PHILADELPHIA -- Ruly Carpenter was a third-generation Phillies owner who learned enough about baseball at an early age to know that championship organizations are built from the ground up. He convinced his father to hire Paul Owens to run the Phillies’ Minor League operations in the mid-1960s, a decision that ultimately led the Phillies to their first World Series title in 1980.
Carpenter died on Monday at age 81.
Carpenter sold the Phillies following the 1981 season because he believed his family could not keep up with rising player salaries. But even after he sold the Phillies, the Delaware native continued to follow them on a daily basis.
“I watch most every game,” Carpenter told Scott Lauber in the book “The Big 50: Phillies.” “Once you get addicted to baseball, it’s kind of hard to turn your back on it.”
Baseball was a family affair for Ruly and the Carpenter family for nearly four decades. Robert R.M. Carpenter Sr. was a DuPont executive who married into the DuPont family. He bought the Phillies for $400,000 in 1943. He named his son, Bob Carpenter Jr., team president. Carpenter Jr. became principal owner in 1949, when his father died.
Ruly, who lettered in football and baseball at Yale, started to work for the Phillies in 1963.
Ruly had a keen interest in player development, which is the backbone of any winning franchise. He spent his early years with the Phillies working on the business side of the team’s Minor League operations. It is there he met Owens and future farm director and Phillies manager Dallas Green.
“I was able to see firsthand how bad our farm system was,” Ruly said in “The Big 50.” “I took care of the paperwork in the office, but I really got to know Paul and some of the other managers and had a firsthand experience as to what our problems were.”
Ruly told his father then that he needed to put Owens in charge of player development. He did.
The Phillies started scouting better. They started drafting better. They started developing better. They found players like Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Greg Luzinski, Manny Trillo and others.
Those players became the core of the 1980 championship team.
Owens became the Phillies’ general manager in June 1972. Ruly became team president in November 1972, when his father retired. Ruly was 32 at the time, making him the youngest team president in baseball.
The Phillies won three consecutive National League East titles from 1976-78. They won the World Series in 1980. The morning of Game 6 of the 1980 World Series, everybody wondered how the city would respond if the Phillies won their first championship in franchise history.
Would the city survive?
Would Veterans Stadium?
“Hell, when they tore old Connie Mack Stadium up, I saw guys in three-piece suits carrying toilets out of the men’s room,” Carpenter said in “You Can’t Lose ‘Em All. “
The Phillies won that night. The city and the stadium survived.
The Phillies made the postseason again in 1981 before Carpenter sold the team to Bill Giles and a group of investors for $30.175 million. Carpenter was tired of spending most of his time worrying about payroll, talking to agents and dealing with labor issues. The free agent contract that famously pushed him over the top and convinced him to sell was Claudell Washington’s five-year, $3.5 million contract with the Braves.
That said, Carpenter previously made Schmidt the highest-paid player in baseball and signed Pete Rose as a free agent before the 1979 season.
Players were stunned and devastated when Carpenter announced his plans to sell the team in March 1981. Many of them grew up with him. They considered Carpenter a peer, more than the team’s president and owner.
“We welcomed his presence in the clubhouse and always thought of him as a teammate or an equal and he treated us the same way,” Steve Carlton said.
“Ruly loved to come down in our locker room after a game and turn a chair around, sit down and talk baseball with the players,” Larry Christenson said.
“He meant so much to so many people and his commitment to the city of Philadelphia and the Phillies will never be forgotten,” Larry Bowa said.
Said Phillies managing partner John Middleton: “Ruly Carpenter was a consummate professional sports team owner. A third-generation local businessman, he believed in developing not just your players from within, but also your front office. Ruly was the driving force in promoting both Paul Owens and Dallas Green, and collectively, the three oversaw one of the greatest eras in Phillies history. … Ruly’s influence has been and will continue to be felt for decades in the Delaware Valley. On behalf of the Buck and Middleton families, I extend my deepest condolences to the Carpenters.”