It came as a shock on Friday when the news broke that longtime former Major Leaguer Tony Phillips had died of an apparent heart attack. A man determined and fit enough to suit up for an independent league team last season is now gone far too soon, at age 56.
Phillips stood out for his personality, but even though he enjoyed an 18-year career in the big leagues, his on-field accomplishments flew a bit under the radar. He never made an All-Star team, only once showed up on an MVP ballot and received a single vote in his only year of Hall of Fame eligibility.
But looking back on Phillips' big league career, which ended in 1999, it becomes clear that he was one of the most versatile, unusual and ultimately underrated players the game has seen. With help from the invaluable Baseball-Reference.com Play Index, here is a look at what made Phillips so special.
When Phillips made it to the Majors with the A's in 1982, he played only shortstop during his 40-game debut. After that, he spent time at multiple positions every single season, establishing himself as the ultimate super-utilityman.
Phillips played 778 games at second base, 565 in left field, 428 at third base, 294 at shortstop, 169 in right field, 97 in center field and five at first base (plus 101 at designated hitter). And unlike most who bounce all around the diamond, Phillips was extremely productive.
Most career WAR, 5+ games at those 7 positions (since 1920)
1. 50.8 WAR - Phillips, 1982-99
2. 38.5 WAR - Ben Zobrist, 2006-present
3. 28.2 WAR - Melvin Mora, 1999-2011
4. 22.1 WAR - Howard Johnson, 1982-95
5. 15.7 WAR - Scott Brosius, 1991-2001
Phillips is one of only four players to spend 100-plus games apiece at second, third, shortstop, left field and right field. He and Pete Rose are the only ones to log at least 400 games at second, third and left. Phillips played five or more positions in half of his 18 seasons, including 1999, when he returned to the A's at age 40 and spent time everywhere except pitcher, catcher and first base. Since 1905, no other player has accomplished that feat at older than 37.
Despite all of that moving around, Phillips wound up at 40 Total Zone defensive runs above average for his career.
Rare offensive profile
Phillips was a switch-hitter who showed little platoon split, posting a .746 OPS against right-handed pitchers and an .805 OPS against lefties. He sits 14th all-time in WAR among switch-hitters, just behind Lance Berkman and ahead of Bernie Williams, and is one of seven to collect at least 2,000 hits, 1,000 walks, 150 home runs and 150 stolen bases. The others are far more recognizable names: Roberto Alomar, Carlos Beltran, Chipper Jones, Mickey Mantle, Tim Raines and Rose.
Though it probably wasn't as appreciated in his day as it would become later, Phillips' greatest attribute at the plate was his patience. From 1990-97, he collected 90-plus walks seven times and finished in the top three in the AL six times, including first in '93 and '95. His 1,319 career free passes ranks 40th all-time and sixth among switch-hitters.
Phillips finished with a .266/.374/.389 line (109 OPS+), giving him a higher on-base percentage than prolific sluggers such as Hank Aaron, Rafael Palmeiro, Ken Griffey Jr., and Reggie Jackson. That gets at one of the most interesting facets of Phillips' game. He exhibited a tremendous knack for getting on base, without the benefit of the intimidating power that leads pitchers to avoid the strike zone (he had one season with 20-plus homers, and five with more than 10).
Phillips' 1993 campaign for Detroit sums up his unique blend of skills, even though it came at the past-his-prime age of 34. He split his 151 games between five positions and produced 5.6 WAR while batting .313/.443/.398 with 113 runs, seven homers, 16 steals and 132 walks.
Most walks in a season with single-digit homers (since 1951)
1. 132 BB -- Phillips, 1993 (7 HR)
2. 125 BB -- Rickey Henderson, 1996 (9 HR)
2. 125 BB -- Wade Boggs, 1988 (5 HR)
2. 125 BB -- Richie Ashburn, 1954 (1 HR)
5. 123 BB -- Eddie Yost, 1953 (9 HR)
Of Phillips' free passes in '93, 131 came at leadoff, a number only three players have topped in a season. His .443 OBP is fourth-best all-time from the No. 1 spot in the lineup in a season with at least 600 plate appearances there.
Phillips also produced one of the stranger slash lines in history. Only three other players since 1901 -- and none since '54 -- has qualified for the batting title in a season in which he posted an OBP of .440 or higher with a slugging percentage of less than .400.
Lack of recognition
Phillips enjoyed a long career, once made the final play of a World Series championship run and earned more than $20 million in salaries. Still, no player in the All-Star Game era, at any position, racked up more career value while never being selected to the Midsummer Classic -- and it's not especially close.
Most career WAR, position players with no All-Star selections
(Since first ASG in 1933)
1. 50.8 WAR -- Phillips
2. 40.5 WAR -- Tim Salmon
3. 38.3 WAR -- Kirk Gibson
4. 37.4 WAR -- Eric Chavez
5. 36.7 WAR -- Garry Maddox
It's not as if Phillips simply accrued value, little by little, over a long period of time. He cleared the 5-WAR mark three times and the 4-WAR mark seven times, twice more than any other non-All-Star.
Had Phillips' career come 20 years later, he likely would have stood a better chance of gaining recognition as a great player, considering our progress in evaluating the game. Zobrist is the obvious example. Regardless, Phillips certainly made his mark.
"I think he changed the way clubs are built," former Rockies general manager and current MLB Network analyst Dan O'Dowd said on MLB Tonight. "That super-utility type player, that really began with Tony Phillips.
"He was a transformational player and he was a dynamic offensive player."
Andrew Simon is a Sports on Earth contributor and a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.