump to the 1980 world championship.
As for the allegations of statutory rape, Rose continues to deny them. Would the Phillies ever re-open his Wall of Fame case during this current “Me Too” movement era? Despite America supposedly being an innocent-until-proven-guilty country, that is likely a longshot.
Will the 2008 World Series championship team continue to be honored with another member getting a plaque on the Phillies Wall of Fame later this summer? Will one of the worthy non-2008 players finally find their way on to the Wall of Fame? Will fans even get a say in this year’s selection process? Those questions will be answered in the coming weeks.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as As Phillies prepare to honor a parade of 2008 players, who else deserves the Wall of Fame?

Remembering the Jim Thome Era in Philadelphia

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Thome’s arrival as a big-ticket free agent signaled a new era of winning for Phillies

With this MLB off-season so highly anticipated here in Philadelphia, I decided to take a look back during this month at some of the more important Hot Stove moments over the course of Phillies history.

So far we’ve traveled back to re-examine big free agent signings of Pete Rose in 1978 and Jose Mesa in the winter of 2000. We also took a look back at a pivotal 1981 trade in which catcher Bo Diaz came to Philly from Cleveland as part of a three-team swap which sent outfielder Lonnie Smith to the Cardinals.
This time around we’re going to take a look back at two different Hot Stove moves from the first decade of the 21st century. One is a free agent signing, the other a trade. Both involve the same centerpiece player, Phillies Wall of Famer and Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Thome.
To understand the motivations for the Phillies deciding to open up their wallets and bring Thome to Philadelphia you need to remember the context of where the franchise was and who the player was at that time.
From 1987 through 2002, a period that spanned the final years of Mike Schmidt‘s career through the final year of Scott Rolen‘s career with the Phillies, the team suffered through 14 losing campaigns over 16 seasons.
The 1993 National League champions had proven to be an oasis in a long, wide desert of losing years. But things began to change as the new century dawned.
Under popular and fiery new manager Larry Bowa the Phillies had nearly captured the 2001 NL East crown. Thanks to a stretch of nine losses in 11 games to open the month of September, the 2002 Phillies finished 80-81. Though it was another losing record, something was obviously different.
The Phillies had a talented core group of position players featuring veteran catcher Mike Lieberthal, exciting youngsters Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins, and the power-speed combination of an entering-his-prime Bobby Abreu.
Also, the club was preparing to say goodbye to Veteran’s Stadium. The 2003 season would be the 33rd and final one on turf for the team. A brand new facility to be named Citizens Bank Park was under construction and would open for 2004.
Phillies chairman Bill Giles, club president David Montgomery, and GM Ed Wade knew that there would be major financial benefits coming with the new ballpark. They wanted to make a push to excite the fan base even further, and so went into that off-season on the hunt for marquee names to add to the roster.
On December 2nd they signed 30-year-old free agent David Bell to play third base. This would allow Placido Polanco, obtained the previous summer in trade for Rolen, to shift over to second base, strengthening the overall lineup.
But what the lineup really needed was one truly menacing presence in the middle. A big bopper to serve as an anchor, a game-changing threat with the kind of true power that hadn’t regularly plowed the baseball trade in South Philly since Schmidt’s retirement more than a decade earlier.
As good fortune would have it, just such a talent was coming available on the free agent market. Thome was a 32-year-old veteran of a dozen big-league seasons who was one of the most feared power-hitters in the game at that time.
James Howard Thome was an Illinois native who had been the Cleveland Indians pick in the 13th round of the 1989 MLB Amateur Draft, which was held exactly one week after Schmidt’s retirement.
He first broke into the big-leagues with Cleveland in 1991 with the typical September cup of coffee. The following summer he became a regular at the end of June, but a late August injury brought his rookie campaign to an early end. He returned in 1993 but didn’t receive a promotion back to Cleveland until mid-August.
When the 1994 season opened he was one of the key pieces to a young and quickly improving Indians team. The club bolted out to a 66-47 record with Thome ripping 20 homers. But it was all brought to a sudden end by the player strike.
The true career breakout for Thome came when baseball returned for the 1995 campaign. He slashed .314/.438/.558 with 25 homers and 73 RBI as the Indians won 100 games and an AL Central crown. The Tribe then beat Boston and Seattle to capture the American League pennant before dropping a tough six-game World Series to the Atlanta Braves.
It would prove to be just the beginning of a baseball renaissance in Cleveland. The Indians became the AL Central’s dominant team, winning the division for five straight seasons and six times over seven years through 2001.
However, despite all of their talent and all of the winning, the Indians would return to the World Series just one more time during that stretch of dominance. That one other shot would also fall just short, and may have been the most demoralizing defeat of all.
In Game 7 of the 1997 Fall Classic, Cleveland was just two outs away against the Florida Marlins. But the Fish rallied against Tribe closer Jose Mesa to tie it up. In the bottom of the 11th, the Marlins would win it, sending Thome and the Indians home to another in a series of frustrating late-90’s winters.
During his time in Cleveland, Thome came under the tutelage of Indians hitting coach Charlie Manuel. The plain-spoken homespun wisdom of Manuel would blend perfectly with Thome’s own personality, and the two would become close.

