By Sam Bush

The Phils have admitted that they lost $145 million in 2020, owing to the pandemic’s exclusion of fans at Citizen Bank Park.

But a conspiracy-loving whack job ex-New York Daily News writer, Bill Madden, wrote it was $2 billion.

Which happens to be the Forbes evaluation of the franchise.

Either way, it appears cheapie John Middleton won’t have enough scratch to sign free agent catcher JT Realmuto.

Here’s the back story:

Last month, Madden (a New York Daily News contributing columnist who previously worked for the paper full-time) made waves with a report about Orioles’ GM Mike Elias being investigated for pension fraud over the violation of a MLB rule that doesn’t appear to actually exist, a report MLB responded to as “simply false.”

That saw no update or correction. Madden and the Daily News have now followed that up with a mind-boggling error that suggested the Phillies lost their entire estimated franchise value last year, but at least he and the paper bothered to change that after the fact this time (albeit with no acknowledgement of the correction). Here’s a screenshot of what Madden’s “MLB players face a bleak winter as reality of pandemic revenue losses set in” column initially looked like when it was first published Saturday:

Bill Madden's initial piece on the Phillies.

Note that “nearly $2 billion this year” at the bottom? That figure is instantaneously absurd to anyone who follows professional sports in general, much less MLB in particular. In April, Forbes’ Mike Ozanian and Kurt Badenhausen estimated the Phillies’ entire franchise value at $2 billion  (eighth in MLB) as part of their annual franchise rankings. And as many noted, the Phillies’ year-to-year expenditures are nowhere close to $2 billion. Even if they’d had their full regular costs (which they didn’t thanks to a shortened season and no fans in the stands) and none of their normal revenue (which they didn’t; they still received some revenue from national and local media deals and other streams), they wouldn’t have lost $2 billion.

How absurd is that number? Well, Baseball Prospectus’ Jarrett Seidler noted that the team’s payroll was actually around $161 million. And as per that Forbes piece from April, the Phillies get the fourth-highest local media revenue ($112 million) annually of any team; they didn’t get all of that this year thanks to the shortened season, but they made more in local media revenue than most clubs. And in a reply to Seidler, Baseball Prospectus’ Rob Crain noted that the team made $73 million in operating income last year and spent $319 million in operating expenses, so the worst off they could be with no 2020 income and full 2019 costs (again, neither of which was the case) would be a $319 million loss. That’s still less than one-sixth of the loss Madden claimed for them, and attributed to comments from Middleton.

Funnily enough, after all this, the NYDN actually did update this story, with that figure now reading $145 million (a more feasible number, and one less than one-tenth what Madden initially reported). But there’s no note of correction attached to the piece. Here’s what those paragraphs looked like as of 8 p.m. Eastern Saturday:

Bill Madden's updated piece