If Abbott and Costello were still alive, they could reprise their classic baseball routine by adding a little twist.
"Hey, Abbott!" Lou Costello would say in his trademark effusive effort to get his old buddy's undivided attention. "Who's in charge of the Phillies?"
"Who is in charge of the Phillies," Bud Abbott would answer.
"Who?" Costello would reply.
"That's right," Abbott would confirm.
On and on it would go with the question never truly being resolved in Costello's comedic mind.
"I don't know" really is the answer right now to who is in charge of the Phillies. The confusion stems from team president David Montgomery's medical leave of absence that started in late August as he continued to recover from May cancer surgery on his jaw. The team announced at the time that former general manager Pat Gillick would become the interim president in charge of baseball operations while senior vice president Mike Stiles tended to day-to-day business operations.
The team's statement also said that the Phillies looked forward to Montgomery's return as president "when he is fully recovered."
It all sounded great. Who better to run the team in Montgomery's absence than the general manager who led the Phillies to their second World Series title, in 2008? Gillick, 77, was already serving as a trusted adviser to Montgomery and knows how things work at One Citizens Bank Way. He's a Hall of Famer with a brilliant mind and the Phillies were lucky to have him in this time of need.
There are some problems with this arrangement, however, and one of them surfaced for the second time Wednesday when Howard Eskin went on WIP-FM (94.1) to rekindle and recall a report he initially made in early October. Eskin said then that Montgomery was pushed out as the team president and would not return. He also reported that ownership partner John Middleton was in the midst of a power play to become majority owner of the franchise.
The Phillies and several sources denied the initial report, but it resurfaced Wednesday with Eskin saying he had two additional sources confirming that Montgomery was out as team president and that Middleton will indeed get the shares needed to become the team's majority owner. Middleton owns 48 percent of the team.
The Phillies again put out a statement, but they did not put out the fire. In fact, they threw gasoline on it.
"Of foremost concern to this organization is David Montgomery's full recovery from his surgery this past spring," the statement said. "There has been no determination made regarding his future status. Phillies ownership will continue to confer with David about their collective vision for the future."
If Eskin's report is not true or even based on some truth, the Phillies should have included a statement from Middleton saying he is not trying to become majority owner. It should also have said that Montgomery will return as president if his health allows it. Instead, the statement was vague and invited more speculation.
It's great that the Phillies are most concerned about Montgomery's health. He's a good man and that should be everyone's primary concern. But the current arrangement creates questions that go beyond media reports about the future of the team's presidency.
Who is in charge right now is a serious question, especially when the team is about to embark on a trip to the winter meetings in San Diego that will likely begin the heavy lifting on a long-awaited rebuilding job. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. echoed the sentiments of the team statement and he also made it clear that he answers to Gillick.
"He's my boss," Amaro said. "Right now that's pretty clear and that's where we are. We're operating kind of status quo."
Asked if things were likely to remain that way through the offseason, Amaro said that it was "not a question for me."
"My job is to report to Pat Gillick," he said.
That's fine, but when Montgomery was president, he was always the man who made the final decisions about money with the blessing of all the ownership partners. The Phillies decided last week that they were not going to spend the money it would take to sign 23-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who accepted a six-year deal worth $68.5 million from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
A baseball source said the Phillies likely had too many concerns about Tomas' weight and athleticism to give him that kind of money, but it's fair to wonder who decides how much money is too much money these days. Jay Alou, the agent for Tomas, told The Inquirer that the situation was out of Amaro's control.
The baseball source said he believed that Gillick, Amaro, and Charley Kerfeld, a special assistant to the general manager, were the three strongest voices in the organization right now. But that still does not answer who is in charge of the money.
Maybe it's Montgomery. Maybe it's Middleton. Maybe it's Gillick. Maybe it's Who.
I don't know.