Building a team for a new ballpark

April 11th, 2024

It’s hard to believe that we’re in the midst of the 20th season of Citizens Bank Park. It seems such a short time ago that those of us in the Phillies front office were packing up our belongings at Veterans Stadium prior to its implosion and our move to the beautiful new ballpark.

Years before the first shovel went into the ground in June of 2001, signaling the construction of Citizens Bank Park, two blueprints were being created.

One of those blueprints laid out the plans and dreams of the dedicated ownership group made up of the Middleton, Buck and Betz family along with those of Bill Giles, David Montgomery. Those dreams were of building a ballpark which would not just be state-of-the-art, but one that would be the envy of every other team and a model which other cities would attempt to replicate. Their dreams mirrored those of millions of diehard and loyal Phillies fans.

The other blueprint should have been labeled: “Get Good and Stay Good.” It entailed building teams capable of sustained success with the goal of not only participating in a lot of “Red Octobers,” but bringing home World Series trophies to Philadelphia.

As scores of architects, iron workers, concrete experts, and electricians were hard at work on the dissembling of Veterans Stadium and the construction of Citizens Bank Park, our Baseball Operations staff was striving to assemble teams that could compete year in and year out at the highest levels of Major League Baseball.

The elements of that task involved assembling a strong amateur scouting staff along with a knowledgeable and aggressive professional scouting department. The plan called for what we referred to as “The Phillies Way.” It meant having a player development apparatus designed to mold players who were prepared to play the game the right way, whether it was at the lowest levels of our minor league system or at the big-league level in front of sellout crowds. The plan was embraced at every level of our player development system, starting at the top with our Manager Larry Bowa and saluted by the likes of veteran advisors Paul Owens, Dallas Green and Ruben Amaro Sr.

We believed that the cornerstone of that “Get Good and Stay Good” effort would be our ability to have a steady stream of homegrown players who could move through the farm system and become frontline big leaguers for the Phillies; we also wanted to develop surplus prospects who could be converted into attractive trade pieces. The results of that approach can be measured by the players who Scouting Director Mike Arbuckle, his assistant Marti Wolever and Latin American Scouting Supervisor Sal Agostinelli and their staffs assembled over the years. Here is only a partial list of some of the players who had significant impact on the performances of those “Get Good and Stay Good” teams (their draft years are listed, with an asterisk indicating those who were members of the 2008 World Series Championship club):

Scott Rolen (1993)
Jimmy Rollins (1996) *
Pat Burrell (1998) *
Jason Michaels (1998)
Ryan Madson (1998) *
Brett Myers (1999) *
Marlon Byrd (1999)
Carlos Ruiz (1999) *
Chase Utley (2000) *
Ryan Howard (2001) *
Gavin Floyd (2001)
Cole Hamels (2002) *
Michael Bourn (2003)
Kyle Kendrick (2003) *
J.A. Happ (2004) *

While our homegrown talent became the foundation of our efforts, we were also able to build our talent depth through trades, free agent signings, waiver wire claims and the Rule 5 Draft. Through those various mechanisms, we acquired solid talent, some of the most notable being Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu, Billy Wagner, Kevin Millwood, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Kenny Lofton, Robert Person, Rheal Cormier, David Bell and Jon Lieber. Many of these acquisitions were made possible because of talented players who had come through our farm system, including Kevin Stocker, Randy Wolf, Nick Punto, Johnny Estrada, Brandon Duckworth and many others.

And, our efforts were buttressed by the financial support which ownership provided to us, primarily due to their commitment to Citizens Bank Park and the revenue streams which the new facility provided. Led today by John Middleton, that support and commitment is stronger than it’s ever been.

While there’s no question that the core nucleus in those early Citizens Bank Park years was homegrown, the most tangible sign of our commitment to excellence was the signing of Jim Thome.

After signing with the Cleveland Indians in 1989, Jim Thome became an icon, playing 1,377 games with the Indians while hitting 334 home runs, collecting 927 RBIs and leading The Tribe to the post season in six of the seven seasons between 1995 and 2001.

At the end of the 2002 season, Jim filed for free agency. Although we firmly believed that Jim would be an ideal fit for our 2003 club, I honestly thought our chances of signing him were slim. Assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr., who was with me on every step of our quest to build our teams, played with Jim and agreed with me that Jim’s roots in Cleveland were just too deep. That said, I still called Pat Rooney, Jim’s agent, to express our interest. Surprisingly, Pat indicated that Jim thought it was time for a change and that he would be interested in exploring a deal with the Phillies.

As negotiations progressed, we invited Jim and his wife Andrea to visit Philadelphia, and they accepted. While Citizens Bank Park was still a construction site, we had a facility across Darien Street which housed a mockup for the suites which would be available at CBP, and we believed that it would be a worthwhile part of Jim and Andrea’s tour.

