Tony Phillips died last week of a heart attack, aged only 56. Phillips exceeded 50 WAR in an 18 year career played primarily with the Athletics and Tigers. One of the most versatile players in major league history, Phillips started his career as a shortstop but ended up playing over 400 games at 2B, 3B and LF.
More on Phillips after the jump.
Eleven of Phillips’ 18 seasons saw him compile qualifying PAs, but he played more than two-thirds of his team’s games at one position in only two of those campaigns, both as a left-fielder late in his career. For his career, Phillips played 20 games at three positions 6 times, and 30 games at two positions on 11 occasions. His 1984 season with 91 games at both 2B and SS (obviously including a significant number of games in which he played both positions) is the only season with 75 games at each of the keystone positions. That was his second year with 60 games at those two spots, also a unique accomplishment.
Most of Phillips’ career value came in the back end of his career, after compiling only 11.6 WAR through his age 29 season for the 1988 AL champion A’s. Among 98 players including Phillips with 30 WAR aged 30+, only Cy Williams and Dixie Walker compiled less WAR in 500+ games before age 30. Phillips’ had a late career peak at age 31-36, exceeding 4 WAR in each of those seasons to rank among 57 players since 1901 with 25 WAR and 15 WAA at those ages. Of that group, only Stan Musial and Paul Molitor joined Phillips in not playing two-thirds of their games at one position.
Phillips compiled an 11.4% walk rate through his age 30 season, but increased that to 16.0% after age 30 (a 40% improvement). That change contributed to 6 consecutive seasons (1992-97) of 90 walks and 90 runs (a stretch that included two strike-shortened seasons) making Phillips the only player with that accomplishment aged 33-38. Those seasons also made Phillips the only player at any age with 6 consecutive years of 90 walks, 90 strikeouts and fewer than 30 home runs.
Phillips posted a career best 119 runs in both 1995 and 1996; those 238 total runs trail only Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds at age 36-37. Phillips’ 2023 career hits are the fewest among 87 retired players to reach 1300 runs for their careers. Similarly, his 9110 career PA and .389 SLG are the lowest marks among 38 retired players to reach 1300 runs and 1300 walks.
Phillips’ career ended where it began, playing with the A’s in 1999 at age 40 and typically recording 15+ games at four different positions. Phillips’ 15 home runs that year are the 5th highest final season total aged 40+, tied with another player who returned to Oakland for his final campaign. Who is he?