Robert Ruliph Morgan Carpenter III. That's a name, not an infield. An owner to the manor born if there ever was one.
Grandson of R.R.M. Carpenter Sr., the DuPont Corporation patriarch who bought the Philadelphia Phillies in 1943, young Ruly was raised on a full-size diamond conveniently located on the family's front lawn. As a 17-year-old pitcher, he bet his father, Bob Carpenter, $5 that he could hold three Phillie hitters—Roy Smalley, Woody Smith and Joe Lonnett—to less than four runs in three innings. And he won, allowing only two, on a homer by Lonnett.
But that accomplishment cut no ice at Yale, where he captained the baseball team and played football (he was called the "world's richest end"). "My classmates always used to razz me about how bad the Phillies were," Carpenter says. "And I'd say, 'O.K., guys, someday maybe I'll be in charge, and we can turn the thing around.' " He got his chance in 1972 when, after a fitting apprenticeship, he became, at 32, the youngest owner in the major leagues.
Now, four years and one divisional title later, no one is razzing Ruly Carpenter. It only feels that way. "Yes, we turned the team around," he says. "I knew in my heart that we could. But the haggling has taken a lot of the fun out of it. I mean, those astronomical salaries. Pretty soon we're going to have the Six Million Dollar Man. Where does it all end? We have one of the highest payrolls in the National League, and still we're not able to satisfy all our players."
Known as a player's owner, Carpenter compensates the Phils in other ways. He gets involved to a point just short of taking the mound himself. He attends batting practice. He frequently travels with the team. Trading on his youth, he is always in the clubhouse mixing with the players and organizing family junkets. When transcendental meditation became the clubhouse rage, he took lessons and chanted his mantra right along with the players. "Ruly understands the modern generation," says Manager Danny Ozark.
Carpenter also defends his charges, lashing out at the local press at the first drop of a disparaging word. "When they attack my people, I attack back," he says, tugging at the Yale bulldog needlepointed on his belt. "I've never come in contact with anyone like him," Infielder Dave Cash once said. "He's a member of the team."
But now Cash has taken the free-agent express to Montreal for $1 million and change, and Ruly feels jilted. "I try to be fair," he laments. "I'm not trying to gouge anyone." In 1974, when the Phils turned a profit for the first time in five seasons, he blew the $100,000 net on bonuses to his staff. He says, "We're at a point now where we have to draw close to 2.3 million people to break even [1976 attendance was 2,480,150]. There's just got to be a limit to how much a player is worth."
Though the family fortune is estimated at $100 million, Carpenter fears that an escalation of the bidding war could result in the haves stripping the have-nots clean. "There's no way the Carpenter family can compete with an Augie Busch, a Ray Kroc or the Wrigleys," he says. Still, he is confident that the barons of beer, burgers and chewing gum will not take unfair advantage, if only in deference to their bank accounts. As it is, says Carpenter, "Someone has to suffer for the superstars' salaries. First it will be the marginal player, the utility guy. He will get less. Then we will get down to the bottom line—ticket prices. They will go up."
And then down will come the wrath of the fans, Carpenter predicts, right on the heads of the politicians who are calling for an end to baseball's antitrust exemption. "Some people in Washington don't understand these facts," he says. "We have to make them aware that fans are voters, that it could cost an election.
"Sure, I know the reserve system had to change. It was obvious that everything was in the owner's corner. But now the balance has shifted, and I'm spending most of my time in legal proceedings. What I really dislike is having my destiny controlled by outside forces. Instead of lawyers and politicians, the owners and players have got to take a more active role in solving our problems.