R.I.P. Tony Phillips

Tony Phillips passed away today, at the age of 56. Unlike some of the reporters sharing stories from their days covering him on Twitter — this one from Jeff Passan is great — I never had any interaction with him, and can’t share any personal stories in his memory. But what I can share is my memory of just how good Tony Phillips was at baseball.

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. He was never the other team’s best player, at least not according to the announcers, but he was one of those remarkably good role players that the good teams always seemed to have. And, with the benefit of some better ways of evaluating players these days, we can look back and say that Phillips just may have been his team’s best player on a number of occasions.

His peak ran about seven years, from 1990-1996. Here’s the position player leaderboard during that stretch.

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That’s a who’s-who of the best players of the 1990s, and Phillips is square in the middle of that class. For that seven year period, he was essentially the equal of Craig Biggio. As J.J. Cooper put it:

The comparison is apt, and if Phillips had played a couple of decades later, he’d be celebrated as one of the game’s most valuable players. While he wasn’t flashy, he didn’t hit a ton of home runs, and his positional versatility meant he was never considered an elite defender, his all-around game made Phillips a tremendous asset for his teams.

Rest in peace, Mr. Phillips.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Jim H
Jim H

I’m a Tiger fan. He was a favorite to watch. So competitive. RIP Tony.