Philadelphia Phillies managing partner – or CEO, as he referred to his position – John Middleton dominated the team’s press conference announcing the firing of former manager Gabe Kapler Friday.
That shouldn’t come as a shock given that it’s the worst-kept secret in the world that he, not general manager Matt Klentak, ultimately made the call on the fate of Klentak’s hand-picked manager. He, per Matt Gelb of The Athletic, led the decision to fire hitting coach John Mallee and insert franchise icon Charlie Manuel as the interim hitting coach in August. There’s a perception from some that he ultimately brought the Bryce Harper sweepstakes over the finish line last March.
If Friday served as anything, it seemed to be the moment that Middleton asserted himself as the dominant figure in the brass of the organization. In a press conference that lasted just over 57 minutes, Middleton spoke for approximately 27 minutes. Klentak spoke for approximately nine-and-a-half. President Andy MacPhail, though he was the first one to speak, spoke for the least amount of time overall, approximately eight minutes.
That said, when Middleton was asked about whether Klentak’s decision to hire Kapler in October of 2017 at all shook his confidence in his general manager, he said it didn’t.
“Nobody bats .1000 in hiring decisions,” Middleton responded, saying that his confidence in his general manager isn’t shaken. “I haven’t. So, it’s early in his career, and I would also point out that he’s made lots and lots of good hiring decisions too. I think what this should be is a learning experience. What’s happened in other businesses that I’ve run is we’ve gotten into this kind of a situation, and people learn from it. It gives me a chance to express my view on standards and processes and looking at decisions and people generally learn from that.”
Middleton owns just under 50 percent of the team – he’s the closest that the Phillies have to a majority owner. He came out of the shadows of the ownership group at the tail end of the Ruben Amaro Jr. era and has remained visible since. He high-fived the Phillie Phanatic at the outset of the March press conference introducing Harper as a Phillie. He signed autographs after the Phillies announced that the 2026 All-Star Game was coming to Philadelphia in April. And MacPhail not-so-subtly hinted Friday that Middleton and Klentak were on different sides of the debate about whether to retain Kapler for a third season. It’s not as simple as Middleton having decided to make the decision despite Klentak’s wishes. But ultimately, Kapler was fired, and you get the sense that if Klentak had final say on Kapler’s future, he 100 percent would have been back.
MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki asked Middleton if it’s troubling to him that there’s a perception from some that had he not stepped in Harper may have ultimately signed with another team, Kapler may still be the manager and Chris Young may still be his hitting coach. Rather than answering what his thoughts were on his front office’s roles in those specific situations, Middleton touted his own credentials.
“I’d like to think that I actually bring value to an organization, that I’m not a potted plant sitting in the corner,” Middleton said. “So, if you went back and looked at what I did starting in 1979 when I got out of business school, I’m not doing anything differently today than I was doing then. I was challenging people, I was saying ‘I don’t agree with your logic…I don’t think you’ve analyzed it properly…I think you need to go look at it this way…I think you need to go look at this information.’ And I would push. You know who I was pushing most back in 1979? It was my father. This is what CEOs do. You wouldn’t have a need for a CEO if everybody in that organization made every decision correctly every time.”
The question then becomes whether this is just how Middleton generally operates, or whether he’s lost some level of confidence in his current front office to shape the organization that he oversees in a vision (and at a pace) that pleases him.
“Why do you think there’s a CEO? We’re paid to make the big decisions. We get paid to ensure that our organization meets our strategic objectives. Signing Bryce Harper – there’s a direct link between that and achieving a strategic objective of winning a World Series. Signing a relief pitcher for one-year/$2 million…it doesn’t have the same impact. I’m not touching that decision. I don’t think I even want to know about the decision, frankly. And I certainly am not going to have input on that decision. So, yeah, the big decisions are exactly where CEOs need to be. Those are the decisions that make a difference. And that’s what I get paid to figure out.”
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