The Phillies denied a report Wednesday that David Montgomery, on medical leave from his role as team president, will not return to that position. The team insisted it has not made an official resolution regarding Montgomery, although the franchise's future may not include him as the top decision maker.
The 42-word statement, issued at 5:47 p.m., came more than eight hours after the initial report by WIP-FM (94.1).
"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."
While the report may be premature, it could signal the team's ultimate intentions. Speculation has persisted this offseason because of uncertainty atop the organization, including the ownership group.
Montgomery, 68, underwent surgery for jaw cancer in May. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed. With improved health, he has made public appearances in recent weeks. Last month at an ALS Association luncheon, Montgomery told MLB.com he expected to return for the 2015 season. When asked for a possible time frame, he said, "It's not entirely my call."
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Wednesday he expected Montgomery to return as president, a role he has held since 1997.
"As far as I know," Amaro said. "As far as I'm concerned. It's not my decision, but I hope so. All I care about is David and his health. That's everybody's biggest concern."
Several team sources have disputed the notion that Montgomery was "pushed out" in August when Pat Gillick became interim president. One source said Montgomery's fate could be determined in January. That decision hangs over this important winter for a franchise facing an arduous rebuilding task.
A new permanent president, for example, could make wide-ranging changes to the baseball operations department.
Gillick is 77 and not viewed as a long-term solution. The Hall of Fame executive is living in a Philadelphia hotel while serving as interim president. He said last September he would "sit in" for Montgomery while he recovered.
The Phillies could follow the model of most modern organizations and hire a CEO and a president of baseball operations above the general manager. But that would contradict the standard operating procedure of more than a century for a familial company.
The team's president has held an ownership share since the franchise's inception in 1883. That is what prompts speculation about John S. Middleton, an influential voice in the ownership group who has raised his stake in the team to 48 percent, according to two sources.
Middleton, 59, could petition his ownership partners to insert him as team president. But, in a May interview with The Inquirer, Middleton expressed his family's desire to maintain an anonymous lifestyle.
"We're spotlight avoiders," he said.
In 1997, when the Phillies sought a replacement for Bill Giles, they promoted Montgomery from within. Montgomery received a small ownership share as managing partner. Dave Buck, a senior vice president for marketing and advertising sales, is viewed as a top internal candidate this time. Buck is not related to the Bucks who are limited ownership partners.