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A Brand New Ballgame

by Jeff Lyons

Fall 2001, Vol. 64, No. 3

Michael R. Stiles has worn a number of different hats in his career. He was a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office for twelve years. From 1982 to 1983, he served as first assistant district attorney of Philadelphia. He served on the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County from 1983 to 1993. During his last five years on the bench, he was assigned to hear homicide cases exclusively and also served as the Homicide Calendar judge, supervising the assignment of all murder trials in Philadelphia. In September 1993, he was nominated by President Clinton to be the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and took office in November 1993, a post he held until the spring of 2001.

Now Stiles wears a Phillies hat. He was hired by Phillies President David Montgomery to be vice president for operations and administration. He works with the people who have the day-to-day job of making sure everything is ready for every home game at Veterans Stadium. Part of his responsibility involves planning and helping to plan for personnel growth for the new ballpark, scheduled to open in South Philadelphia in time for the 2004 season. Stiles has been on the job since April. At the time of this interview, the Phillies were in first place of the National League East, leading the division by six games.

Q: Has anyone made the connection between your starting time here and the Phillies good start? Are you some kind of good-luck talisman? Do the players come by and rub your head for good luck?

A: The players don't, but there is great superstition in sports teams and sports operations. If one person has said it, fifty people have said it, "Hey, you're the new guy, you're responsible for this turnaround." And I tell everybody I encourage those discussions, except when I'm around Larry Bowa. I'm not around Larry Bowa very much.

Q: Do you have any superstitions?

A: I don't really think I have anything to do with it. I am a pretty lucky person, but it's a fun thing to talk about. I have not, so far, fallen into the superstitious trap of driving the same way to work after a win. There are people here who do that. Now, I have to say, we've been winning so much since I started that you almost don't think about superstitions. Probably, if I took I-95 on three days and we lost those three days, and I took the expressway on three days and we won on those three days, I'd probably start driving the expressway (laughing), as crazy as that sounds. But we've been winning so much it's hard to figure out what the superstition is.

Q: Has there been any discussion for sponsorship of the stadium or a name or how much money that's going to bring in?

A: Those discussions are not far enough along for me to be telling you what the ballpark is going to be named or who the sponsors are. But obviously, we are actively engaged and interested in seeking interested sponsors. In terms of signage and naming rights, those are all things that I'm not directly responsible for and are not at a stage to be decided.

Q: Who's going to have the nicer ballpark? The Phillies or the Eagles?

A: The Phillies. Clearly.

Q: Did you play baseball growing up or in high school or college? Little League?

A: I played Little League, I played pre-Little League and my baseball career ended in about junior high. I played football. I was actually a 145-pound guard and captain of my football team at Upper Dublin High School (in Fort Washington, Montgomery County). Luckily enough, it was a pretty small inter-county league, I think it was called, so you could get away with being a 145-pound guard. I think they've added about 100 pounds to the line now. I was always interested in sports, but I'd have to say more as a fan than as a participant, particularly in baseball. It is one of the many thrills of this job, not being a participant but able to be directly involved. Not on the mound obviously or the playing field, but in an operational sense and a business sense. I literally just came from sitting with our general manager, scouts and advisors from the amateur draft.

There's a whole war room downstairs set up in the Eagles locker room. I got to watch that. I got to go down there the other day while they were setting up and I got to meet the scouts, and I listened to them talk among themselves about who they liked and who they're not crazy about. That's just absolutely fascinating, as are so many aspects of this. But I can't say that I'm here because of any expertise or prowess on the baseball diamond.

Q: What position did you play?

A: I pitched. I have a recollection of pitching, but I can't give you any batting average. I'm sure it was above .000. It was a long time ago.

Q: What are the biggest differences between your former job as U.S. Attorney and this job? They're two wildly different fields. You're not missing the federal red tape too much, are you?

A: I'm not missing it at all. I'm missing parts of the job. I'm missing the people because I made great friendships in the U.S. Attorney's Office and the federal law enforcement community. But I'm making great friendships here. So it's not anything that's a burden in terms of missing it. I'm certainly not missing the federal red tape. But I'm literally having the time of my life. I'm so pleased with the change that I really can't point to anything that's bad about the decision I made or the change. Though, to be honest, there is a difference between being the absolute, number-one guy in charge of an office like you really are in the U.S. Attorney's Office, and being a vice president. The ultimate decisions are not made by me, they're made by David Montgomery. But that's the difference. You're not in charge of everything.

