A few years ago, David Montgomery and I were having a conversation. Montgomery was wrapping up a 17-year run as Phillies club president and transitioning into an emeritus role with the ball club. I asked him how he wanted to be remembered.
I thought David's answer would be something along the lines of spearheading the construction of Citizens Bank Park, one of the most beautiful ballparks in the land, or being at the helm when the franchise rose to the top of the baseball world, winning the 2008 World Series.
David's answer was neither and at first that surprised me. But the more I thought about it, and the more I think about it now, it shouldn't have surprised me.
For if you knew David Montgomery, you knew a man of great humility – and a man of great humanity -- a man who always deflected attention from himself and was dedicated to giving back to the hometown he loved so much through the sport that had given him so much.
In partnership with NBC Sports Philadelphia
"It's about the people," he often said.
Philadelphia has lost a great one. David Montgomery died on Wednesday morning after a courageous and inspiring battle of nearly five years with cancer. A proud Philadelphian from Roxborough, Montgomery was 72. He was educated at Penn Charter, Penn and in the seats of Connie Mack Stadium, where he used to study Richie Ashburn's slide into bases (then practice it at home) and show up early just to watch Roberto Clemente throw in warm-ups when the Pirates were in town. Montgomery started working for his hometown team in the ticket sales office in 1971. He rose to club president and part owner in 1997, but never forgot his roots.
One day back in the late 90's, after he had become club president, a woman approached him on the concourse at Veterans Stadium.
"I remember you when you were just a little ticket seller," the woman said.
"I still am just a little ticket seller," he responded.
When you consider what pro sports are all about, he was probably right.
But David Montgomery was so much more than a guy who sold tickets, got a ballpark built, watched a championship team come to flower and negotiated a big TV deal that will help the ball club stay competitive for decades.
For some, the word "friend" is just another word in the dictionary. For David, the word was gold, as important to him as the air he breathed. There were times when he'd do something nice for someone -- countless times, actually – and that person would try to express their thanks and he'd stop them and say, "I'm your friend."
He wanted no thanks. He wasn't just from the City of Brotherly Love. He lived the concept. He was an amazing example of what a good man should be.
With David Montgomery, it was always about someone else. But in November, it was about him and it was beautiful. The city dedicated his boyhood ball field in his honor. It was a wonderful gesture of thanks for all the good that he'd done for the community. On that day, Montgomery paid special thanks to his family and to Bill Giles, the man who brought him into the game nearly a half-century ago.
The 2008 World Series title was the high point of Montgomery's time running the Phillies. But I'm still not sure who he was happier for when the Phillies won it all, the fans who he had once sat amongst and now sold-out Citizens Bank Park each night, or Charlie Manuel, the salt-of-the-earth skipper who got kicked around like an old football early in his time as manager only to ride down Broad Street as a champion. Remember the rally at the ballpark after that parade? Remember what Montgomery did at the rally? He led the crowd in chants of "Charlie! … Charlie! … Charlie!" and it was awesome.
Montgomery was always thinking about someone else and that showed in the way he ran the ball club. Yes, wins and losses mattered above all else. That's why the championship of 2008 felt so good and the lean years hurt so badly. But Montgomery believed that the organization's responsibility transcended what happened on the field. Maybe it was because he was a hometown kid in love with all things Philly. Maybe it was the way he was raised because he frequently mentioned the blessing of his parents and his upbringing. Whatever the reason – and thank God it existed – David Montgomery was supremely committed to the community, giving back to it, making it a little better. He made that a mandate for the organization and the Phillies' role as a charitable giant in the community is a tribute to him and the people with whom he surrounded himself.
I've always loved a story that former mayor Ed Rendell tells. One hot summer, the city was struggling to come up with the funds needed to open some community swimming pools. Rendell called his buddy Montgomery and the Phillies stepped in and helped to get the pools open for the kids.
There are many more of these stories told by fans, people who work for the Phillies or just regular folks who benefited from the sense of community inspired by Montgomery.
Here's another story about David Montgomery that I love. I witnessed it. In the summer of 2014, the Taney Little League team from South Philadelphia made an inspiring run to the Little League World Series in Williamsport. David was very sick that summer but never took a day off. (In baseball terms, he was a gamer. He was a fixture at the ballpark throughout his illness, including this spring in Florida.) That Taney Little League team embodied so much of what Montgomery loved – Philadelphia, the community, kids and baseball – that he refused to take a day off until he could get that group of kids to Citizens Bank Park for a pre-game honor that none of them will ever forget. I can still see David, wearing a Taney Little League shirt, high-fiving every one of those kids.
Soon after, Montgomery did take a day off to take care of himself. And soon after that, he transitioned into the role of club chairman. In spring training 2018, the owners of the club recognized Montgomery's contributions to the franchise by naming the indoor training facility in Clearwater in his honor. The David P. Montgomery Baseball Performance Center sits on the same plot of land that is dotted with fields and buildings bearing the names of Carpenter, Owens, Schmidt, Carlton, Ashburn and Roberts. David Montgomery's name fits nicely with all of those franchise icons.
So getting back to that question I asked David several years ago, the one about how he wanted to be remembered. A baseball man who got a stadium built and won a World Series would have been a great, fitting and lasting answer, something to be proud of, something on which to hang your hat.
But David's answer was so much more than that.
"There's a statue of John Wanamaker outside of City Hall," he told me. "Next time you ride by, look at the word under it. That's all I tried to be. That's how I want to be remembered."
The next time I rode by City Hall, I looked for the statue.
I found the word.
Thank you, David Montgomery. You indeed were a great one.