Top Tigers Countdown #48: Tony Phillips

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball's Ben Zobrist before Ben Zobrist arrived on the scene, super utility man Tony Phillips spent five of the best seasons in his career with the Tigers in the early 1990s.

Tony Phillips played in the big leagues for 18 seasons, topping 250 plate appearances in 16 of them. He only logged enough appearances at one position to be considered a "starter" at said position twice in his career. Despite this fact, he accumulated 46.6 WAR while playing every position on the diamond. Phillips spent five years with the Tigers in his prime, hitting .281/.395/.405 while playing above average defense all across the field.

Year PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
1982* 100 0 8 2 .210 .326 .284 .290 81 0.4
1983* 476 4 35 16 .248 .327 .320 .299 88 0.8
1984* 505 4 37 10 .266 .325 .359 .311 96 1.7
1985* 178 4 17 3 .280 .331 .453 .346 119 1.6
1986* 532 5 52 15 .256 .367 .345 .330 108 4.0
1987* 441 10 46 7 .240 .337 .372 .318 97 1.8
1988* 251 2 17 0 .203 .320 .307 .294 88 -0.3
1989* 524 4 47 3 .262 .345 .348 .318 104 2.2
1990 687 8 55 19 .251 .364 .351 .334 108 4.4
1991 655 17 72 10 .284 .371 .438 .362 124 4.8
1992 733 10 64 12 .276 .387 .388 .358 122 4.6
1993 707 7 57 16 .313 .443 .398 .388 136 5.2
1994 538 19 61 13 .281 .409 .468 .388 130 4.4
1995** 643 27 61 13 .261 .394 .459 .379 124 3.7
1996*** 719 12 63 13 .277 .404 .399 .362 112 3.3
1997** 648 8 57 13 .275 .392 .391 .355 112 1.9
1998**** 289 4 21 1 .250 .375 .369 .339 106 0.7
1999* 484 15 49 11 .244 .362 .433 .351 107 1.5
Career 9110 160 819 177 .266 .374 .389 .347 112 46.6

*Played for the Oakland Athletics from 1982 to 1989 and in 1999.
**Played for the California/Anaheim Angels in 1995 and from May 1997 to September 1997.
***Played for the Chicago White Sox from 1996 to May 1997.
****Played for the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets in 1998.

Keith Anthony Phillips was born on April 25th, 1959 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 16th round of the 1977 amateur draft, but chose to spend a year playing college ball at the New Mexico Military Institute. The move paid off, as Phillips was drafted with the 10th overall pick by the Montreal Expos the next year. He moved steadily through the minors despite some poor offensive numbers, save for an .862 OPS for Triple-A Tacoma -- a member of the notoriously hitter friendly Pacific Coast League -- in 1982. Phillips also changed organizations twice, moving from the Expos to the San Diego Padres in 1980, then to the Oakland Athletics in 1981.

Phillips made his big league debut in 1982, primarily playing shortstop in 40 games from May until early July. He hit just .210/.326/.284 with four extra base hits and no home runs in 100 plate appearances. He had a more consistent role with the A's in 1984 and 1985, logging at least 475 plate appearances in both seasons. He hit a combined .257/.326/.341 and tallied 2.5 WAR while spending time at second, short, third, and in left field. His playing time was cut short by a broken foot in 1985, limiting him to just 178 plate appearances down the stretch.

Phillips expanded his super utility role in 1986, appearing in four games in center field. He hit .256/.367/.345 including a 5-for-5 effort on May 16th when he became the first player in A's history to hit for the cycle. In typical Phillips fashion, he also played multiple positions that afternoon, switching from second to third on the seventh inning. He continued to be a useful asset for the team over the next three years, including appearances at all seven infield and outfield positions for the 1988 AL champions.

Following the 1989 season, Phillips signed with the Tigers, who were coming off a 59-103 season. Despite their poor record, the team was already set up the middle with should-be Hall of Famers Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker manning short and second, respectively. However, the corner infield spots were iffy and Phillips' experience in the outfield was seen as an asset given Chet Lemon's recent move to right field. Phillips delivered his best season yet in 1990, hitting .251/.364/.351 with eight home runs and 19 stolen bases. He also contributed 1.6 combined defensive WAR at six positions, though the majority of his appearances came at third base.

Phillips fought off Father Time during his years in Detroit, posting the best WAR totals of his career in each of his seasons with the Tigers. His .334 wOBA, 108 wRC+, and 4.4 WAR in 1990 -- his best season up to that point -- were his worst as a Tiger. He hit .284/.371/.438 with 17 home runs in 1991, then led the league with 114 runs in 1992. He drew a league-high 132 walks in 1993 while hitting .313/.443/.398. He also stole 16 bases and compiled 5.2 WAR that season, the latter marking the best total of his career. He even garnered some MVP consideration that year, finishing 16th in the voting. He slugged a career high .468 and led the league with 538 plate appearances in the strike-shortened 1994 season, most of which came as the team's left fielder.

Phillips signed with the California Angels prior to the 1995 season, where he hit a career high 27 home runs despite turning 36 shortly after the season began. His power surge didn't last when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for the 1996 season, but his keen eye did. Phillips drew 125 walks for the Sox that year, leading the league for the second time in his career. It was the fourth time in the last five years he had drawn at least 100 free passes, and the eighth time in the previous 11 seasons where he sported a walk rate of 14% or better.

Phillips ran into some legal trouble during the 1997 season. After being traded back to the Angels early in the year, he was charged with cocaine possession on August 10th. He missed less than two weeks of playing time -- the matter was still under investigation at the time -- rejoining the team on the 21st of the month. The Angels, in a tight playoff race with the Seattle Mariners at the time, finished second in the division with an 84-78 record.

While it's easy to blame Phillips' declining performance over the next two year on the arrest, his dip in playing time -- and production, to some extent -- is more likely due to the fact that he was approaching his 40s. He appeared in 171 games for the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, and A's across the 1998 and 1999 seasons, hitting a combined .246/.367/.410 with 19 home run and 12 stolen bases.

This would not be the last that baseball saw of Tony Phillips, however. He appeared in 24 games for the Yuma Scorpions of the North American League in 2011 at the ripe age of 52, then topped that with 16 games for the Edinburgh Roadrunners of the same league the next year. He tried out for the Scorpions again last year, but Baseball Reference had no statistics recorded for the 2013 season.

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