One of Philadelphia’s best-kept secrets is the phantom group of people we vaguely call Phillies owners. The Phillies’ ownership group remains more of a mystery in this city than Bigfoot or the Bermuda Triangle.
While winning the World Series in 2008 took away a ton of criticism from Phillies owners, fans renewed their hatred for faceless and nameless people we never see or hear when the club dealt Cliff Lee for the probable reason that save $ 9 million dollars. It’s time we investigated these ghosts of the Phillies, who are clever enough to remain invisible. David Montgomery is here to speak for the owners who allowed so many years of horrible baseball before they got lucky in 2008, and to make sure fans never, ever know who they really are.
David Montgomery recently said that Phillies owners are in the red and have been since they took over the team. SAY AH! I think we should all bow down and thank these wonderful people for selflessly throwing away their hard-earned money for our enjoyment. Right. Montgomery wasn’t lying, but he was surely bending the truth as well as any politician. I bet they’ve been losing money … on their operating costs. But the value of the team is a completely different story. Let’s put it this way: The original group bought the team in 1981 for $ 30 million. The 2008 Phillies were reportedly worth $ 481 million (and that’s before they won the World Series). That’s more than a 1,600 percent increase in the value of the equipment … 1,600 percent! Believe me, YOU ARE NOT LOSING MONEY.
Before we reveal these ghosts of the Phillies, let’s take a look at exactly how the owners came to be. In 1981, when Ruly Carpenter announced that he was selling the team, Bill Giles brought together a group of investors to buy the Phillies. With only $ 50,000 to spend, she needed a little help. He took a 10 percent stake in the team, oversaw day-to-day operations, and became the spokesperson for the group, allowing the others to hide in the shadows.
The Buck brothers invested $ 5 million. Heir to the Widener family, Fitz Dixon, and horse racing mogul Bob Levy combined for $ 3.5 million. John D. Betz of Betz Laboratories pledged $ 5 million. Taft Broadcasting took care of the rest, contributing $ 15 million.
In 1986, Taft Broadcasting sold its 47 percent stake to Bill Giles and his team for $ 24.1 million. Bob Levy and Fitz Dixon have also been charged. Bill Giles handed over his general partner position to David Montgomery in 1997, who also took over a stake in the company.
That leaves Claire Betz, the Buck Brothers, and John Middleton as the remaining anonymous sources. Let’s see what we can dig up, shall we? Let’s meet the cast:
Claire S. Betz
Claire S. Betz is approaching 90 years old and shares time between her homes in Gwynedd, PA and Key Largo, Florida. Claire’s husband, John Drew Betz, bought his share of the Phillies in 1981 and she took over ownership in the middle of a little soap opera. Look, his son, Peter Betz, was murdered by his 16-year-old grandson, Justin Betz, in 1988. Justin pleaded guilty to third degree murder and John died of cancer at the age of 72 during the trial. It was then that she took over her part. Bill Conlin of The Inquirer rated his 33 percent stake in the team in a November 2007 article.
The Betzes made their fortune through a family-owned water purification business called Betz Laboratories, of which John Betz was the president. Betz Laboratories was later sold to General Electric. She and David Montgomery are also on the board of the Schuylkill Center, a local conservation group. When Claire passes away, the other partners will probably buy her shares.
The Buck Brothers
The Buck Brothers: Alexander K. Buck, J. Mahlon Buck, Jr., and William C. Buck. Officially known as Tri-Play Associates, the three brothers are involved with TDH Capital Corp., a Radnor, PA-based venture capital firm. The company was started in 1977 and primarily invests in small businesses.
They have also been heavily involved in local charity, including gifts for the zoo, orchestra, and education. “The Bucks are principled. Very, very chivalrous. Very, very private,” says JB Doherty, general partner at TDH Capital.
John S. Middleton is in his 50s and splits his time between Bryn Mawr and Stone Harbor. He graduated from Amherst College in 1977 and, according to them, “Middleton runs his family’s business, which includes McIntosh Inns, Bradford Holdings and Double Play, Inc.” He inherited his share of the property from his father, Herbert H. Middleton. He is also on the Board of Directors of Penn Medicine.
John was the closest thing to a fan of the group. Middleton is rumored to be one of the main reasons the Phillies signed Jim Thome in 2002. He is credited with declaring, “I’ll pay for him myself!”
In November 2007, it was announced that Middleton had sold his family cigar business to the Altria Group, owners of Phillip Morris, for $ 2.9 billion. The fans had a brief moment of hope that maybe, just maybe, we could have a property committed to victory. David Montgomery turned those dreams off instantly. In a statement, Montgomery said: “John Middleton is a limited associate of the Phillies and his personal and business interests have no impact on the operation of the baseball club.” That’s a pretty strong statement from the affable Montgomery. As you will soon learn, that is exactly what it means to be a limited, limited partner. But if John Middleton could somehow get a majority stake, he could have made the decisions and told Montgomery to get on his way if he wanted to.
It’s hard to say whether Middleton tried to buy the equipment, but the show during a 2004 ceremony in Amherst read: “Montgomery runs the show. He just reaffirmed that fact. Partners are supposed to stay out of it, and these partners do. It’s okay. John S. Middleton has been known to be an outlier on some issues – spending money to sign Jim Thome was thought to be one of them. “
Bill Giles hired David Montgomery in 1971 to work in the Phillies ticketing office and later became Director of Sales. When the current group bought the team, Giles named Montgomery as his senior assistant in 1982. Possibly his most revealing quote was, “I think the organization needs an image that is not directly tied to wins and losses.”
Giles started with the Phillies as vice president of business operations in 1969. He was team vice president until 1982, team president from 1982 to 1987, and general manager from 1984 to 1987. Giles decided to resign as general partner in 1997 and took on the title of managing partner. . He is the son of former National League President Warren Giles and the current Honorary President of the National League.
Before going any further, it helps to know what it means to be a limited partner. Bill Conlin describes it in more detail in his article on the limited partnership, but here is the version of Cliff’s Notes. Basically, the general partner (it was Giles, now Montgomery) rallies the group, negotiates the sale of the team, is responsible for all debts and lawsuits, and receives a little extra coin in the form of salary.
So what does it mean to be a limited partner? It means that they are limited to your investment in cash and nothing else. Don’t you like what’s going on? Do you want to get rid of David Montgomery? Too much. When they agreed on the terms as limited partners, they gave all power to the general partner.
As Conlin said regarding Montgomery, “Unless he can prove bad behavior and worse, it would be difficult to evict him.” He says they also likely signed an agreement not to publicly criticize the Phillies’ leadership. As in the Marge Schott situation many years ago, if David Montgomery doesn’t want to leave, he won’t. Simple as that.
We should have no reason to hate any of the people who run the team. We don’t know about them and they haven’t done anything illegal or unethical that we know of. In fact, they seem to be very classy and principled people.
Buying a professional sports team is not just another investment where you can let your stockbroker do all the work and call you every now and then to let you know. Especially when he asks the city and state for $ 260 million to help build his new ballpark, he has given up the right to be “fiercely private,” as Middleton described it by Amherst.
We have a unique opportunity to achieve greatness with the current team. We need to seize the moment while we can, and our group of owners has shown us time and time again that they will do nothing to help. We already lost the boat once by forcing Cliff Lee out. Let’s stop him right there and get them out of here.
Imagine for a second how different things would be if someone like Pat Croce, Ed Rendell, or heck even Comcast-Spectacor was running the team …
Don’t hold your breath. We will not get a new owner. Many have tried and none have been successful. The Bucks, the Betz ‘and the Middletons will continue to pass their stocks on each other until such time as we are all ghosts, like them.