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Tony Phillips dead at 56: Baseball writers, former teammates share stories of energetic man

The death of Oakland Athletics utility player Tony Phillips has led baseball writers and former teammates to share their feelings about an energetic figure who loved the game.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

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."

He paused.

"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:

Lest you think all of this is just how Phillips treated reporters:

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:

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:

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.

We'll update this post throughout the day as more reactions filter in.