So the way I see it there are a few themes to come out of the press conference, including numerous reasons to be upbeat about the MacPhail hiring, and many reasons to be skeptical. Let’s break them all down.
John Middleton’s power move
- This is pretty much the first time John Middleton has made anything even remotely resembling a public appearance representing the franchise. On one hand, you’ve got to give credit to Howard Eskin for reporting last year that Middleton wanted to take a more active ownership role… on the other, Middleton called Eskin’s report – that he was seeking a majority ownership stake – “erroneous” and said he has a great working relationship with the other, faceless owners. Whether you believe him or not is up to you, but it’s clear that Middleton is becoming the owner of record when the question “Hey, who owns the Phillies?” pops up. Previously that role had been held by Bill Giles and David Montgomery, both of whom had ownership stakes.
- Why today for Middleton’s coming out party? He said he thought it was important for there to be a face to hold accountable for the hiring of a president. No argument there. But it is strange to see Middleton-MacPhail-Gillick as the power structure, when just a year ago this would’ve been Montgomery and Amaro.
- Somewhat impressively, Middleton kicked off the press conference with about 4-5 minutes of off-the-cuff remarks, with no notes, during which he mentioned the desire for the organization to better use analytics.
- Billionaire has a sense of humor. At one point, when Jim Salisbury introduced himself to MacPhail, the new president said, “So you’re the one who broke the story!” Middleton laughed and remarked that Salisbury got him. I like it when billionaires laugh.
- MacPhail seems like a genuinely nice man. Like, I want to have lemonade and crumpets with him on a front porch or assorted stoop somewhere. We’d talk about baseball, life, and probably the birds. Not the Eagles– just birds in general.
- For real, he seems highly approachable, reserved, humble (maybe too much so) and analytical. I made fun of Jerry Crasnick before, but MacPhail truly does seem like a guy who you’d want to work for. He mentions that he’s spent the last three years away from the game with his then-ailing father and traveling the world.
- As President, it’ll be his job to make the right hires and delegate tasks. From these initial impressions, he seems like the type of guy who would be good at that sort of thing. He talked about patience and how building a team is “like planting a garden– first it leaps, then it creeps, then it leaps.” He also talked a lot about listening. He doesn’t want to just hear you, he wants to listen. I can’t tell if he’d make a better lover or granddad.
- Most importantly, he talked about embracing advanced statistics. Though he admitted he doesn’t always fully understand them (that’s fine– it’ll be the GM’s job), he said he was responsible for the Orioles’ “greatly expanded use of sabermetrics and statistics in player evaluations.” He believes you have to look at everything and should never leave a stone unturned, and that you have to balance advanced statistics with human intelligence. No argument there. “You hire people, have the young kids come in and explain it to you.”
- Of using every possible angle, he said he was “amazed that people don’t do this stuff.” Ruben Amaro, who was in the room but not allowed to sit at the big kids’ table, presumably cried at this point.