Amaro Fired: A Brand New Phillies?


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Small crowds may have finished off Ruben.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is gone from the Phillies. He’s not the first major exit over the past year. He follows out Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, and even David Montgomery. While many people around Philadelphia celebrated Amaro’s dismissal yesterday, I mostly greeted it as expected, and mostly unimportant. Amaro was a symptom of problems the team had, and while he did a lot of damage from his post, I strangely can’t blame him.

You have to understand the Phillies organizational culture, and to do that, you have to go back to the early months after the 1980 World Series. The Carpenter Family had bought the Phillies in 1943, leading the team out of being the worst franchise in sports behind the 1950 Whiz Kids team. They would lead the team through becoming the only team in the city, the epic 1964 collapse, moving out of Connie Mack Stadium and into Veteran’s Stadium, and to actually being good from 1976-1980. The Phillies had won their first championship in 97 years, but the Carpenters wanted out of running the team. They were willing to sell the team over their dislike of free agency, and fears about the impending strike, even if it meant the Phillies left Philadelphia. Team employee Bill Giles formed a group of disinterested rich people and not-so-rich Phillies fans like himself and bought the team to keep it in town. Giles through in about $50k. The new Phillies ownership team formed a “family” atmosphere around the team, keeping some of the 1980 championship stars right up until they couldn’t play anymore, and continuously giving organizational jobs out to former players. Even later on, when David Montgomery took over the team as President, that trend continued. Ed Wade, a career employee of the team, took over for 1993’s mastermind Lee Thomas (otherwise a total disaster as GM, by the way). Wade would hire Ruben Amaro Jr., a former role player with the team who’s dad was a former player with the team as well. Wade would build a very solid collection of baseball players, but would be unable to get the team to the playoffs, so the Phillies fired him and went outside the organization finally to hire a new GM, Pat Gillick. Amaro would survive under that regime, and Gillick’s era would bring a World Series title. Gillick retired just weeks after that title, and Amaro was promoted from in-house to become the new GM of the team. In other words, the Phillies were still a “family” business.

Was Amaro really qualified to take over this team? No, probably not. He was handed a championship team and the top ranked minor league system in baseball. He was handed a Porsche, and wrecked it. The team went backwards every year after 2008. They lost the 2009 World Series, the 2010 NLCS, the 2011 NLDS, went .500 in 2012, fell to an 89 loss team in 2013, finished last with 89 losses in 2014, and now are on their way to 100 losses in 2015. He did this in impressive fashion. He handed out big extensions to aging stars from the 2008 team that handicapped the team’s ability to spend. He oversaw an era of absolutely terrible drafts and international signings, that left the team as a bottom third minor league system until this season. He made terrible trades when trading away Hunter Pence and Cliff Lee, not getting nearly enough value back for either. He refused to pull the trigger on a rebuild for three seasons after the 2011 playoff team, prolonging a miserable team’s decline. His talent evaluation, his payroll management, and his transactions were all awful. Amaro was not good at being GM, until possibly this season (with Gillick back as his boss), and it was born out in the results. He also should never have had the job.

I blame David Montgomery, but more so the old-school mind-set the team had, for why this happened. They were trying to run a professional sports team as a family business. Montgomery’s refusal to let the 2008 team break apart was consistent with why Montgomery hired Amaro- he’s a Phillie. I firmly believe that Amaro was limited in his ability to break up the 2008 team by Montgomery, though that might not have been a point of contention given the team culture. Amaro was a symptom of a culture where players would “retire Phillies,” and the team was interested in maintaining it’s “family” identity. Montgomery was clearly enforcing that culture on Amaro. How do we know? The minute he was gone, the Gillick regime started breaking the team up.

I’m not sad to see Amaro gone. He was a bad GM. I blame Montgomery more so for the state of this team, but Amaro was a problem that would have been there for the MacPhail team. This was a necessary move. It was a good move. I’m excited to see who replaces Amaro. I just hope it’s a break in the team’s status quo.

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