Phillies Ownership: We’re Committed to Building a Winner

Part-owner John Middleton speaks to CSN Philly in a rare interview about his vision for the team’s future.

Philadelphia Phillies part-owner John Middleton sat down for a rare interview with Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury after the 2016 season officially ended last week. The interview was revealing, and should give Phillies fans a plethora of reasons to be excited for the future. For this week, we’re going to examine part one of the 20-minute sit-down.

Middleton, who bought into the team in 1994, has rarely shown his face in public—much less in front of the media—because, according to him, Major League Baseball only wants one individual from the very top speaking on behalf of the team. Before Middleton, that was Bill Giles and David Montgomery, the former president of the team who had to take a leave of absence due to cancer in his jaw and is now the team’s chairman.

Let’s just start out with the fact that the backdrop for the interview included the team’s two World Series trophies—the one on the left from 2008, and the one on the right from 1980.

Screengrab / CSN Philly

(Yeah, totally not planned, guys.)

Middleton’s reluctance to show his face came at a cost. He was criticized for years as being aloof and not truly invested personally in the team’s success.

He aggressively pushed back on that assertion. Middleton says he was heavily involved in the signings of Jim Thome and Cliff Lee, as well as the decision to build Citizens Bank Park in the early part of the century.

To be honest, I personally wasn’t too hung up on this over the past decade or so. Maybe that was because of my youth, but I trusted that, during the golden era from 2007 to 2011, management was doing what was best for the team and getting whatever monetary support they needed from the top.

(My confidence in management severely eroded once I realized they didn’t have a plan for when their aging stars would move on from the team; but that’s a topic for another day.)

Reporters who cover the Phillies were astounded when, in 2015, Middleton walked to the microphone alongside Andy MacPhail, who was being introduced as the new team president—succeeding Pat Gillick.

“We all decided that that was really an ownership responsibility to introduce Andy, to talk about what we were doing and why we were doing it, and to make sure people understood that it was our decision to hire Andy and that we were going to own that decision,” Middleton told Salisbury.

He said that his decision to stay out of the public eye has perpetuated “misinformation” about his motives and his mindset, and pushed back against the idea that he was born with a metaphorical silver spoon in his mouth.

Middleton is “hard-wired” to win, he said, and is willing to do whatever it takes to turn the team’s outlook around as fast as possible. To exemplify this, he told Salisbury a story about how, when he was a wrestler in high school, he did not eat or drink for five days in order to drop 10 pounds.

“The only option for me is winning,” Middleton said. “And if you’re going to lose, it’s going to be because you put forth the very best effort and you simply met a better competitor. That’s the way I want to win. And that’s what I’m going to do here.”

The real test of Middleton’s drive to win will be time. The Phillies can be legitimate contenders again in two years, but they can’t do it with prospects alone. They have to be willing to put themselves out there and spend the necessary amount of money to sign veteran hitters who can propel this team to the next level.

Next week, we’ll examine part two of Salisbury’s interview with Middleton.