Former big league infielder and outfielder Tony Phillips passed away on Wednesday of an apparent heart attack. He was 56.
Originally a first round draft pick by the Montreal Expos in 1978, Phillips made his big league debut with the Oakland A’s 1982 under manager Billy Martin. In a career that lasted 18 seasons, Phillips would play with the A’s (twice), Detroit Tigers, California/Anaheim Angels (twice), Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets. Although primarily a second baseman, Phillips was versatile and could play anywhere in the infield and on occasion play a corner outfield position. But the best part of Phillips’ game was his ability to get on base. In five separate seasons, he drew 100 or more walks and led the AL in that category twice (1993 and 1996).
While Phillips would play in two World Series with the A’s (1988 and 1989), I remember him primarily as a Tiger. In fact, I remember George Kell would refer to him as “Tony the Tiger” during games on WDIV-TV. Phillips hustled, but he also had a temper which led to ferocious arguments with umpires and frequent ejections.
Although his MLB career ended in 1999, Phillips kept himself in enormous shape and continued to play. After a brief stint in the Mexican League in 2002, Phillips would return to pro ball in the independent leagues in 2011 at the age of 52 when he reunited with former A’s teammate Jose Canseco to play with the Yuma Scorpions in the independent North American League. Unfortunately, Phillips’ temper reared its ugly head when he was involved in a brawl with former Dodgers outfielder Mike Marshall who was managing the Chico Outlaws. Marshall would press assault charges against Phillips, but nothing came of them and he would play with the Edinburg Roadrunners the following year. Check out this video of Phillips’ hitting a triple in a Roadrunners’ uniform.
In 2015, Phillips would play in 8 games with the Pittsburg Diamond of the Pacific League. He did so in the hope of obtaining an opportunity to play in the Dominican Republic. Hall of Famer and former A’s teammate Rickey Henderson paid tribute to Phillips today by saying, “Tony would have rolled around in a wheelchair thinking he could still play.”
Hopefully for Tony Phillips there will be a field of dreams beyond the sky.
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