I was shocked and saddened today to read about the passing of Tony Phillips (heart attack) on Wednesday. Though many, especially west-coasters, probably remember him mostly from his nine years (over two stints) with Oakland, I've always thought of him as a Tiger. The extremely versatile Phillips was Montreal's #1 pick in 1978 (10th overall), was flipped to San Diego in 1980, and ultimately ended up in Oakland in 1981. He spent his first eight seasons (1982-89) with the A's, meaning he was part of two of Oakland's three straight AL pennants, including the '89 champs.
That offseason he signed with Detroit, and from there he started to live up to his draft position to some extent. In five seasons with the Tigers he hit .281/.395/.405 with 61 HR and 70 steals and achieved the five best bWARs of his career, averaging about 5.0 per season. 1993 was his high water mark (5.6) thanks to a .313/.443/.398 slash and a career high 132 walks, not to mention his trademark positional flexibility. With the Tigers, Phillips played everywhere on the diamond except for P, C, and 1B, and over his career he was short just those first two.
Tony finished out his 18-year career with stops with the Angels, White Sox, Angels again, Blue Jays, Mets, and a last hurrah with Oakland in 1999 (in which he clubbed 15 HR!). He was never destined for Cooperstown, but his leadoff skills, switch-hitting ability, and defensive versatility put him in a category above the standard "super utility" player. In some ways I've occasionally thought of him as a poor man's Rickey Henderson that could play the infield. The Detroit News article linked above includes some quotes from former teammates that prove how fond they were of him, including glowing praise from Tigers legend Alan Trammell, who said "He was a tough son of a guy. But he believed in himself, and he wouldn't back down from anybody."
2016 has been a bit of a rough year for celebrities, and I was already feeling down today due to the passing of legendary author Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame (and, to a lesser extent, Go Set a Watchman, the follow-up published under unfortunate circumstances). But at least I can happily remember watching Phillips playing the game with skill and passion, both in-person and on TV, during my formative years in the early 90s. I don't think there will ever be another one like him.
In honor of his Tigers career, here's the "loose" (i.e. not part of complete sets) cards of Phillips from my Tigers PC:
RIP Tony Phillips, gone too soon.