David Montgomery Doesn’t Want to Rebuild Because Attendance Will Fall

One of the items I wrote about over the weekend at HardballTalk involved Phillies president David Montgomery and his reluctance to rebuild. Kevin Cooney of the Bucks County Courier Times reported that Montgomery worries about falling attendance when considering blowing up the team.

“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.”David Montgomery via Kevin Cooney, Bucks County Courier Times

The only problem is that attendance has already fallen since the Phillies have begun losing.

  • 2009 (year after winning the World Series)
    • 3,600,693 total (3rd in MLB)
    • 44,453 per game (3rd)
  • 2010 (year after losing the World Series)
    • 3,777,322 (1st in MLB)
    • 44,968 per game (2nd)
  • 2011 (year after losing the NLCS)
    • 3,680,718 (1st in MLB)
    • 45,441 per game (1st)
  • 2012 (year after losing the NLDS)
    • 3,565,718 (1st in MLB)
    • 44,021 per game (1st)
    • 3.12 percent decline in total attendance from the previous year
  • 2013 (year after finishing at .500)
    • 3,012,403 (8th in MLB)
    • 37,190 per game (8th)
    • 15.5 percent decline in total attendance from the previous year
  • 2014 (year after finishing 73-89)
    • 1,369,694 (9th in MLB)
    • 30,438 per game (13th)
    • Prorated: about 2.5 million total (about a 17 percent decline in total attendance from the previous year)

According to Baseball Reference, the Phillies have seen the largest drop in average attendance among all 30 teams in baseball, seeing 8,230 fewer fans per game. The Toronto Blue Jays have seen the next-largest decline, at 4,171 fewer fans.

The Phillies’ current situation is partially a result of the front office’s unwillingness to rebuild previously, to continue to attempt to win with an aging, injury prone core of players. To refuse to do so any longer would only intensify the hurt they’re feeling at the box office. They’re not going to win with 36-year-olds Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz; 35-year-old Ryan Howard; and 34-year-old Jonathan Papelbon. (And let’s not forget 37-year-old Marlon Byrd.) It’s historically unprecedented for such an old team to reach a high level of success, not to mention one with all of the injury worries the Phillies have accrued.

Rebuilding is bad-tasting medicine that the Phillies front office is simply going to have to swallow if they want to have fans to attract to the ballpark in the future. It will be tough to see familiar faces go, but we should be seeing Papelbon, Byrd, and A.J. Burnett (and Rollins and Utley if they can talk them into waiving their 10-and-5 rights) moved by the trade deadline. Lee could be moved by the August 31 waiver deadline if he comes back strong, but he could also be moved just as easily in the off-season. The Phillies should take anything they can get for Howard, Ruiz, and Kyle Kendrick.

It was at least somewhat understandable when the Phillies refused to accept defeat two seasons ago. But now? The doe-eyed optimism is no longer cute — it’s delusional. It’s time to rebuild.

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14 comments

  1. Renmiked

    July 01, 2014 07:58 AM

    In reality, this organization had an unusual successful period because they hired outside of their team and were given a massive amount of money via public funding of the ballpark. Without the public money they would’ve never been able to hire Gillick, because they still would’ve been mired in the small market mentality.
    This organization has always been more comfortable selling gimmicks and sideshows, see the Phanatic, over quality. Montgomery is no different than Giles, other than having more revenue to work with because of the ball park and now the Comcast deal, he’s another smiling face that the local media loves even if he is the biggest culprit in the organizations failings.

    • Beez Nutz

      July 01, 2014 08:22 AM

      I agree with the first paragraph … not so much the second.

      I cant really knock Montgomery’s thinking on this, he has bosses too ya know. Nobody likes losing money and that’s exactly what we are asking the phillies ownership to do. I just think the facts are too overwhelming now, they’ll start tearing this down.

  2. tom b

    July 01, 2014 09:00 AM

    i agree that rebuilding is the way to go, but being that you are going to get next to nothing for most of those guys and there is nothing in the minors,you’re looking at a 76ers type few years coming. wouldn’t bother me but it won’t work like a marlins rebuild. they are bright enough to sell high. phils buy high,locked into long contracts, and then either sell low or do nothing. only player i see getting real prospects for is hamels and even then you probably have to eat part of his contract. between a rock and a hard place

  3. Beez Nutz

    July 01, 2014 09:17 AM

    I dont think they need to eat any money at all to land quality prospects for Hamels. Nor should they.

    Lee maybe you eat some to improve the quality of prospects. However, if he comes back and pitches well they should be able to get something good for him.

    These are not rentals and they are not guys showing anything but elite ability still. Just because they’ve botched the other trades doesn’t mean they cant get good prospects.

    Heck, even Byrd should bring at least 1 decent prospect back.

