For a period of a couple of years, I was obsessed with the anonymous and lackadaisical owners of the Philadelphia Phillies, people who were merely content to let their paper wealth of their investment grow while cheating a major U.S. market and its die-hard sports fans out of the winner it deserved. If only these faceless millionaires and billionaires could be pressured into selling to a single dynamic owner (think Jeffrey Lurie, only better) then our civic nightmare would be over.
Well, I haven't dwelt on the issue so much lately -- winning the National League East with a healthy outlook for more in 2008 will do that -- but I have to hail Richard Rys and Philadelphia Magazine for shedding a lot more light on the situation than anyone else ever has.
And yes, it's as bad as you think. Like most long magazine articles, it doesn't easily excerpt, but here's a taste:
Next on board were Widener family heir Fitz Dixon and horse-racing magnate Bob Levy, who pledged a combined $3.5 million. Both were experienced owners — Dixon of the Sixers, Levy of Thoroughbreds — but neither ranked baseball as his favorite sport. Then Giles approached Jack Betz, whose family-owned water-purifying company, Betz Laboratories, enjoyed annual sales of around $500 million. Betz wasn't interested at first — he was a football guy. But the Eagles weren't for sale, and his wife, Claire, had a thing for Tug McGraw and the Phanatic. She also wanted the parking passes Giles was offering — for Eagles games. "We've invested $5 million in dumber things," she said, and the Betz family was in.
It's all there, including the front office that values collegiality over a hard-nosed approach to winning, and a passive ownership, for the most part, that holds its annual year-end meeting in September, as if October baseball isn't even on the table. As a journalist, I applaud what Philadelphia magazine has done, because I know how little information is out there about the Phillies' owners -- just do a Google search for public images of any of them...they simply don't exist. Apparently the print article does have photos -- that involved the use (and I'm not making this up) the help of a private detective. Hey, the Phillies are a quasi-public institution in my book, playing ball in a stadium built with taxpayer dough.
We have a right to know.