Tony Phillips

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Keith Anthony Phillips

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Biographical Information[edit]

Tony Phillips was born April 25, 1959 in Atlanta, Georgia.

He attended Roswell High School in Georgia, then went to New Mexico Military Institute. At Roswell, he played baseball, basketball, football and also starred in track and field. To this day, he is still in the top 10 all-time leaders in scoring in basketball. He was twice school MVP in baseball (1976 and 1977) and once in basketball (1977). In June 1977, he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 16th round but decided to remain in school. He played two years with New Mexico before he was drafted again, this time by the Montreal Expos in the secondary phase of the January 1978 session of the draft. Phillips joined the organization and played with both the Jamestown Expos and West Palm Beach Expos in 1978. He failed to hit .200 at both levels but he showed the plate discipline that would characterize his major league career. He had 36 walks in only 251 plate appearances. In 1979, he began the season with West Palm Beach before being promoted to the AA Memphis Chicks. Overall, in 112 games, he drew 55 walks and his offensive line was .253/.351/.320.

In 1980, back with Memphis, he led the Southern League in walks (98) and was second to Steve Balboni in runs scored (100). He also stole 50 bases, 4th best in the circuit. His offensive line was .249/.374/.331. In late August, as his minor league season ended, he was traded to the San Diego Padres for Willie Montanez. Used as an infielder, the Expos seemed loaded at that position. Rodney Scott was playing regularly at second and Chris Speier at shortstop. They also had Tony Bernazard and Wallace Johnson in the wings, so the Expos thought they could afford to trade Phillips.

Phillips never played a game in the Padres organization. At the end of spring training in 1981, he was sent to the Oakland Athletics, with Eric Mustad and Kevin Bell, for reliever Bob Lacey and Roy Moretti. He spent the 1981 season with the West Haven A's in the Eastern League. He led his team in walks (67), runs (79), doubles (25) and was second in stolen bases (40). In 131 games as the team's regular shortstop, his offensive line was .247/.350/.373. He was considered the league #2 prospect by a pool of managers and scouts in poll organized by writer Tommy Shea from the Springfield Daily News. He also played 4 games with the Tacoma Tigers in the Pacific Coast League.

Phillips began the 1982 season with Tacoma. Throughout 1982, the A's had issues at the shortstop position. In early May, he was called up and assumed regular duty for the next five weeks. He was obviously nervous with 7 errors in 30 games. He also got in manager Billy Martin's doghouse by first, missing a suicide squeeze in his first game, and second, his tendency to show up late for games. He played 40 games with the A's that season, one that could easily be divided in two halves. In his first 20 games, he had a solid .373 OBP with a .260 batting average. In the last 20, his OBP was only .250 with a .129 batting average. He was sent back to Tacoma to finish the season. In the PCL, he led the team again with 73 walks (in only 86 games). Combined with a .297 batting average, his OBP was .432. He also had 29 stolen bases.

He made the big league club out of spring training in 1983. New manager Steve Boros said before the season that he had two months to prove himself as the team's shortstop. He was used at both shortstop and second base. His offensive line was .248/.327/.320 in 148 games. In 1984, with the signing of Joe Morgan and the emergence of Donnie Hill, Phillips began the season on the bench. Then Hill got injured and Phillips was given the shortstop job, earning Hill a ticket to Tacoma. His line was .266/.325/.359 in 154 games. The 1985 season was one he would rather forget. After agreeing to a new contract, avoiding arbitration and being touted as the team's regular second baseman after the retirement of Morgan, he broke his left foot shagging flies while preparing for spring training. He tried to return too soon and in his second game in training camp, re-injured the same foot. He played 20 games with Tacoma where he hit an awful .130. He played his first game with Oakland only in August. In the last month of the season, he was used regularly at third base. In 42 games, he hit .280 with a .331 OBP.

Phillips had no position in 1986, with Donnie Hill back to play second, Alfredo Griffin at short and Carney Lansford at third. But it was the year he really began to show the qualities that led him to the majors with his versatility and his ability to draw walks. His season was cut short by a knee injury in August, playing only two more games at the tail end of the season. He still led his team in bases on balls (76), OBP (.367) and was used at second base, third base and the outfield. His offensive line was .256/.367/.345. Phillips played in the Dominican Republic in Winter Ball after the season and was named MVP of the Tigres del Licey. His offensive stats regressed in 1987 thanks in part to injuries. On July 10th, his offensive line was .255/.358/.395 as the team's regular second baseman. Then he missed several weeks after being hit by a Mark McGwire line drive during batting practice, suffering a fractured left forearm. He came back in late August but was ineffective the rest of the season with a batting average under .200. His overall OBP was only .337 for the season, but he reached double digits in home runs for the first time with 10.

