Phillies owner’s net worth reveal contradicts offseason spending

Owner John Middleton of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Owner John Middleton of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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Forbes reveals Philadelphia Phillies principal owner John Middleton’s net worth

In case you didn’t know, you have to be extremely wealthy to own a professional sports team.

Philadelphia Phillies principal owner and managing partner John Middleton was born into immense money, the heir to a Philadelphia tobacco and cigar fortune that shared his name. In 1994, he purchased a 15% stake in the Phillies for $18M. In 2014, he increased that stake to 48%. In 2015, he became the public face of the ownership group, and in 2016, he was elected the club’s control person by the 30 MLB clubs.

This week, Forbes listed Middleton’s real-time net worth to be $3.4B. He is wealthier than the principal owners of the Astros, A’s, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, Rangers, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Royals, and White Sox. In fact, he is richer on his own than several of them put together.

Now, of course, a team owner’s net worth and the team’s net worth and wealth are different things. In March 2021, Forbes ranked the Phillies #8 on their annual list of MLB Team Valuations, calculating the team’s value to be $2.05B.

However, given that MLB is currently in lockout (which is a form of work stoppage that can only be initiated by ownership) largely because owners are trying to avoid paying players more money, it’s fair to talk about how wealthy they are. Especially because the players and fans contribute to that wealth; players who put together an entertaining and competitive on-field product lead to an interest and increase in fans, who then buy more tickets, concessions, souvenirs, and apparel.

The proof is in the pudding, as Forbes has tracked Middleton’s net worth over time. In March 2017, he was worth $2.6B, and by October of that year, $3B. His wealth has increased at a steady clip since.

What’s stayed the same? The Phillies. This year, they cemented a full decade postseason drought. They finished exactly one game over .500, eking out their first winning season since their last postseason run in 2011.

The Phillies aren’t winning, but Middleton is still getting richer, so why would he care to make a change? He should care because it’s a waste of money, and if he’s hesitant to overspend, he’s probably against essentially lighting mountains of money on fire.

The Phillies have never exceeded the luxury tax threshold, though President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said ahead of the 2021 trade deadline that they were willing to finally do so, with “ownership support.” But when push came to shove, they played it safe. Doing so has actually cost them hundreds of millions in wasted contracts over the years.

The Phillies 2021 payroll was one of the highest in MLB

In 2021, the Phillies had the fifth-highest payroll in the game, a whopping $189,852,734. They spent more than postseason teams like the Boston Red Sox (6th) and San Francisco Giants (9th), and their division rivals, the World Series champion Atlanta Braves (11th).

You could argue that since they spent so much and got nowhere, spending isn’t the answer. But other teams clearly disagree; the Texas Rangers and New York Mets – both longtime losers – each doled out hundreds of millions worth in contracts to players the Phillies desperately needed before the lockout went into effect at the start of December.

No, the Phillies need to spend. And why hire an expert spender like Dombrowski if you’re not going to let him reel in the big free-agent fish and drop jaws with blockbuster trades? Why sign Bryce Harper to the richest contract in franchise history – and the biggest in North American sports history at the time – if not to build something great around him?

Will the MLB lockout delay spring training and shorten the 2022 season?

MLB owners already haggled over the 2020 season, shortening it to 60 games. Now, they’ve locked out the players and are prolonging Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, threatening to eat into Spring Training and the 2022 season. Why? Because these billionaires don’t want to pay up, even though keeping the baseball schedule on track and growing the game would actually increase their earnings.

Any MLB team could spend like the Dodgers if they wanted to. They’re choosing not to, and hoping you’ll believe them when they cry poor.

Yes, the Phillies are spending, but they aren’t winning; therefore, they’re wasting money. Maybe someone should try framing it that way to Middleton.

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