For years, fans have clamored for the Phillies ownership to do them a big favor and sell the team. Rumors of Comcast-Spectacor looking to buy the team or Pat Croce looking to buy the team have floated around the City of Brotherly Love for longer than the Phillies post-season drought had been going on. In the end though, there was never any fire to go with the smoke that had gathered.
Is now any different?
From a business standpoint, the Phillies value has taken a nice jump upward. They play in a beautiful, fairly new ball park that helps to draw fans and has contributed to having an attendance mark of over three-million fans in 2007. They won their division and have a payroll that is up there among the highest, but lags well behind the big boys in New York and Boston, meaning that they've won with less money having to be spent. Their farm system is starting to move up the list in terms of producing prospects and is nowhere near the prospect ghost town that it was a few years ago. They've got a young, up and coming GM candidate in Ruben Amaro, Jr. and a well respected Mike Arbuckle, although older than Amaro, has been mentioned as a GM candidate in more than one city, including recent word that he's on a short list for the job in St. Louis. In other words, there are good people in the front office. Add to this the fact that their lineup is pretty young and their merchandising is successful and there are a lot of positive indicators that would push the value of the team higher than it's ever been.
Of course, that value could push even higher if the team were to find itself in the World Series in the next year or two, which certainly isn't out of the question. Just ask the Cubs, who saw the value of the team increase with the added star power of players like Alfonso Soriano, who helped them to the post-season in 2007. So from that angle, now is not the time for ownership to sell. The Devil's Advocate would point out that a year or two of missing the playoffs would push that value lower than it is now, so it all comes down to a gamble.
The most recent round of rumors started on Comcast's Daily News Live. Columnist Stan Hochman caught the rest of the panel off guard when he dropped the s-bomb, mentioning that reliable sources have told him "the team will be sold before Charlie Manuel's contract runs out." Hochman wouldn't elaborate much or name his sources or who they tell him might be buying the team, but he did give some mild hints about the potential buyer. Hochman pointed out that the potential buyer is an individual - not a corporation - and that they are committed to keeping the team in Philadelphia and want them to prosper. Immediately, speculation about Ed Snider's potential interest came up and when Hochman was asked if they were currently sitting in a building owned by the potential owner [Daily News Live is broadcast from the Wachovia Center, owned by Ed Snider and Comcast-Spectacor], Hochman squelched that rumor with a definitive "no". He finished that up with an interesting comment though; "This isn't one of his buildings," said Hochman, sending minds to ponder other prominent Philadelphians who own high-profile buildings in the city. Of course, Hochman never said that the person is from Philadelphia. Heck, he never even said that the person owns buildings in Philadelphia.
With the Ed Snider rumor properly squelched, eyes turned to Pat Croce. Things would have to change for Pat Croce to buy the Phillies. His involvement with Donald Trump - another key figure of speculation - on a casino deal would take both Croce and Trump out of the picture. There is no way that Major League Baseball would give Trump, Croce or anyone else closely connected with a casino to buy a controlling interest in a team.
While Hochman's comments centered on "an individual", that wouldn't necessarily rule out a group of owners. Let's face it, George Steinbrenner is the owner of the Yankees, but he has other partners. If that's the case, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie might be able to pony up the money to buy the team by getting together with a couple of other folks with deep pockets.
There are plenty of names to speculate on and any number of combinations of people who would be interested in buying the Phillies. Hochman and probably only a very select few others know who the individual [or group of individuals] may be.
There is one major fly in the ointment. Would the current owners sell?
Bill Giles has talked privately about passing along his part of the club to his sons, who are definitely interested in picking up their dad's mantle. The long-time speculation has been that Giles would block any potential sale of the club. While Giles has stepped back from the public eye, make no mistake; he is intimately involved in the club and his kids are keenly interested in the future of the franchise. Whether or not Giles, or any of the other owners, could single-handedly block a sale of the club depends on how the ownership agreement is written and who had - or has - the best lawyers. Hochman did mention that he believes there is one owner who will look to block the sale, but again refused to identify the person. It could be Giles or, it could be one of the publicly silent "teflon owners" who have kept themselves away from the spotlight as much as possible.
Hochman is a well connected Philadelphia journalist and when he speaks, it's worth listening to. The fact is that only time will tell whether the Phillies will be sold or continue to stay in the current owner's hands or possibly, the hands of their offspring. We could see generation after generation of the current owners run this franchise long after all of us are gone, or we could see some new faces before too long. This is where we cue Howie Mandel; "Deal or no Deal?"