  4. Carmine

    July 01, 2014 09:22 AM

    There will always be the front runners who only want to come out to see a winner. There are also the 20-somethings who come to drink beer, hang out and “be seen” at a happening place in town. These groups are the first to drop off. I think there is enough of a core of real baseball fans that will appreciate the effort to build a better team and come watch them grow, if (a huge if with Amaro in charge) they can identify, obtain and develop the young talent that would constitute a serious effort to get better, not just a salary dump. However, given the franchise’s recent track record, that is far from certain. I actually would rather watch the current team play out the string and rebuild in the offseason rather than hold a midseason fire sale. The record of teams obtaining real value at the July 31 deadline is much worse than in the offseason — unless of course the team with whom you are trading is the Phillies (see Astros, Houston, 2011 and Mariners, Seattle, 2009) Amaro literally got nothing for Victorino and Pence in 2012, and the outfield has been a horror show ever since. Why should we trust him to trade whatever value is in the rotation or in the infield? If you want to see empty seats, let’s have Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez (or whatever other below replacement level players are out there) as our double play combination for the rest of 2014 and 2015. Chase Utley would help the Giants or A’s tremendously, but the Giants’ farm system is thin, and Billy Beane would fleece Amaro so badly it would be pathetic. The Tigers could use Jimmy Rollins, but they too have depleted their farm system. What other teams could a) afford these guys or b) be attractive enough destinations to get them to waive their trade rights? The only possibility I could see is to trade Burnett to Baltimore, but I do not know what the Orioles might offer in return — certainly they don’t have excess pitching.

  5. Bob

    July 01, 2014 10:35 AM

    My interest in the Phillies is starting to wane this year because I don’t believe the organization is making sound personnel decisions. I’ve been more focused on the Sixers, despite it being the off-season for them, because I like the intellectual, analytics-based approach its GM has taken.

    I think the Phils, particularly Montgomery, are delusional at this point. Fans are smarter and better informed than ever and are less likely to be bamboozled by front office propaganda and poor, confounding decision-making. For instance, all of the analytics experts predicted a bad year for the Phillies, but the organization, itself, trumpeted the fact that we had all of these stars of yester-year who were due for strong, come-back campaigns. Based on what? The human gut is meant to process foodstuffs; not make baseball decisions.

    The Phils added pieces at random with no forethought for the future and, now, that it starts to crumble, they keep digging themselves deeper and deeper into the abyss. The decision-makers are out of touch with how to construct a modern team using statistical analysis and still refuse to convert. They’d rather troll the fanbase by going on TV and pretending to be ignorant about PAs. Until they start making thoughtful decisions, I’ll continue to view them as playing checkers while the rest of the league – minus the D-backs – are playing chess.

    • George Callanan

      July 01, 2014 09:32 PM

      The only approach the Sixers GM took was to trash the entire team, except for Young to get high draft picks. Basketball all you need is five starters and two bench players. Baseball you need a team of 25 all contributing. The Sixers since 2002 have won nothing. The Phillies have won a World Series, lost a World Series, lost a NLCS, won a 102 games in a season. Sam Heinke did not accomplish much with Houstan. He will get a few high draft picks again next year because his 2 first round picks are not going to play. The strategy he is implementing is obvious. The big question I have is couldn’t anyone purposely trash a team to get high drafts? The answer is yes. If it works some will call him a genius. I won’t.

      • Bob

        July 01, 2014 11:32 PM

        You misunderstand. I’m talking about a thoughtful, analytical approach of evaluating talent to build a sustained, long-term championship team. Tanking is but one strategy or approach to achieve that end. It can be employed effectively given the right circumstances and is probably best employed when a team has limited finances to attract free agents or invest in international scouting or there is a transcendent player at the top of the draft. But, as Bill pointed out in another post, tanking probably isn’t the best approach for the Phillies given their advantage in resources.

      • George Callanan

        July 02, 2014 06:44 AM

        Bob every GM’s job is to take a thoughtful, analytical approach of evaluating talent. That’s what they do except Amaro. Then you say tanking is best employed when a team has limited finances to attract free agents. Sixers by no means have limited finances. Outside of Young they have an incredibly low payroll. Heinke is purposely losing to get high draft picks. We will see if his picks work. The Edmonton Oilers for six years have been getting high draft picks and they still stink. Heinke said yesterday he does not like to give many interviews. That is a bad sign. It is an indicator that he does not want to be held accountable to his actions.

  6. Jim

    July 01, 2014 01:15 PM

    Has Amaro/Montgomery been responsible for any really good acquisitions? Sincere question. Either by free agency or trade.

    • crow

      July 01, 2014 01:42 PM

      Seriously? How about the Halladay and first Cliff Lee trade? Yeah, Halladay didn’t play to his contract when he was resigned, but any GM who could have afforded him would have made that trade. The second Lee trade screwed up the first, but he was an incredible bargain when they got him? And which of the prospects that they traded have become exceptional MLers? People will say those guys wanted to come, and that’s true. But they were traded for and people like you ate it up.

      • Jim

        July 02, 2014 01:02 PM

        It was just a straight up question nimrod.

  7. SteveH

    July 01, 2014 02:23 PM

    The organization needs to realize if they can get a few prospects that might excite us we will be interested. Trotting out a bad team night in and night out does not excite us at all. The interesting thing about all of this, and please someone correct me if I am wrong, is that even though I agree they keep Lee too long, there was no rumored deal from last year that was any good. Here’s to hoping Rubes can get us 3 good prospects for the 10ish guys we should be willing to move.

  8. Gabe

    July 01, 2014 03:19 PM

    I love watching baseball, but the Phillies are hard to watch. Even when Cole is pitching it is irritating to see a good start wasted. I do not know how many time I’ve seen a man in scoring position with zero outs and not push the runner across.

    Irritating Baseball^2 + (-improvement) + (-prospects) = less bottoms in the seats

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