Philadelphia Phillies Owners: The Phantom Five

The Phillies may finally be serious ­contenders, but the franchise is still the losingest in sports history. For that we can blame a group of people we never see and never hear: the team’s (very) silent owners

The value of every MLB team has increased by millions each year since 2005; the 2008 Phillies are worth $481 million, up five percent from last year. Thanks to revenue sharing, the league’s welfare system, the worst teams get multimillion-dollar bailouts (as the Phillies did for four years after the program began in 1997 — a disgraceful handout for a team in one of baseball’s largest markets). Even during the Giles years, with a winning percentage of .484, the team’s worth continued to climb. But think of where the Phillies could be today if the owners treated it less like a hobby and more like a Fortune 500 company. The proof lies in Boston, where the Yawkey family spent 68 years running the Red Sox with the same lack of courage and vision that the Phillies’ owners possess. In 2002, three successful businessmen with baseball-ownership experience bought the team, and in just five years, they’ve become a dynasty — and not just on the field. Owning 80 percent of Boston’s regional sports network helped, but so did an aggressive marketing plan that made Red Sox Nation a global brand, as did investing in the real estate surrounding Fenway Park. What did the Phillies do in that time? In exchange for public aid for Citizens Bank Park, they let themselves get bullied into the safest, most economically limited location for it, at the deserted tip of South Philadelphia.

The Bucks made a fortune as venture capitalists, which by definition is a daredevil’s pursuit. It’s puzzling, then, that they’re so risk-averse, both in the way their team is run and in their refusal to speak out about it. “I believe they were motivated as much as anything else by the desire to see that the ownership remained local,” says J.B. Doherty, general partner of TDH Capital in Radnor. “The Bucks are very principled. Very, very gentlemanly. Very, very private.” Staying out of the public eye has always been a priority for the three brothers. (Jim and Bill live on the Main Line, and Whip lives in Princeton.) “We just kind of prefer to say we are here to support Bill Giles,” Jim Buck told the Daily News 12 years ago. “He’s the spokesman. He speaks for all of us.” Contrast that with Red Sox owner Larry Lucchino — who, like his partners, proudly faces the public and the media on behalf of his team, and infamously hurled mud at the Yankees, calling his rivals “the Evil Empire.” When has any Phillies employee not wearing cleats talked smack about the dreaded Mets?