Wally Ritchie: From Government Finance to Major League Baseball: A Former Professional Baseball Player Talks about His Days in the Philadelphia Phillies and His Second Career in Local Government Finance

By Fishbein, John | Government Finance Review, February 2020 | Go to article overview

Wally Ritchie: From Government Finance to Major League Baseball: A Former Professional Baseball Player Talks about His Days in the Philadelphia Phillies and His Second Career in Local Government Finance


Fishbein, John, Government Finance Review


While teaching a course on personnel budgeting in California recently, GFOA's John Fishbein, a lifelong baseball fan, ran into former Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher (and current financial controller at the Orange County Sanitation District) Wally Ritchie. They talked about baseball, of course, and how Ritchie made his way to a career in government finance.

Fishbein: How did you get involved in professional baseball?

Ritchie: 1 was always interested in baseball and played from the time that I was five. I was first scouted by professional teams while I played in high school. I was extensively scouted and followed while in college and was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies selected me in the fourth round of the June 1985 draft.

I noticed that you didn't play baseball from 1989 to 1990. Was it an injury? You probably don't have to worry about those as much in your current career.

I was back in the minor leagues in 1989 and spent that year in Triple A. I was injured near the beginning of the 1990 season and ended up having shoulder surgery that kept me out for the rest of the year. Being a controller does have a lower injury risk than being a pitcher.

How did you feel watching the Phillies play in the World Series the year after you retired?

I had moved on from the Phillies and played in the minor leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 1993. I did watch the Phillies in the World Series that year. Part of me wished that I was still with them and had the opportunity to experience the post season. I had spent all of my professional career up to that point in the Phillies organization, both major and minor leagues, and had developed some really good friendships and other relationships. I was excited for the organization and my friends and was hoping that they would win. I think that everyone that plays the game at that level has a goal to reach the World Series. I understand the difficulty of reaching that point and was happy for my friends to be there. Unfortunately, they came up a little bit short and lost to the Blue Jays.

You went to Pepperdine Graziado Business School. Was that in the baseball offseason or after you retired?

I had taken an individual course here and there during my playing days, but nothing significant. I went to Pepperdine after I retired from baseball and completed both undergraduate and graduate degrees there.

What was your first job in government?

After my schooling was done, I worked in the private sector. I lived in Santa Clara, Utah, at the time, and they needed a finance director. I had a few interactions with the city manager, so I contacted him and asked about the position. I ended up applying, interviewing, and being hired as finance director for Santa Clara in 2006.

You were the city manager of Santa Clara from 2008 to 2011. How did that come about?

After being finance director for about a year, I also was given the additional duties and title of assistant city manager. Working in a smaller municipality, staff tend to wear multiple hats. The city manager left for another opportunity and I was asked by the mayor and council to serve as the interim city manager. After four months, the mayor, council, and I agreed that we wanted to move forward with me as city manager, and the interim title was removed.

Did your baseball experience help you in managing the city?

I think there are a number of things that I learned from baseball that helped at the city. First, the value of preparation. In baseball, we would spend a lot of time practicing, studying film, meeting to review the other teams, and putting together a game plan. These ideas translated directly to city management --knowing the subject matter, being able to present your ideas, studying to know both sides of an issue, and being able to anticipate and address questions that may arise.

Second, in baseball we had a group of coaches, scouts, and other personnel to help us. …

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