Nov 14, 2011; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies general partner, president and CEO David Montgomery (R) talks with pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (L) after a press conference at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

David Montgomery Admits On-Field Decisions Will Be Partially Determined By Attendance


The Phillies front office hasn’t given anyone much reason to hope they know what they’re doing.

David Montgomery recently said proudly that the Phillies were batting around .300 on their personnel decisions of late. Ruben Amaro has said in story after story that he has no interest in trading Cliff Lee or Jonathan Papelbon, that the Phillies still believed they were contenders in 2013.

In an interview with Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal yesterday, Montgomery agreed with Amaro that now is not the time to jump off a cliff and head into rebuilding mode.

“I guess that’s where I see it a little bit differently than the way I often hear people describe it,” Montgomery said. “I don’t believe there is a cliff you get to and say, ‘Now it’s time to jump. We’re going from one mode of operation to another.’ ”

Montgomery noted there is still a lot of season to go and that the Phillies just recently got their full lineup back on the field.

“In our eyes, it’s way too early to in any way send a signal in the clubhouse, to our fans or even to ourselves that we can’t accomplish something in 2013.”

It’s easy to rationalize Montgomery’s comments. He can’t publicly come out and say the season is over. He and Amaro have to at least pretend publicly that they still have a chance to make a run to the postseason this year.

One hopes that delusion is just for public relations and team morale, and isn’t their actual perspective on reality.

Perhaps more troublesome were Montgomery’s comments about potential motivation behind refusing to trade some of the aging star players or effective veterans like Lee and Papelbon.

“We have tremendous fan identification with members of this group,” Montgomer said. “Utley, (Jimmy) Rollins, (Ryan) Howard, Hamels, Lee, Halladay — all would be good examples — Ruiz, I could keep going.

“When you have that strong identification, when you’ve enjoyed the fan support that has resulted from that affinity, do you factor that in? Yeah. Hopefully, we’re savvy enough to factor a lot of things in. But I don’t think it makes us blind: ‘OK, we’re going to hang on to this group forever and ever.’”

“Our fans like the players not just as players but as people,” Montgomery continued. “These guys have been great being part of the community. That becomes an element. There is no question.

“Do we factor the fan support that we’ve gotten into this? Yeah. Do we believe fan identification trumps winning? No. We understand that a lot of fan identification and support we got was because of the on-field success we’ve had.”

Montgomery threw a lot of caveats into that little soliloquy, but the point he makes is an obvious one. The Phillies may refuse to trade some players because they’re worried they will take a PR hit and lose people coming to the park.

Perhaps this isn’t an earth-shattering revelation. All team presidents and executives want to continue to have people coming through the turnstiles and filling the seats. And despite attendance being down so far this year, the Phillies still rank fifth in all of baseball in attendance, averaging 38,921 fans a game.

No team president wants to lose those fans.

But it’s the job of baseball executives and members of the front office to do what is best for the product on the field. Fans want to see a winning team, not just a player who used to be good four years ago but now can’t hit the broad side of a barn.

Hopefully, the Phillies will be able to balance their need to keep attendance up and their ability to improve the play on the field. Hopefully, they will realize that if it’s in the best interests of the team’s future to trade some of the players fans have identified with positively over the last few years, they’ll do it.

Hopefully, they really do believe that winning trumps “fan identification.” Because ultimately, fans would rather see a winner.

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