Tony Phillips turns 53 today.
Tony was only a Blue Jay for a few short days, but he's just such an interesting character that I wanted to make some mention of him. We signed him, as a free agent, July 1, 1998, and then traded him, on July 31st, to the Mets for someone named Leo Estrella. For the Jays, he played 13 game and hit .354/.467/.521. It was a pretty good idea to sell him quick while he was hitting, he didn't hit much for the Mets.
He had an 18 year major league career, mostly as a 'super-sub', a category of player that he kind of invented. He was a utility player, he played every position on the diamond except for pitcher and catcher in his career, but, unlike most utility types, he could hit and he most seasons he played as many games as most regulars.
Tony was good at getting on base. he took over 100 walks 5 times. He had occasional power, he hit 27 homers in 1995, but that was the only time he was over 20 home runs. For his career he hit .266/.374/.389 in 2161 games, finishing with 2023 hits, 160 home runs and 1300 runs.
Tony was one of the poster children for the growing sabermetric evolution, back in the 80's and 90's. His ability to get on base and and that he could play so many positions made him a valuable player. He wasn't great defensively at any of the positions, but if you had an injury at any position, he was able to fill in. I remember him making basket catches on most fly balls to the outfield (at least early in his career) and I remember thinking how cool he looked doing that. Course, I found out later that he made many more errors than the average outfielder would, in part because he liked making those catches and his managers and coaches would try to get him to catch the ball like a normal baseball player.
Phillips had more than his share of troubles off the field. He was charged with assault, in 1996, for getting into a 'shoving match' with a fan after a game. He came out of the game, in the 7th inning, got changed and then searched the fan out to pay him back for some taunting. He was arrested for cocaine possession in 1997. And last year, playing for the Yuma Scorpions of the North American League, he was charged with assault again, after punching his manager. I don't know why a guy that made millions in the majors, would still be wanting to play ball in an independent league (especially in Yuma, that can't be a fun place in the summer) at age 52
Bill James had him listed as the 66th best right fielder in baseball history (he played more at both second base and third base than right field, but Bill had to put him somewhere) in his 'Historical Baseball Abstract'. That was a few years back, he'd have dropped a few spots by now.
Happy birthday Tony.