DiSarcina recalls Phillips as teacher, friend

DiSarcina recalls Phillips as teacher, friend

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tony Phillips, the fiery utility man who passed away on Wednesday, taught Gary DiSarcina how to hold others accountable. The two were teammates with the Angels on a couple of separate occasions, for all of 1995 and for five months of the 1997 season. Phillips usually led off, DiSarcina frequently batted ninth, and DiSarcina always heard Phillips encouraging him from the on-deck circle.

One time, though, DiSarcina was frustrated. It was a hot day in Detroit, and he had just struck out on a close call to end the inning, so he flung his bat and slammed his helmet in the middle of a silent Tiger Stadium. Suddenly, DiSarcina could hear someone cussing at him.

"I thought it was somebody in the stands," DiSarcina said. "I turned around and looked and it was Tony, marching right at me from the on-deck circle, screaming and yelling at me, 'Go home. If you're going to be a baby, go home.'"

Super-utility player Phillips dies at age 56

DiSarcina was confused. Phillips kept going.

"'We're winning this game and it's not about you,'" DiSarcina said. "'If you want to complain and cry and be a baby, go home, we don't want you here.' He walked out to second, I walked out to short, and he screamed and yelled at me the whole way."

"He taught me a lesson," DiSarcina added. "It's a grown man's game."

Phillips passed on Wednesday, at age 56, but the public didn't find out until Friday. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the cause of death as an apparent heart attack and several of the Angels' coaches were visibly shaken when word spread to the back fields of their Spring Training complex.

"Just sadness," DiSarcina said. "Great dad, one of the best teammates I've ever had. Just an all-around incredible person."

Phillips carved out an 18-year Major League career, spending nine of his seasons with the A's but also suiting up for the Tigers, Angels, White Sox, Mets and Blue Jays, playing more than 150 games at six different positions.

He never minced words, either.

Phillips attacked star players, like Cecil Fielder, whom he berated for giving away an at-bat while Phillips was on base with 99 runs scored in the regular-season finale. He also attacked birds. It happened at Fenway Park, after striking out to lead off a game. DiSarcina was sitting next to Phillips in the dugout. And on the top step was a pigeon eating sunflower seeds.

The poor guy got in Phillips' sightline.

"What are you looking at?" Phillips said.

DiSarcina was confused and began to look around.

"One more time, you look at me," Phillips continued, with an assortment of expletives thrown in, "and I'm going to pinch your neck."

"What are you doing?" DiSarcina finally asked.

"That [expletive] pigeon is staring at me," Phillips told DiSarcina. "I'm going to kill that [expletive]."

"Tony," DiSarcina said, "that's a pigeon."

"The more I think about him, the more stories come back," DiSarcina said, a smile creeping in. "You file a lot of stuff, and when you think about one story it leads to another story, and the bottom line for me is he made me a better baseball player; he taught me valuable lessons. He helped teach me how to win. The most important lesson he taught me was, 'It's OK to challenge another teammate, because now that teammate has the ability to challenge you.'"

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.