Any Player/Any Era: Tony Phillips

What he did: Tony Phillips had a long and relatively accomplished career (48.2 WAR in 18 seasons), yet doesn’t seem to be mentioned at all anymore. It seems Phillips was completely overshadowed by teammates (Jose Canseco, Cecil Fielder, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Travis Fryman, Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, etc.)

However, Phillips deserved more than one lone MVP finish (16th in 1993) and should be remembered fondly. Phillips has the 23rd most hits by a switch hitter all time and his .374 OBP is 12th all time for a switch hitter (oddly, just .001 behind Pete Rose.)

Phillips could, flat out, get on base. He scored a cool 1,300 runs, the 10th most all time by a switch hitter and walked the 33rd most times in MLB history. His 1,319 walks are the fifth most by a switch hitter, behind only Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Eddie Murray and Tim Raines. Phillips also led-off a game with a homer 30 times, the 10th most all time. If you think he was simply a compiler, you’re dead wrong. From 1989-1996, he was worth 34.2 WAR. During that stretch, he averaged a .276/.391/.405 line. I suppose the fact that he never lead the league in hits, hit a lot of HRs or stole a ton of bases kept him from getting his due. But, he did lead the league in runs in 1992 and walks twice, 1993 and 1996.

There wasn’t much finer than his 1993 campaign. He posted a .313/.443/.398 line. That OBP is tied for the ninth highest in a season by a switch hitter (min 3.1 PA per scheduled game, via SABR). His 132 walks were the third most ever in a season by a switch hitter.

Phillips was also the first player on the A’s to hit for the cycle, he went 5-5 with two runs and four RBIs against the Orioles in 1986 (poor Storm Davis.)

I’ll end with this: Phillips ended a game 109 times, tied for the 30th most ever with none other than Barry Bonds.

Era he might have thrived in: I wanted to put him in the late 1940s so he could go toe-to-toe with Pee Wee Reese and Eddie Yost, but I really think Tony Phillips would have thrived in the 1950s, specifically on the Cleveland Indians, two years after the club last won the World Series.

Why: The Indians were perennial bridesmaids in the 50s, finishing second six times and first once.

Would Phillips have pushed them over the top? Well, he would have hit .282/.394/.411 for the squad during that era. In addition, he could have slide nicely around the diamond to provide flexibility and a strong bat. In ’50, he could play second instead of Joe Gordon. The following year he could spell Ray Boone and Al Rosen, who had bad years. In ’52 and ‘53, he’d move Harry Simpson to the bench. In ‘54 and ’55, he could play right in favor of Dave Philley or short in favor of George Strickland.

He would post OBPs of .390 or higher in nine season during that era and his on-base abilities would fit the Cleveland line-up perfectly. Perhaps the Indians would have built a mini-dynasty and Phillips would be mentioned in the same breath with greats like Larry Doby, Al Rosen, Early Wynn, and others.

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Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Similarly underrated players: Bob WatsonCesar CedenoGene Tenace, Jack Clark, Nate Colbert.

Others in this series: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleDoug GlanvilleEddie LopatElmer FlickFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge W. Bush (as commissioner)George CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack Morris, Jackie Robinson, Jim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny Frederick, Josh GibsonJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film)Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey HendersonRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy Koufax,  Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

0 thoughts on “Any Player/Any Era: Tony Phillips”

  1. It doesnt appear Phillips and Rickey Henderson overlapped a ton in their career, but those two were my favorite non-Orioles as a youngster, just loved the way they played!

  2. I have this theory about Tony Phillips that I’ve been meaning to test out…

    I believe his versatility is hurting his WAR. He was primarily an infielder (playing more valuable positions), though he also spent some time later primarily as an outfielder.

    In those seasons he was primarily an infielder, he is docked for his versatility via the outfield positional adjustment. So, while what he was doing was unique and very valuable to the team, that is not reflected in his WAR.

    Is it a huge difference? Certainly not. But I’m guessing it’s a swing of a couple wins.

  3. I hadnt thought about it and dont know enough about WAR to go much further than what you postulated.

    I do think we arent close to understanding how to value versatility. Managers sure seem to think Phillips and Bloomquist (to use a horrible example) types have innate value and maybe they do. Phillips was obviously a far better player, but he must have had some additional value to teams given that they could get his bat in the line-up at any number of positions…

  4. Phillips games stepped up a notch in his early thirties similar to how some other players advanced in the era (e.g. Paul Molitor). He wasn’t particularly speedy bit did well on the base-paths scoring a lot of runs. He was one of my favorites on the Tigers.

  5. I dont really remember him outside of the late 80s Athletics. I guess I only really followed the Orioles back then, but it was really fun to investigate his career and see the value he brought the Tigers and Angels.

    Thanks for the comment, Crunruh

  6. Adam has hit something important here. Versatility can be one of two kinds. Either a player is/was such a horrible defender that they kept being moved around to find a safer place to hide them, or, as in the case of Tony Phillips, he was valuable enough that he could be plugged in at one of several positions to fill an actual need and strengthen it.
    Think of him as a Gil McDougald who could also play the outfield but switch hit with more power and get on base a lot more.

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