The A’s acquired Glenn Hubbard to play second in 1988, so Phillips was used pretty much everywhere, except catcher and pitcher. Again, injuries played a role as he missed almost two months between May and July (left knee) resulting in his worst season in the majors. In 79 games (only 53 starts), his offensive line was .203/.320/.307. The A’s were American League champions, losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. In the postseason, Phillips did a fair job, with three hits and two walks in four games overall. Phillips was back as a regular in 1989 as the team's main second baseman. In 143 games, his line was .262/.345/.348, contributing to the A's World Series title. He hit a home run in Game 3 of the World Series against Scott Garrelts of the San Francisco Giants. It was Phillips' last year with the A's. In December, he signed a three-year contract with the Detroit Tigers and in the next few years, became one of the best leadoff hitters in the game.

He began the 1990 season as the Tigers' third baseman and at the end of the campaign, he was stationed at second base when Travis Fryman took over at the hot corner. Phillips really struggled the first month with a .503 OPS. But he steadily improved his numbers during the season, leading the team in walks (99, 3rd in the AL) and stolen bases (19) and his 97 runs were second on the team. His OBP was .364 for the season (.384 from May on) and his ability to get on base no doubt helped Cecil Fielder, who led the league with 132 RBI. In 1991, Phillips was used all over the place, from second to third to outfield and even DH. It was also the first season in which he began to alter his approach to take advantage of the short right field distance at Tiger Stadium, as shown by his 17 home runs. He was hampered by sore hamstrings in the last month of the season but despite that, in 146 games, his offensive line was .284/.371/.438, surpassing the .800 mark in OPS for the first time.

Phillips' versatility served the Tigers well in 1992 as had been the case the year before. He was again the catalyst of the Detroit offense, even though manager Sparky Anderson waited until May to install him in the leadoff spot in the batting order for good. He led the American League in runs (114) and was third with 114 walks. His OBP was .387. He became a free agent after the season but the Tigers re-signed him to another three-year contract. Phillips rewarded the Tigers in 1993 with his best offensive season. For the only time in his career, he hit over .300 (.313) and combined with a league-leading 132 walks, his OBP was .443, second in the AL to John Olerud. He scored 113 runs. In the next two seasons, Phillips had his two best seasons in terms of power, taking advantage of an offensive driven era that took over Major League Baseball. In the strike-abbreviated season of 1994, he hit 19 home runs in 114 games and kept on walking (95).

In 1995, the owners and players settled their dispute in April, delaying the beginning of the season and shaving 18 games off the normal 162 games. But Phillips began the season in a new uniform when the Tigers dealt him to the California Angels in a straight swap for Chad Curtis. He finished third in the AL in walks (113) and 4th in runs scored (119). He was one of five players on the team with at least 20 home runs (29). He was used mostly at third base but also in left field. It was his only season with the Angels. In January 1996, he signed for two years with the Chicago White Sox. Surprisingly, shortly before spring training, Phillips announced that he was retiring, but he relented a couple of days later. Phillips was the ChiSox left fielder for the whole season. He led the American League with 125 walks, which led to 119 runs scored, 9th in the circuit. It was the third time in four seasons that his OBP reached .400.

In the offseason, the White Sox signed Albert Belle, who was slated to play Phillips' position in left field. Not only that, but Belle had requested Phillips' uniform number 8. Phillips then stated that he was going to switch to a number that nobody would ever ask for again because he got so tired of others asking for his jersey number; he donned the then-unusual #73 for the '97 season. He was on the trading block but he began 1997 with Chicago in what was most probably his most tumultuous season. In the first few weeks of the season, he got into an argument with a Chicago columnist, was involved in an altercation with a fan in Milwaukee and got suspended after a heated exchange with an umpire. He was productive with a line of .310/.440/.430 when he was traded in mid-May back to the Angels along with catcher Chad Kreuter for Chuck McElroy and Jorge Fabregas. (And despite being with a new team, he continued to wear #73 for Anaheim.) His off-field problems were not over: in August, he was arrested in a motel in Anaheim, CA in possession of cocaine. Ownership (Disney) wanted to suspend him for the rest of the season but this was overturned in arbitration. Baseball-wise, he was used at second base, left field and DH. His record for the whole year showed a .392 OBP in 141 games with 102 walks.