At this point, our courtship of Jim was very public, and the media was aware of the visit, which meant that the fans were also aware of Jim’s planned arrival. So, when Jim and Andrea exited the limo at the construction site, John Dougherty and the members of his Local 98 Electricians Union were waiting to welcome the Thomes and urge Big Jim to become a Phillie; Jim frequently mentions how awestruck he was by “Johnny Doc’s guys,” who exhibited the passion that Philadelphia has for the Phillies.

Although Jim’s visit went well, I was still apprehensive of our chances to sign him. I knew that Cleveland was still pushing hard to retain their slugger. That said, Pat Rooney and I continued to negotiate throughout the remainder of November. Then, on the morning of December 2nd, I was sitting in my office at The Vet when my cell phone rang. It was Pat Rooney on the phone, and the first words out of his mouth were, “He’s coming.” To this day, I still get a little choked up thinking about that call.

When Pat and I concluded our call, I passed along the good news to Ruben, Mike Arbuckle, Susan Ingersoll and my other colleagues in baseball ops. I then walked across the hall and informed Bill Giles and David Montgomery. We then relayed the good news to the ownership group. This agreement helped validate all the hard work and support that they all had provided on behalf of the entire organization and our millions of fans.

As an aside, during my frequent negotiating sessions with Pat Rooney, he occasionally would mention another Indians employee who he thought would be a good fit for us. Pat told me that the guy was close to Thome. Ruben Jr. also thought highly of the individual. I filed away the name, and on January 6, 2003, I hired the “other Indian” as a special assistant. He went on to a bigger job within the Phillies. His name is Charlie Manuel.

Jim Thome did an outstanding job in his first two years with the Phillies, hitting 89 home runs and knocking in 236 runs in 2003-2004 before getting hurt in 2005 and playing in just 59 games before being traded the following spring to the White Sox.

Jim’s first two seasons in Philadelphia not only legitimized our plans and promises to our fans, they also gave us added time to continue the development of another Phillies cornerstone first baseman by the name of Ryan Howard. So, in many ways the Thome/Howard circumstance epitomized what our stated goal was because it allowed us to “GET GOOD AND STAY GOOD.’

One final note on that 2002 off-season. Along with the Thome signing, Ruben and I were meeting with, and eventually signing, David Bell to play third base. We also put a full court press on Tom Glavine, while at the same time expressing interest in pitchers Jamie Moyer and Paul Byrd; I had actually flown to Seattle and met with Jamie around midnight one night after he had finished a charity fundraising event.

Despite the fact that we rolled out the red carpet for Glavine, including a visit to the Flyers locker room, Tom’s stock was high and he was in great demand. Despite our best efforts, he eventually signed with the Mets. While we waited on Glavine, Jamie Moyer opted to re-sign with the Seattle Mariners and Paul Byrd signed with the Braves, filling Glavine’s spot in their rotation. In other words, we were shut out of the free agent starting pitching race.

But on the morning of December 20, 2002, I was on my drive to Citizens Bank Park when John Schuerholz, the General Manager of the Braves, called me. December 20 was the deadline by which teams had to tender contracts to their Major League players. If a player wasn’t tendered a contract, he would immediately become an unrestricted free agent and be eligible to sign with any team. John was calling to tell me that he was not going to offer a contract to pitcher Kevin Millwood, who was eligible for salary arbitration and coming off a season in which he had an 18-8 won-lost record, a 3.24 ERA and had pitched 217 innings. Represented by agent Scott Boras, it was easy to envision Kevin getting not only a substantial raise but also a multi-year contract.

Rather than getting no returns on a non-tender, John was calling to propose a trade which would send us Millwood in exchange for catcher Johnny Estrada, another product of our farm system and a solid prospect. If we made the deal, we wouldn’t be bidding against any other teams and would be in a position of signing Kevin to either a one-year or multi-year contract, or, possibly having his upcoming contract decided on a one-year basis through a salary arbitration case.

I told John that I was driving to the office and would call him back once I arrived. When I got to the ballpark, I quickly huddled with Dave Montgomery, Ruben Amaro and Mike Arbuckle. We all agreed that Johnny Estrada had a chance to be an everyday big league catcher, but we had Mike Lieberthal as our starting catcher and had Carlos Ruiz ascending in our minor league system. So, about 90 seconds after our short meeting ended, I called John Schuerholz back and made the deal. In my 12 years as a General Manager, it’s the only trade I ever completed in just two telephone calls.

In 2003, Kevin went 14-12 with a 4.01 ERA in 222.0 innings pitched. And, on August 27, at The Vet, he no-hit the San Francisco Giants, winning the game 1-0.

Ed Wade was the Phillies' assistant general manager from 1989-97, interim GM in December 1997 and GM from 1998-2004.