Former Detroit Tigers utility player Tony Phillips passed away Wednesday at the age of 56. He played between the years of 1982 and 1999. He was living in the Bay Area and reportedly died of a heart attack. Our deepest condolences go to his family, friends, and former teammates.
Phillips played for the Oakland Athletics, California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Mets before he retired as a member of the Athletics. While he was with the Tigers he predominately played in the outfield, but also spent time in the middle infield. Despite never appearing in an All-Star Game or winning any awards, he was a highly respected player by his former teammates.
His best years were with the Tigers. In 1992, he led the AL in total runs scored with 114. The following year, he led the league in bases-on-balls with 132. That same year, 1993, he finished 16th in the MVP vote due to his .313 batting average and his 5.4 oWAR.
There is no doubt that Phillips was an underrated player. Tony LaRussa, who was Phillip’s manager in Oakland, said: “He had so much energy, he was so feisty, full of piss and vinegar – nothing fazed him. And you could play him anywhere. He was still in great shape, he was down here at our camp three or four days a week. I’m just in shock.”
Phillips was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1978 as the 10th pick. He is best known for his World Series performance in 1989 when he made the last out against Brett Butler and the San Francisco Giants to win the series in a sweep. His long-time teammate with the A’s Dennis Eckersley said about Phillips: “He was a little red-ass, loud, major high-energy, perfect for that team. He could drive you nuts, but he was funny as hell. One of a kind.”
When Phillips played for the Tigers, he played every position except pitcher and catcher. Defensively, he saw the most success in the outfield where he rarely made any errors. Despite being a utility player, he led the league in plate appearances in 1994 and he had the 10th highest WAR in the league that same year. In 1994, he also recorded the most putouts as a left-fielder (as a utility player) with 236. He was second in range factor as a left fielder that same year.
In 2005, he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, but he received a scant 0.2% of the votes. This was the year that Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg were voted into the Hall. His career WAR of 50.8 was the seventh highest on the ballot in 2005. He was an outstanding player who did not get the credit for his intensity and ability. May Tony Phillips rest in peace.