The Angels released him at the tail end of spring training in 1998. Phillips had problems finding a team and signed only in July with the Toronto Blue Jays. He lasted less than a month with Toronto, who sent him to the New York Mets in return for Leo Estrella. In 52 games, despite approaching 40, his OBP was still .375 in 65 games. In December, he was signed by the Oakland A's. It was the beginning of the Billy Beane era as an executive and the "Moneyball" theories for which the A’s would become famous had yet to be publicized by the book and movie. Phillips fit the bill with his ability to get on base. It was his last season in the big leagues and he displayed his versatility by playing mostly at second base but also at all three outfield positions. He hit only .244 but drew 71 walks in only 104 games. His season ended when he broke a leg in August.

Phillips was the fourth major leaguer to homer on his 40th birthday, following Bob Thurman (1957), Joe Morgan (1983) and Wade Boggs (just a year before Phillips). It would be 13 years until Chipper Jones became the 5th.

Upon his retirement from baseball, he became the record holder for most games (2,161), plate appearances (9,110), at-bats (7,617), runs scored (1,300) and walks (1,319) among all players to never make an All-Star Game in the All-Star era.

In 2011, at the age of 52, Phillips was still active in professional baseball, playing 3B for the Yuma Scorpions of the independent North American League. He made national news on August 9th for starting a brawl with another former major leaguer, Chico Outlaws manager Mike Marshall. When order was restored, Yuma manager Jose Canseco decided to forfeit the game, fearing for his players' safety, he claimed. Phillips was handed a three-game suspension for his actions, as was Marshall.

Phillips died of a heart attack on February 17, 2016, just as spring training was opening near his Arizona home. He was fondly remembered by former teammates and reporters for his infectious laughter and constant good humor. His death was a huge surprise, because he had kept himself in tip-top shape and was still convinced he could play major league baseball, even at the age of 56. Jose Canseco and Dave Stewart were among those who paid him tribute.

His older brother, Leonard Phillips, also played in the Montreal Expos organization. They are both members of the Roswell High School Hall of Fame. Their nephew, Jermaine Phillips, won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL Runs Scored Leader (1992)
  • 2-time AL Bases on Balls Leader (1993 & 1996)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1995)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 4 (1992, 1993, 1995 & 1996)
  • Won a World Series with the Oakland Athletics in 1989

Further Reading[edit]

  • Mike Blum: "Baseball Hero Comes Home Again: World Series Star Tony Phillips Has Day in His Honor", The Atlanta Journal Constitution, December 28, 1989, pp. H14-.
  • Steve Dilbeck: "Tony Phillips, Two People", USA Today, Arlington, VA, July 22, 1997, pp. S12-.
  • Greg Guss: "All the Rage: Fiery Tony Phillips Ignites Yet Another Club", Sport, Volume 87, Number 10, October 1996, pp. 71-73.
  • Henry Hecht: "The A's Get a Tony Award", Sports Illustrated, Volume 64, Number 22, June 2, 1986. [1]
  • Johnette Howard: "Dynamite Tony Phillips, Anaheim's Diminutive and Explosive Star, Booms Out Hits and Invective", Sports Illustrated, Volume 86, Number 26, June 30, 1997. [2]
  • Tim Kurkjian: "No Futility in Utility", Sports Illustrated, Volume 75, Number 1, July 1, 1991, pp. 54. [3]
  • Tim Kurkjian: "The Feisty Phillips Has Ignited The White Sox", Sports Illustrated, Volume 84, Number 23, June 10, 1996. [4]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Tony Phillips' MLB career left an indelible impression", USA Today Sports, February 20, 2016. [5]
  • Eric Noland: "Alone at the Top: With Tony Phillips Hitting Leadoff, the Angels Sizzled in '95 so Is It a Surprise the White Sox Are Hot with Him there in '96?", Daily News of Los Angeles, June 19, 1996, pp. S1-. [6]
  • Phil Rogers: "Phillips was MLB's pound-for-pound champ: Fiery super-utility player won World Series ring with '89 A's",, February 19, 2016. [7]
  • Bob Ryan: "Tony Phillips Masters Art of Gaining a Winning Edge", Baseball Digest, Volume 54, Number 12, December 1995, pp. 70-.
  • Andrew Simon and Jane Lee: "Super-utility man Phillips dies at 56: Spent nine seasons with A's, five with Tigers; played every position but pitcher, catcher"., February 19, 2016. [8]
  • Paul Sullivan: "Tony the Tornado: Phillips Keeps Thing in a Whirl for the Sox", Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1996, pp. 1-.
  • "Tony Phillips Excels in Leadoff Position", Baseball Digest, Volume 54, Number 12, December 1995, pp. 72-.

Related Sites[edit]