If there was any doubt that the Phillies are a business — a $1.85 billion business — run primarily by John Middleton, it was wiped away Friday at Citizens Bank Park.
In a 57-minute news conference called to ostensibly discuss the firing of manager Gabe Kapler, Middleton made clear that he’s the most influential voice in the organization. Although flanked by team president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak, Middleton dominated the conversation with long, winding answers about the organizational structure and what comes next for a team that still hasn’t had a winning season since 2011.
“Why do you think there’s a CEO?” said Middleton, the Phillies’ managing partner who identifies as the chief executive officer. “We’re paid to make the big decisions. We get paid to ensure our organization meets its strategical objectives.”
The choice to dump Kapler belonged solely to Middleton, MacPhail confirmed in outlining the process by which the Phillies came to the decision. MacPhail and Klentak had recommended that Kapler be retained for the final year of his contract.
While Middleton sought the opinions of his front office and several players in face-to-face meetings over the last two weeks, he said he couldn't get beyond the Phillies' record in the final month of each of the last two seasons. The Phillies went 20-36 in the last two Septembers, and Middleton believed that was a reflection on Kapler and the coaching staff.
Moreover, Middleton said Kapler and the staff bear a measure of blame for the shortcomings of the roster. It's notable, though, that the Phillies decided to retain seven members of the coaching staff. The next manager will have a say over hiring a new hitting coach and pitching coach.
“I sat down with Gabe toward the end of July, had a long conversation with him; I sat down with him for 2 ½ hours Sunday after the last game, sat down for five hours with him about three or four days later and I kept bumping up to the September collapses,” Middleton said.
“Ultimately, I felt if I was going to bring Gabe back, I had to be very, very confident we were going to have a different outcome in 2020. Those September collapses, I kept bumping up against them. I couldn’t get comfortable or confident enough that if I brought him back we wouldn’t run into other problems, and therefore I made the decision I did.”
In addition, Middleton will have input over hiring a new manager after directing Klentak, MacPhail and the rest of the front office to initiate the search.
“At some point, Matt and Andy are going to come to me and say, ‘Here’s where we are. Here’s what we think we should do. What do you think?’ ” Middleton said. “Until I know the facts and circumstances of that moment, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”