Spent nine seasons with A's, five with Tigers; played every position but pitcher, catcher
By Andrew Simon and Jane Lee
MLB.com |@JaneMLB |
Tony Phillips, a versatile and productive player over 18 Major League seasons, including nine with the A's and five with the Tigers, died on Wednesday in Arizona at age 56.
The cause of death was an apparent heart attack, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Friday.
"The Oakland A's lost another member of our family this week with the unexpected passing of Tony Phillips," A's president Michael Crowley said. "We all have fond memories of Tony making the final play in the A's 1989 World Series. He was a remarkable player. Our thoughts are with his family."
Phillips, drafted by the Expos in 1978, was traded twice before debuting with the A's in '82. He stayed there through '89, when Oakland defeated San Francisco in the World Series, then returned for his final season in '99. He played for Detroit from 1990-94 and also spent time with the Angels, White Sox, Blue Jays and Mets.
The A's fielded a dynamic infield with Phillips, Mike Gallego and Walt Weiss in the 1980s, one that measures up to any defensive infields in recent history. Gallego, a locker mate of Phillips during that time, remembered him fondly Friday.
"One of the most enthusiastic, energetic, passionate baseball teammates I've ever had," said Gallego, the former A's third-base coach who is now working in the Angels' organization. "Almost frightening how much this guy looked forward to the next pitch.
"In the last four years, I don't know how many people he called to tell them to come and take a look at him so he could have another chance to play the game again. This is a guy that was in his 50s. He called me a couple times to come out and take a look at him myself, because he knew I would give him an honest opinion. He would say, 'I know you would tell me the truth.' Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to tell him that.
"It was devastating to hear the news about Tony, because this guy was all about life. He lived a good, full one, and when you were around him, you usually enjoyed your day."
Two other members of the 1989 A's championship team, pitcher Bob Welch and outfielder Dave Henderson, have died within the past two years.
"It's unbelievable, Rickey [Henderson] and I were just talking about it, first Welchy, then Hendu and now T.P.," D-backs general manager and former A's pitcher Dave Stewart told the Chronicle. "It's crazy."
Described by Stewart as "a little sparkplug," Phillips was versatile both at the plate and in the field. A switch-hitter, he appeared at every position other than pitcher and catcher and played 169 or more games apiece at second base, left field, third base, shortstop and right field.
Phillips posted a .266/.374/.389 career batting line with 160 home runs and 177 stolen bases. He led the American League in walks twice and in runs scored once, racking up 50.8 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com. That ranks 14th all-time among switch-hitters, though the underrated Phillips never made an All-Star team and only once received votes for a Most Valuable Player Award.
Phillips' most productive stretch came after he signed with the Tigers following the 1989 season. He averaged an .800 OPS, 12 homers and 5.0 WAR in his five season with Detroit.
"The Detroit Tigers were saddened to learn of the passing of Tony Phillips," the Tigers said in a statement. "Tony was an exciting player to watch and became a fan favorite during his years in Detroit. The Tigers organization extends our deepest sympathies to Tony's family."
Even after his career in the Majors ended, Phillips continued to play on multiple occasions. He suited up in the Mexican League in 2002, in the independent North American League in '11 and '12, and even in the independent Pacific Association last year. At age 56, Phillips spent eight games with the Pittsburg (Calif.) Mettle, picking up three hits in 23 at-bats. He showed he still had his sharp batting eye, drawing 10 walks.
Funeral services for Phillips are pending, according to the A's.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.