Baseball Star Tony Phillips died of a heart attack today at the age of 56, may he rest in peace.
I just want to write a short article about him because, as a fan of baseball stats, I consider him a guy who probably has a legit chance of being the Most Under Rated Player of All Time.
Let's look at as his career stats first.
Position(s): SS, 3B, 2B, OF ... very versatile.
Plate Appearances: 9110
Runs Batted In: 819
Base on Balls: 1319
Steals/Attempts: 177/291 (60.8% success rate)
Awards and Accolades: None What-So-Ever
That's a pretty decent career that he had and I almost find it shocking that he was never elected to even one All Star Game or ever won any sort of award of any kind.
I'm not saying he's a Hall of Fame caliber player but he only got 1 vote in total when his name came up and did not warrant a discussion of his candidacy.
How Come No One Remembers Tony Phillips as the Star that He Was?
I think I have the reason why and it is something that comes up when I write those "Tim Raines for Hall of Fame" articles every year.
Back in the days that Phillips played in the 80s and 90s when you watched baseball on TV the station would put a stat line overlayed on the screen for every hitter during their first at bat (and then what he did that day for the rest of his at bats). This stat lines would always be in bright yellow font for the categories and white font for the numbers and the categories were always without fail...
Those are the metrics that everyone was told to take as what was important for a player to do in order to be considered a good player. Despite being a star player, Tony Phillips DID NOT excel in those three categories and therefore no one who watched baseball ever thought he was as good as he was. He'd come up to the plate and they'd see ... let's take his last at bat of 1996 when he played Left Field for the Chicago White Sox as an example.... People watching WGN baseball with Hawk and Wimpy back in '96 would have seen Tony Phillips walk to the plate and this stat line would appear on the screen as he took his practice swings in the box....
1. Avg: .277
2. HR: 12
3. RBI: 63
Fans at home would look at that back in '96 and say things like...
".277 ? Heck, that's not that great. He's not that good. He can't hit that well."
"Only 12 homers? That's not that much. He's not a good power hitter."
"Only 63 Runs Batted In? That sucks. This player sucks."
...and those fans would have been correct. BUT, that's not what made Tony Phillips a star player. That stat line does not tell you that Tony Phillips walked a league leading 125 times that season! A hundred and twenty five times! If you're new to baseball stats what does that means? It means 125 times during 1996 Phillips reached base without making an out ... yet those 125 instances are in no way reflected in that archaic stat line of AVG/HR/RBI.
Phillips had a .404 OBP in 1996 and was hitting ahead of the South Side Sluggers ... Mr. Big Hurt Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura. His walks and decent speed helped him score 119 runs that year. When you're hitting ahead of Frank Thomas ... a walk is a pretty big deal. If Hurt homers or doubles next at bat ... you score a run.
This was the case for Tony's entire career.... he played for six different teams over his 18 year career and managed to score 1,300 runs. That's quite a lot of runs. He had above average speed (career high 19 stolen bases in 1990 for the Tigers) and was frequently on the bases. He ranks 126th all time in Runs Scored ... only 125 players have scored more runs than him in all of history.
On top of it all, he was a switch hitter who could play well in almost every single position (except catcher and pitcher) making him an asset on any team and could almost fit any role they needed him to fit.
It's not a stretch to consider Tony Phillips as the most under rated baseball player of all time, it really isn't. No one remembers him as being a great ball player but he definitely was.
Tony Phillips is probably the greatest baseball player who never got invited to an All Star Game.... at least from the era that I watched baseball in. I'm sure there's other candidates for that title but from all of the ones I can think of and that I'm familiar with ... I think Tony was one of if not the most under rated players of all time. He's not a Hall of Famer but he was definitely All Star Caliber ... though he was never considered as such in his playing days.
For those Montreal baseball fans that read these articles on this site, Tony has a small place in Expos history. He was drafted by Montreal but traded for Willie Montanez (who in 81 at bats with the Expos had a .460 OPS with Zero Home Runs). If anyone compiles a Worst Trade in Expos History List ... you have to include Phillips for Montanez near the top. It wasn't a great trade.
Rest in Peace Mr Tony Phillips.