Managing people is not very different. When I started in the United States Attorney's Office, I interviewed every employee there individually. I did that here. Every full-time employee, I just finished that last week. We met for half an hour or more and we talked about how long they've been here and what they do and how it fits in with what everybody else does. There's a similarity there. I did not have a litigator's job in the U.S. Attorney's Office. I had a manager's job. The substance of the business, though, is very different.

Q: When you were growing up, did you collect baseball cards?

A: Yes, but I was not an avid collector and secondly, did not save one of them.

Q: Who was your favorite player when you were a kid?

A: It's funny. I guess Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons were. I loved the Phillies and they were the pitchers when I was little that I paid attention to with the Whiz Kids. I see Curt Simmons almost every Saturday because I play golf out at Limekiln Golf Course, which he owns. Robin Roberts' son runs it, as well. Robin Roberts Sr. and Curt Simmons own it. It's funny how decades later, I see Curt.

Q: If you see yourself as a ballplayer, what position would you play? What position suits your personality and demeanor?

A: Probably some utility infielder, not with a great big swagger or a great big bat, but able to get a number of jobs done in a number of different capacities.

Q: Do you think Philadelphia sports fans get a bad rap? They have a reputation of being really harsh.

A: I don't know about harsh. This doesn't have anything to do with working for the Phillies for eight weeks, but in general, I think they're pretty knowledgeable, they're avid fans. There are a lot of things that you want if you have a sports franchise in this town because that can translate into attendance. But they're demanding, and they have a right to be. And I don't know that nationally we're looked upon as the worst fans in the country. There are the age-old stories of fans throwing snowballs at Santa Claus, and that's overdone. I think we've got a great market here, and we've got fans that will be critical and will scrutinize you. But if you give them a good product, ultimately, they're going to turn out. And I said ultimately because it's taken us a little while this year to get the fans back out. And again, I'm no expert on this and I don't profess to be an expert after eight weeks. We're talking about a timeline. We had better attendance than we're doing right now and logic can say, "How can that be? You had a last-place team last year, you have a first-place team this year." I think the reason is because last year there were high expectations for the team and people came out initially and they were disappointed. That cuts into the beginning of this year because fans, in essence, are saying, "You disappointed us last year, we're not coming out again until you prove to us that you're for real." I also think there's a focus on the Sixers now and I think we are proving we're for real and I think we're going to catch up and pass last year's attendance.

Q: Are you finding you're a lot more popular now that you're in this job? Are old classmates popping up and asking for tickets?

A: (Laughing) I'm not finding that. I have people who call. Maybe there have been a couple of occasions. But there have been very few occasions where I thought people were presumptuous in terms of making requests. The opposite is kind of true. I'm encouraging friends to come on out and see me, come down to the ballpark, things like that. There were a couple of comments right when I started, you know, "Are you the guy to go to for free tickets?" and I sort of had a stock answer. No, I'm the guy trying to improve the Phillies' bottom line, not give away free tickets.

Q: In your eight weeks, have you caught a foul ball yet?

A: A foul ball came into the executive box one night when I was up there. David Montgomery kind of mishandled it. But he didn't have a clear shot at it. But I haven't gotten one yet.

Q: What kind of hours are you putting in? You said you're here for the games at night.

A: I'm here from 8:30 or 9 o'clock in the morning until the game is over when they're at home. When they're on the road, I'm getting home at a more decent time. In May, we had an awful lot of games at home. We had a full two-week stretch where we were home every night. And I was dragging physically, but mentally, it doesn't feel like work. It's so different and new. But if I were working at a law firm from 8:30 in the morning until 11 at night consistently for two weeks, you'd have to scrape me off the sidewalk. That's just not the way it feels here. And hopefully that won't change.

Q: Do you ever see yourself going back into the legal field?

A: After eight weeks here, the answer is no. Who knows what the future holds? As I said, I am thrilled with my work experience here and the responsibilities given to me. Just the newness and excitement of all this is very stimulating and very rejuvenating. And that's being said by somebody who's come from very interesting jobs in the law that I very much liked. But this is a great change. It's been a great opportunity. I don't now envision going back to the practice of law. But you know, anything can happen.