Black Friday took on a whole new meaning for 80 Phillies employees this year.
That was the day the world discovered that the $2 billion franchise and its billionaire ownership group eliminated 80 of its front-office positions — almost 20% of the workforce — to save about $8 million. With excruciatingly insensitive timing, and with the blessing of billionaire owner John Middleton, team president Andy MacPhail and executive vice president Dave Buck reportedly issued email announcements on Wednesday to all franchise employees.
Wednesday was, of course, Thanksgiving eve.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
Mass job reductions. In a pandemic. During an unemployment spike. As unemployment benefits are set to run out for millions of Americans by year’s end.
What a bunch of turkeys.
A statement from the team confirmed the terminations and trumpeted the club’s relief that many of the eliminations came through buyouts, though the team declined to specify how many employees were given buyouts or what level of quality the buyouts reached.
That’s not the point. Not really. The COVID-19 pandemic and the 60-game 2020 season without fans led several teams to cut staff and issue pay cuts, such as the A’s, Giants, Red Sox, Cubs, and, of course, the Marlins.
But those teams are not the Phillies, a team that would keep punching itself in the face even if both arms were cut off. This was just the latest, but most tangibly tone deaf maneuver by a franchise that has consistently stubbed its toe in public since Middleton — a tobacco scion reportedly worth more than $3.4 billion — assumed control of the club in 2016. He’s given a whole new meaning to the phrase he coined: “Stupid money.”
Reports say the Phillies lost almost $150 million this season. That’s about 4.4% of $3.4 billion.
Assume the 80 employees each made a $100,000 salary. (They assuredly did not.) That’s $8 million. That is about 0.2% of $3.4 billion.
If $8 million of $3.4 billion still sounds like a lot, use this comparison: For an American household making $80,000, that’s $160. One hundred sixty bucks.
Or, about the price of two good Phillies tickets.
Times are tough all over. Even for billionaires.
Talk about small ball.
To borrow from Doug Pederson, this sort of ham-handed fiasco has become the Phillies’ “new norm.”
In June 2015, fueled by Middleton’s behind-the-scenes influence, the Phillies hired MacPhail as president, despite MacPhail’s having been out of baseball for three years. In October 2015, MacPhail hired inexperienced, first-time general manager Matt Klentak, whose analytics addiction prompted the 2018 hiring of inexperienced, first-time manager Gabe Kapler. All three hirings were disastrous. Kapler was fired after the 2019 season. Klentak was demoted last month. MacPhail says he will leave when his contract expires in 2021, if not, God willing, sooner.
After the 2018 season, Middleton told USA Today the Phillies would spend “stupid” money to improve the team, then, in March 2019, signed Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract. But soon after Harper was signed, respected veteran Carlos Santana, who had returned to the Indians, painted a picture of unprofessionalism in the 2018 clubhouse: reserve players playing video games while actual games were being played on the field.
The 2019 season was marred by allegations of domestic violence against centerfielder Odubel Herrera, whom the Phillies suspended but, fearing reprisals from the league and the Players’ Association, did not cut. That was in May. Things got worse.
In July, with the team fading and the trade deadline approaching, MacPhail, after indicating the team would not be aggressive at the deadline, offered his perspective regarding the team’s making the playoffs: “If we don’t, we don’t.” That was the first sign of Middleton’s growing distaste at the prospect of incurring a luxury tax by chasing big-money talent.
After signing Mets starter Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million free-agent deal in December 2019, the “stupid” money dried up. The Phillies gambled that unproven, cheap relief pitchers would support their solid starting rotation, which sabotaged the season. Worse, they failed to sign irreplaceable, popular catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension both before and after they beat Realmuto in an uncomfortable salary arbitration hearing in February. The Phillies and Middleton spent the rest of 2020 listening to their fans and Bryce Harper himself stump for them to extend Realmuto before he hit free agency after the season.
Finally, MacPhail penned his own epitaph on Halloween, when, in his end-of-season address, he said the Phillies would stall any search for Klentak’s replacement because … “Who’s going to want to uproot in the middle of a pandemic?”
Well, Andy, we know of 80 people who might have no choice.