On-base machine and super-utility man Tony Phillips dies at age 56

18 Comments

Sad news via Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, who reports that longtime major leaguer Tony Phillips has died at age 56 due to an apparent heart attack.

Phillips played 18 seasons in the majors for six different teams, including nine years with the Oakland A’s. He was often categorized at a “utility man” because of his ability to play basically anywhere on the diamond, but he was absolutely a starting-caliber player and in many seasons an underrated star.

Phillips was a diminutive switch-hitter with modest power and incredible plate discipline, leading the league in walks twice and drawing 100 or more walks six times. He got on base more times (3,384) than 75 different Hall of Fame hitters, including big names like Joe DiMaggio, Willie Stargell, Duke Snider, Jim Rice, Orlando Cepeda, and Johnny Bench. He began his career in 1982 as a 23-year-old shortstop and ended up logging 500 or more innings at shortstop, second base, third base, left field, right, and center field.

Phillips never made an All-Star team, which is a shame because he was clearly worthy of that honor in multiple seasons and, had he played now instead of in the 1980s and 1990s, his outstanding on-base skills and defensive versatility would have been more properly appreciated. As recently as last year he was playing independent league ball.

Helluva player gone way too soon.