Apparently, Philadelphia Phillies brass likes their baseball club the same way they like their attendance numbers: declining. At least, that’s the impression team president David Montgomery might’ve left fans with in Kevin Cooney’s Sunday column for the Bucks County Courier Times (via Hardball Talk).
You see, the reason the Phillies can’t or won’t go into a complete rebuild is because they need to keep you showing up at the Stadium Complex. Of course, one look at all the empty seats inside Citizens Bank Park on a daily basis is enough to inform even the most casual of observers that the home team isn’t doing so hot.
The front office seems committed to making you believe the Phillies have a chance, though. After all, that’s probably a whole helluva lot easier than fixing this mess.
“In 1998, what were we drawing? Where were we ranked of the franchises in the city? We were last,” Montgomery said. “When I took over, we thought it was a moral victory to go 44-46 in the second half and still lose 97 games, drawing a million and a half and we couldn’t get into a new ballpark.
“Some people say that the Phillies worry too much about attendance. Yes, we do. When you are low in attendance, the risk is only on the upside. When you are (drawing well), the risk is dropping any further. And that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
A few days earlier, David Murphy for the Daily News captured some more of Montgomery’s comments.
We don't view our operating philosophy as changing a whole lot, because the goal of getting good and staying good remains. What is the acceptance level in a bigger market? We just want our fans to believe we are trying to do the best for both today and tomorrow. We're constantly focusing on what our 2016 ball club will look like," Montgomery said. "And that doesn't have some of the names that are out there now. Now, when you're planning and thinking about 2016, does that mean you're thinking about rebuilding in 2014? Well, if you don't move people, [a fan's] view would be, 'No, they're not rebuilding. They're being stubborn.' Do we know where the road is going to lead? Absolutely not. . . . The goal, it never changes. The goal is to pay attention to both today and tomorrow, and to do what's right in both cases. The only way you do that is to be prepared."
"We don't like being in last place in the National League East. We don't think that's where we belong. We don't think that's what our fans expect of us. In some places, they do that intentionally in order to speed the process. But, at the same time, there has to be the types of deals [beneficial to us]. I mean, I listen to the expectations of people of what we can get for our veterans. For another year or two of a solid veteran player, somebody is going to give us what? And take the salary to what extent? So realism, for us, creeps into the picture."
So, basically, to sum this all up, feel free to draw from any of the following readymade conclusions:
A) Montgomery is oblivious to the fact that his team has gotten so bad it’s already hurting attendance numbers. This, however, seems unlikely given the correlation he’s drawn between winning and revenue.
B) Montgomery knows the organization can throw more money at the problem—continue polishing the turd, so to speak—and rely on gate receipts April through June until everybody catches on it’s basically the same s@#$%y squad the next few seasons.
C) Montgomery believes people will continue paying for nostalgia acts such as Chase Utley. Either that, or Montgomery thinks winning 70 games impresses folks around here that much more than winning 60. Neither thought is very comforting.
D) If either B and/or C are even remotely true, Montgomery thinks you are a dumb.
All kidding aside, this is probably what you would call being too transparent.
The one aspect where I actually agree with Montgomery is “realism” occasionally does come into play. I was fine with the Phillies re-signing Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz to relatively team-friendly deals, then bringing in Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett during this past offseason. Not because extending and adding a bunch of 35-and-ups is a sound way to build a baseball team. Because those moves were the only way the Phillies could realistically compete this year.
But how long can this go on for? Now that it hasn’t worked in 2014, and it didn't work in 2013, how exactly does the front office intend to make it work in 2015? And Montgomery dares utter the year 2016? Several members of this core could still be here then, older and even more decrepit.
I know zombies are “in” right now, but my guess is the good people of Philadelphia would rather watch athletes with fully functioning circulatory systems.
What I’m trying to say, Mr. President, is if the Phillies continue limping along at this rate—10 games below .500 and 8.0 back of first place in the NL East following a four-game sweep at home at the hands of the Atlanta Braves—you might as well be rebuilding. At least, the team you’ve assembled is playing at roughly that level. And they’re not getting better.