The death of 18-year major leaguer and nine-year Oakland Athletics utility player Tony Phillips on Thursday at age 56, reported by the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, has prompted an outpouring of reactions and stories from journalists who covered Phillips and from his former teammates and coaches.
We start with Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, who initially shared this story on his Twitter feed and published the whole thing on his Facebook page. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was entering his final season, and Passan wanted to speak with the first major leaguer Rivera struck out:
I track down his number and ask how he is. "My shit is turning like an old Ferrari. I could survive in the big leagues right now, dude."
He was 54.
[On whether Phillips could get a hit against Rivera right now, at his age:] "I would either walk or get a fucking knock," Tony said. "He ain't gonna punch me out."
"I guess," Tony said, "there's a possibility for a cracked bat, too."
ESPN's T.J. Quinn has been tweeting about Tony Phillips for the better part of an hour, since around 10:30 AM Pacific Time. Quinn covered Phillips when he was with the White Sox and the Mets. Some highlights:
Might have been toughest pound-for-pound player I ever saw. Fearless. When a pitcher nailed him, TP would go after him at BP the next day.— T.J. Quinn (@TJQuinnESPN) February 19, 2016
He would play any position and treat every game like a war. Said, "kid, I know I'm a turd. I've gotta fight."— T.J. Quinn (@TJQuinnESPN) February 19, 2016
Once said to me after profanity-laced interview, "clean all that shit up. Don't make me look like a MF'ing asshole."— T.J. Quinn (@TJQuinnESPN) February 19, 2016
Once Sox minor owner Jack Gould came through clubhouse. Said, "Hi Tony." He said, "what's up, old MF'er." TP turned to me. "Who was that?"— T.J. Quinn (@TJQuinnESPN) February 19, 2016
Lest you think all of this is just how Phillips treated reporters:
Check @JeffPassan and @TJQuinnESPN for some classic Tony Phillips stories. That's really how he talked, not just to reporters..all the time.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) February 19, 2016
SB Nation lead baseball columnist Grant Brisbee calls Tony Phillips "an underrated superstar":
You didn't need WAR, though. Phillips passed the eyeball test. He was a player you couldn't watch without thinking this guy does everything, and he did it for almost 20 years. He was an overqualified utility player in his 20s with the A's, and then he was a superstar without the accolades and awards for the Tigers for the first half of his 30s. When he was 40, he was still helping his team win, playing six positions (not including DH) for the A's, stealing 11 bases and posting a .362 on-base percentage.
But if you want WAR, you can have it, too:
Tony Phillips had the highest career WAR in the All-Star era by any player who never made an All-Star team pic.twitter.com/Mrd3ybkxdN— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) February 19, 2016
At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron focuses on Phillips' peak in the years after he won the World Series with the '89 Athletics, "Phillips really came into his own in 1990, when I was nine years old and getting seriously into baseball. And for the next decade, I must have watched Tony Phillips be the cause of my team losing on at least a half dozen occasions."
Former teammates and coaches remember
San Francisco Chronicle writers John Shea and Susan Slusser have been reporting on how his former teammates are reeling from his sudden death.
Shea spoke to Rickey Henderson, who heard the news from Phillips' family:
Rickey Henderson had a close and wonderful kinship with Tony Phillips, both of whom played baseball with high energy and passion and both figured they could play the game forever.
"Tony would have rolled around in a wheelchair thinking he could still play," Henderson said Friday, a day after hearing of Phillips' passing.
Slusser has comments from former A's manager Tony La Russa and teammate Dave Stewart in her article reporting Phillips' death:
- La Russa: "He had so much energy, he was so feisty, full of piss and vinegar - nothing fazed him. And you could play him anywhere."
- Stewart: "You always knew when he was in the house. He was just a little sparkplug, fiery. Just a good, good friend."
More from former teammates:
Man I just heard the news about Tony Phillips! He was one of my favorite teammates ever!! RIP TP!! I will always remember you my friend!!— Frank Thomas (@TheBigHurt_35) February 19, 2016
Frank Thomas says he's reeling over Tony Phillips' death. "The time we spent together was a blast.He was the man. And he loved baseball."— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) February 19, 2016
Frank Thomas chuckles recalling Tony Phillips' favorite term of endearment. "He called everyone 'Poo Butt.' 'Hey, Poo Butt! How's it going?'— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) February 19, 2016
Dennis Eckersley on Tony Phillips: "I'll never forget him -he tossed the ball to me for that last out. We always had a connection."— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) February 19, 2016
More Eck on Phillips: "He was a manager's dream, he played everywhere, like Zobrist. And major, high energy. Perfect for that team."— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) February 19, 2016
Here's a trivia question, what was the last professional baseball team that both Jose Canseco and Tony Phillips played on? No, not the 1989 A's. Not even the 1998 Toronto Blue Jays. They both played (though not simultaneously) for the 2015 Pittsburg Mettle of the Pacific Association. Phillips was on the team for a short time, going 3-for-23 with 10 walks (of course he did) for a .130/.394/.130 batting line. Jose Canseco joined the team later that season to try to sock some dingers and participate in a home run contest.
RIP Tony Phillips. My thoughts and prayers with your family at this tough time. Going to miss you.— Jose Canseco (@JoseCanseco) February 19, 2016
I am in total shock .played golf with Tony Phillips last week he was driving the ball over 300 yards seemed so healthy and full of life.— Jose Canseco (@JoseCanseco) February 19, 2016
We'll update this post throughout the day as more reactions filter in.