Early last week, with the team on the road in Cincinnati, Montgomery fielded a long list of questions on a variety of subjects, including the work of his general manager, Ruben Amaro Jr.; the reason the Phillies wanted to avoid the luxury tax at the trade deadline; and a controversial comparison of the Eagles to the Boston Red Sox by Banner.
Question: Are you getting anxious waiting for October?
Montgomery: "Do I know our magic number right now? Yes, of course I do. I'm weird enough to know it starts at 163 at the start of the year. At the same time, there is a lot of baseball to be played between now and October. One of the fortunate things when I look back at 2008 was that we were well-positioned when we got in because Cole [Hamels] was our best pitcher, and we were able to have him start each series in the postseason. A big part of these remaining games is getting people ready. We want our hitters hot and our pitching lined up for Oct. 1."
Q: A lot of people consider the 1977 Phillies the most talented team in franchise history. This team has a chance to win more games than the 101 that team won. How do you think this team compares to that one?
Montgomery: "That's for others to judge. That was a different team. My memory of '77 is that it was primarily built around offense, strong defense, and a deep relief corps. We had Lefty [Steve Carlton] and Jim Lonborg, but I wouldn't say that starting pitching was the key element of that club. It was a solid lineup up and down and a very good defensive club. That may be the biggest similarity. One of the real attributes of this club is good defense. Until the other day, we had given up 19 unearned runs, and the next closest club was 15 or 20 runs north of that."
Q: Do you consider this a World Series-or-bust season?
Montgomery: "We built a club that we felt had an excellent chance of getting to the postseason. In my mind, when you get to the postseason, the team that is fortunate enough to have hot pitchers and is swinging the bat well is going to win. On one hand, the goal is to be one of those eight teams that have that chance. That's first and foremost. Never take that for granted and fast forward into the postseason. So I divide the world into two parts. Be one of the four teams in the National League to get in and then every postseason proves to be a little different. I do look forward to playing in October because I think we can make it interesting."
Q: You have always been a big proponent of building from within. Do you worry that the prospects you've given up over the last few years will come back to haunt you at some point?
Montgomery: "Of course. You always worry about that. Every time we give up young talent, you never know for sure which individuals will come back to hurt you. That's particularly the case when you look at the Hunter Pence deal because we gave up three players in [single-A] ball. We liked all four players we traded and thought they all had a future. But Hunter is playing a huge role with our current club. Over the last 10 years, I think we've been a solid club because of the scouting we've done during that period. There is no substitute for developing, whether it's on the field for us or in trades. But you asked me if I worry about tomorrow and the answer is, of course. When you're giving up young talent, tomorrow will come."
Q: What has surprised and impressed you most about Ruben Amaro Jr.?
Montgomery: "Ruben is a very bright man. I think one of the things he has shown is that he has been able to take attributes from everyone he has worked with. Whether it's Ed Wade or the things he saw from Pat [Gillick], I think he has used that to his advantage. I think it has also been to Ruben's advantage that he grew up in Philadelphia. I think it helps him to understand the passion of the fans. It helps him to communicate. I think he's an effective communicator, and he has good listening skills. Ruben is definitely action-oriented, and he's created plenty of action. But there is also a time to be reflective."
Q: Are you amused when Ruben says things like, "You will not see a major move this year?"
Montgomery: [Laughter] "I don't know if amused is the right word. I will tell you, I didn't expect us to do something major this year. Not that he wouldn't try, but the way the year was unfolding I wondered if there would be a move that made total sense. The right moves for us are the ones that work for today and tomorrow. I worry less about giving up talent when I know we're going to have Hunter Pence in right field for the next three years and beyond."
Q: You guys acquired Pence and avoided going over the luxury-tax payroll figure of $178 million. Why was it so important to keep the payroll below that number?
Montgomery: "I'm still not so sure we won't exceed it. Certainly we would prefer not to. It's not so much the dollars this year. It's more about the tax rate growing if it happens a second and third time. For a rather modest amount, we'd rather not go into that level this year because all it means is you have unproductive payroll. If you're paying a tax, it takes away from the money you can pay a player. It really has very little to do with this year.
"But we're close enough that we may have done it this year. If we're fortunate enough to be in the postseason and pay out bonus performances, we could go over. We're closer than I ever thought we would be, and we owe that to the support of our fans. The fact that we've enjoyed this attendance is what has enabled us to get there."
Q: You always hear about the success of sports teams going in cycles. Do you believe you can sustain this success the way the Yankees and Red Sox have and the way the Braves did for more than a decade?
Montgomery: "I do believe it still goes in cycles. I think the Braves showed that. They went strong for 14 years, but then they retooled very effectively. Look at all the turnover they've had and now have the emergence of Freddie Freeman and all those young pitchers. It's pretty incredible. They would be the model we're trying to follow. If you have that nice run, see if you can't get back their pretty quickly. I think the only way we measure up to the Yankees and the Red Sox is in terms of fan support. We're quite a few world championships short of the Yankees, and our run is not nearly the length the Red Sox have had."
Q: Local TV revenue is always cited as a major reason for the success of the Yankees and Red Sox? Have you ever considered the idea of your own network?
Montgomery: "I think there are other differences, but clearly on the revenue side, that's the biggest difference, whether you're talking about the YES Network or NESN. In the case of the Yankees, they also have a very, very rich history . . . and the Red Sox have a very, very broad geographic region."
Q: But would you consider your own network?
Montgomery: "We're under contract with Comcast for a long time [five more seasons], and we're very happy with our partnership with them."
Q: Speaking of Boston, Joe Banner recently compared the Eagles' free-agent signing frenzy to how the Red Sox operate. Offended?
Montgomery: "No. Where did Joe grow up? If he's thinking about baseball, he grew up in New England, and he followed that franchise closely. He picked a good model to follow and identified the Red Sox."
Q: What do you think when you hear that there is a perpetual rift between the Phillies and Eagles?
Montgomery: "I think that's way, way overrated. I actually believe that Joe and I worked together quite hard on our respective new stadiums, and I have tremendous respect for him. Mike Stiles [Phillies senior vice president of administration and operations] and Richard Deats [Phillies vice president of enterprises] work very well together with Don Smolenski [Eagles chief operating officer].
"There was a period when nobody had won that we were all anxious to be the first franchise to do it, sure. I really do believe that the reason sports in our community are such a success is because we have each other. That's the tide that rises all ships."
Q: You have season tickets to the Eagles. How often do you go?
Montgomery: "I've had them since 1974. My two boys are more frequent attenders than I am. The last few years we've been playing more than half of their regular season. At one time, I parked cars on Walnut Street over at Franklin Field. I am always hoping they do well."
Contact staff writer Bob Brookover
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