Ho, Ho, Ho, says Phillies owner John Middleton, Merry Christmas! Why, it’s not even December and already Middleton and friends have blessed Delaware Valley baseball fans by giving them the gift they’ll put to good use for the next year at least – the gift of not caring about this travesty of a baseball team.
It’s hard to cut the tie, to walk away from years, if not generations, of devoted allegiance, but Middleton just made it all that much easier for the thousands of fans who have struggled these past several years to do precisely that. Middleton, the scion of a family that made its wealth by selling cancer delivery systems to the American public, has bestowed upon Phillies fans the gift of alleged poverty – the $2.9 billion all-cash sale of his family business to a Philip Morris parent company in 2007 and the $2.5 billion, 25-year television deal with Comcast in 2014 notwithstanding. The pandemic has cleaned the Phillies’ financial cupboard bare, he claims, to the extent of not only making it impossible to re-sign J.T. Realmuto and hiring a general manager, but to even pay his employees. At least 80 full-time personnel – nearly 20% of the work staff -- were informed last week that their services would no longer be needed. These furloughs, layoffs, buyouts – call them whatever you want, the bottom line is that these people will be out of work – will reportedly save Middleton about $8 million, or roughly what he paid Juan Nicasio in 2019.
Middleton has taken his share of heat for all of this but, really, he’s given us all a gift. For his actions in the past few months have been so abhorrent that it’s now not so hard to just say to hell with all of it. Even without Middleton baseball has been increasingly tougher and tougher to love, what with games that stretch into eternity, tit-for-tat pitching changes and defensive shifts, and outright cheating of various stripes. But, still, baseball is baseball and if you love it you’re going to put up with a lot. If you’re a Phillies fan, you put up with just that much more. It’s what your father did, it’s what your grandfather did, so it’s what you do.
Until perhaps now.
Because now, thanks to the pandemic, the Sixers and Flyers will most likely be playing through June and, who knows, maybe into July. If Daryl Morey works his magic the Sixers might find themselves in the NBA Finals, which aren’t scheduled to wrap up until July 22nd. The NHL will also likely hold its finals during July. Once those champions are crowned, the summer Olympics will start and then the NFL will open training camps. By that point all eyes around here will be where they usually are in late summer when the Phils are dead in the water – on the Eagles. And given that Middleton has thrown up his hands and concluded that it’s nigh impossible to interview potential GM’s during a pandemic (Zoom? What’s Zoom?) nor re-sign the best catcher in baseball given all the money the pandemic has cost him, there’s little chance the Phils won’t be a stinking fish come Independence Day.
We’re all blessed that Middleton is as incompetent as he is. That he truly believes he lost money due to the pandemic and not that he simply didn’t rake in as much of a profit as he assumed was his God-given right as a billionaire of someone-else’s making. That he thinks the people who pony up good chunks of their hard-earned paychecks to watch his club will sympathize with his attempt to curry their favor by firing dozens upon dozens of workers just like them rather than shell out the equivalent of what he pays a journeyman relief pitcher to blow yet another lead in the sixth inning of yet another game in yet another lost season. That he thinks the populace of this city will understand that it’s only right that when he scores a windfall he gets to keep the spoils but when a belt-tightening is called for it’s everyone else who has to inhale.
This is the Christmas gift bestowed by John Middleton to Philadelphia sports fans. The gift of no longer caring about him or his club. In 2021 the Phils might not have a single day of the sports calendar to themselves and thanks to him, we can all celebrate by not thinking about the Phillies for a single moment all year.
Unlike the John Middleton Company’s Black and Mild cigars, Mitchell Nathanson’s biographies of Dick Allen and Jim Bouton don’t come with a Surgeon General’s warning that they increase the risk of infertility, stillbirth and low birth weight.