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

After enduring 16 years of criticism from fans and the media, Giles announced he was stepping down as general partner in 1997. What’s unclear is whether the behind-the-scenes pressure he felt was directed at the team’s losing records, or at Giles’s willingness to speak his mind, consequences be damned, as when he defended the team’s penny-pinching by calling the Phillies a “small market” ballclub, a comment made in 1994 that still haunts him and his silent partners, who wish he’d been a little more mute. The latter seems likely, since instead of casting a net across the major leagues in search of a president with a fresh new perspective on building a winner, the Phillies again played it safe and promoted Montgomery, a faithful 26-year employee.

By then, Levy, Dixon and Taft Broadcasting had left the owners’ club, but the Bucks and Betz continue to uphold their vows of silence, both behind the scenes and in public. It’s a mystery how Claire Betz and her family have managed to stay out of the spotlight despite a crush of media attention over the murder of her son, Peter Betz, at the hands of his 16-year-old son Justin in 1988. John Drew Betz, Claire’s husband, died of cancer after the boy pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. Since then, the family’s profile has remained subterranean. Claire Betz jets between Key Largo, to be close to a daughter and three remaining sons, and Gwynedd. Her only child still in the area, Jacqueline Murphy, insists portrayals of her mother in the newspapers are wrong. “That guy with the Philadelphia Daily News [perpetual Phillies instigator Bill Conlin], he’ll write about her hair in a bun or [her] with her doggie,” says the 64-year-old. “She doesn’t have a doggie! It really hurts her feelings.” Her mother enjoys spending time at the ballpark, but Murphy says Claire doesn’t pay attention to the business side of the game. “My whole family used to be big baseball fans until the strike [in 1994],” Murphy says. “Then we found out there was life outside of baseball. After that, we were never as into it.”

When the Betz family matriarch passes away, the other partners will likely buy her shares. Murphy says her brother, Michael, is the most involved with their mother’s stake in the Phillies, but messages to him for this story went unreturned, as did multiple calls to the Bucks, whose secretary chuckled at the notion that any of them would comment about the team. Then there’s John Middleton, who inherited the stake his father, cigar kingpin and McIntosh Inn hotels owner Herb Middleton, bought from Levy. When the Billion Dollar Man received calls for this story, he recruited former Rendell mouthpiece Kevin Feeley as his spokesman and, after months of considering interview requests, finally declined.

In April, the Phillies brass dressed up for the gala premiere of a documentary on beloved Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn. None of the owners saw fit to attend, save for Montgomery, who owns a sliver of the team, and Giles. As the guests took their seats, Giles was asked why messages left at his office weren’t returned, despite his agreement weeks before to be interviewed. Like a father placing his hand on his son’s shoulder before delivering a cold, ugly truth about the world, Giles extended his right arm and smiled. “David and John Middleton don’t want me to talk because they know I’ll say what I’m thinking. And that might not be what they want to say.”