Manuel became the Indians manager from 2000-02 and the club continued to win over the first couple of seasons, including capturing the 2001 AL East crown. However, with a number of the players aging quickly and others gone in trades or free agency, the Indians were losing in 2002.
Manuel was looking for a contract extension and some security as he would try to help the club rebuild. The Indians weren’t willing to meet his terms, and Manuel was fired on July 12. The handling of Manuel’s situation did not sit well with Thome, and would become a factor when he entered free agency that off-season.
Over parts of 12 seasons with Cleveland, Thome slashed .287/.414/.567 with 334 homers, 259 doubles, and 927 RBI. He had been a 3x AL All-Star, a Silver Slugger Award winner, and had finished among the top 10 in AL MVP voting three times, including each of his final two years.
He had also earned more than $40 million to that point in his career and received an annual salary at roughly $8 million per year over his last four seasons in Cleveland. This was the player who entered free agency in the fall of 2002.
The Phillies brass rolled out the red carpet in trying to woo the Paul Bunyan-esque Thome to sign with them. He and his wife, Andrea toured both Veteran’s Stadium and the construction site at Citizens Bank Park with agent Pat Rooney.
While outside of the construction site, a group of electricians union members cheered him on. When Thome stopped to speak with them, the group did a fantastic salesmanship job in representing Phillies fans wishes to have him join the team.
”I heard a lot of great things about Philadelphia,” Thome said per an AP report at ESPN at the time. ”You saw what the people did out there and that was heartwarming. It’s going to be a tough decision.”
Fans of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team would continue to apply the pressure that night when the Thome’s were treated to a game. On the couple’s introduction to the crowd midway between the second period the Philly sports fans gave him a rousing standing ovation.
The Phillies would ultimately win the bidding for the free agent star in a process that came down to them and a return to Cleveland. On December 6, 2002, Thome inked a six-year deal guaranteeing him at least $85 million and as much as $94 million over the life of the contract.
Thome would deliver everything that the Phillies hoped and then some. In the first season of 2003 the slugger finished fourth in the NL MVP voting as he led all of baseball with 47 home runs, ripped 30 doubles, and registered a career-high 131 RBI.
The 2003 Phillies led the NL Wildcard race as late as September 19. But a season-closing collapse in which they lost six straight and seven of the last eight games left them frustrated as the Veteran’s Stadium era came to an end.
In 2004, Thome blasted another 42 homers and made his first National League All-Star team. Those long balls included the milestone 400th home run of his career. The Phillies won 86 games for a second straight season and moved up from third to second place in the NL East Division standings. But the club would miss out on the postseason once again, this time it was a rough 5-13 stretch in mid-August that did them in.

