Richard J. Phillips Sr., whose notoriety as general counsel of major league baseball's umpires obscured the fact that with little transport experience he transformed a moribund company into one of the country's largest privately held freight forwarders, died Friday at his home in Cape May, N.J. He was 72.
The cause of death was cardiac arrest, according to a published report.
Phillips represented major league umpires from 1978 to 1999 as general counsel and executive director. During that time, he elevated the pay and the stature of the rank-and-file. But his tenure ended disastrously when he convinced the umpires to resign on Sept. 2, 1999. He thought the action would make them eligible for millions of dollars in severance pay and would pressure baseball owners into negotiating a new contract. Umpires feared baseball would fire them on Dec. 31, 1999, when their contract expired; the umpires contract prohibited strikes.
But baseball called Phillips' bluff. Owners accepted the resignations of all 50 umpires who signed resignation letters and were selective in re-hiring those who had changed their minds. Remaining vacancies were filled with minor league umpires. The umpires union was eventually decertified, and Phillips was out of work.
FROM UMPIRES TO AIR FREIGHT
In 1990, he became counsel of Pilot Air Freight Corp., an air freight forwarder based in the Philadelphia suburb of Lima, Pa., that franchised out most of its operations. Pilot had already made a name for itself by providing next-day deliveries of umpiring equipment to stadiums in the United States and Canada. That relationship triggered Phillips' involvement with the company.
He was named chairman and CEO in 1994 after leading a restructuring program that effectively gave him one-half ownership of the company. In 1995, he replaced John J. Edwards as president. Edwards had joined the company in 1972 as a franchise owner in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.
In 1993, Pilot lost $3 million on revenue of $78 million. Following the restructuring, refinancing, and ownership change, the company in 1994 posted a $4 million profit on revenues of $94 million.
Phillips became Pilot's sole owner in 2003 after buying out his partners. His son, Richard G. Phillips Jr., is president and CEO. His daughter, Stephanie, is chief marketing officer.
The company announced on its website last February that it exceeded $500 million in annual revenue in 2012, the first time it crossed that threshold. The company goes beyond the name of Pilot Freight Services, a reflection of its multimodal capabilities.