Meanwhile down in the minor leagues, a 24-year-old first baseman named Ryan Howard was making an enormous impression. In that summer of 2004, Howard blasted 46 homers and had 131 RBI while playing at the two highest levels in the Phillies farm system.
It was fairly obvious that Howard could not be kept in the minors for much longer. But first base was his only real position. It was also Thome’s position, and the veteran still had four more years to run on his contract. Something had to give. The Phillies tried Howard out in left field, but there was no way that the big man could handle the position.
When the 2005 season opened the Thome-Howard had yet to resolve itself. But as so often happens in those situations, fate would step in to lend a hand.
Howard began 2005 ripping 16 home runs and driving in 54 runs while slashing an other-worldly .371/.467/.690 over his first 61 games back at Triple-A.
Thome started fast as well over the first couple of weeks. But then something began to change. The veteran began to slump, and then missed three weeks at the end of May. He returned to the lineup but struggled, hitting just .207 with seven homers through June.
It turned out that Thome had suffered a frayed tendon in his right elbow. He would require season-ending surgery and miss the entire last three months of the 2005 season. The decision to hang on to Howard was apparently going to pay at least short-term dividends.
Getting the call to the big-leagues, Howard would not waste the opportunity. In just 88 games he slashed .288/.356/.567 with 22 home runs, 17 doubles, 52 runs scored, and 63 RBI. For the performance, Howard would be named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.
Howard was just 25-years-old and was now part of an exciting, youthful Phillies lineup that included Rollins and Burrell, still both in their 20’s, and a 26-year-old second baseman named Chase Utley who had emerged that same summer as a future star.
Those 2005 Phillies again fell short of the postseason. But they improved to 88 wins, finished just two games behind the Braves in the NL East race, and were an agonizing one game short of the Houston Astros for the NL Wildcard berth. They had been done in by five straight early-September losses, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Astros at Citizens Bank Park in which all three were agonizingly close.
The writing was on the wall for the now 35-year-old Thome. The surgery, Howard’s electrifying performance, and the latter’s perfect fit with the core of an emerging contender was going to make Thome expendable. It was time for new GM Pat Gillick to find a deal that would work for both the team and player.
That deal would come together over Thanksgiving, and on Black Friday of 2005 the Phillies general manager sent Thome to the newly-crowned World Series champion Chicago White Sox. The Phillies would include cash to help off-set the nearly $45 million still owed on Thome’s contract over the next three years.
In return the White Sox would send 28-year-old center fielder Aaron Rowand to the Phillies. Rowand had just completed his fifth big-league campaign, his second straight as a full-time starter. He hit .270 with 13 homers, 30 doubles, 16 steals, and 77 runs scored in helping the Chisox capture their first world championship in 88 years.
The deal worked out for both clubs. Thome bounced back all the way from his surgery, blasting 42 home runs and making the AL All-Star squad in the 2006 season. Rowand played a fantastic center field in Philly, including making one of the most memorable catches in team history, one that earned him an eternal place in the hearts of Phillies fans.

Then in 2007 while Thome was ripping another 35 homers with Chicago, Rowand became an NL All-Star and was a key piece in the Phillies capturing the first of five straight NL East crowns.
Meanwhile, Howard made sure that the Phillies didn’t miss a beat with their production from the first base position. In 2006 he followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign by slamming a franchise-record 58 home runs. He also slashed .313/.425/.659 and drove in 149 runs.
For that performance he was selected as an NL All-Star, and then was named as the National League Most Valuable Player. over the next five seasons, Howard would become known as ‘The Big Piece’ with five straight NL East champions, and one of the biggest pieces on a talented 2008 World Series championship squad.
In the late Fall of 2002, Jim Thome arrived in Philadelphia as a drawing card and hopefully the final piece to push an emerging contender to the postseason. He was absolutely the former, but never quite became the latter.
When he left in the Fall of 2005 it was to bring in Aaron Rowand, someone who would not be as big a drawing card, but who became a popular player with the fan base, and who would himself become one of the final pieces to a Phillies posteason team.
Thome would have one final moment on the stage at Citizens Bank Park when he signed to re-join his old mentor Manuel, who was now the Phillies manager. Manuel had been at the helm for that 2008 title and the Phillies were coming off a 102-win season that was the best in franchise history.
Ironically, Thome was brought in because Howard had been injured as the Phillies were eliminated in the 2011 NLDS. With the expectation that Howard’s injury could linger for a couple of months into the 2012 season, it was hoped that Thome could provide a veteran presence and some short-term power at first base.
Alas, it was not to be. The 2012 season turned out to be the most frustrating in more than a decade of Phillies baseball. The team sank to the .500 mark at 81-81, their first non-winning campaign since the 2002 season. Howard would not return until July, and his career would never again be as impactful as prior to the injury.
Thome would not be around for it. With Howard’s return looming and the team at 36-44 and 10 games off the NL East pace, the 41-year-old was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles for a pair of lesser prospects. Thome would help the Orioles to an AL Wildcard berth and appear with them in the postseason that year.
He would retire following Baltimore’s tough five-game loss to the New York Yankees in the ALDS. In 2016, Thome was honored by being enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
At just two full seasons and parts of two others, he has the shortest service time of any player enshrined by the club. Few fans will argue Thome’s impact at a time when the Phillies were trying to establish a winning environment and tradition.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as Phillies Hot Stove History: The 2002 coming and 2005 going of Jim Thome