Friday, January 6, 2012

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By Brian Waller - AngelsWin.com Feature Columnist

If you were an Angels fan back in the mid-90’s, then you definitely remember Tony Phillips. Phillips could easily be described as having a “competitive nature”, unfortunately that “competitive nature” often displayed itself in arguments with home plate umpires over balls and strikes, some of which resulted in suspensions. Phillips, who broke into the league with the Oakland Athletics and rose to fame with the Detroit Tigers in the early 1990’s, was as outspoken of a baseball player you will ever find. Phillips had two stints with the Halos; the first in 1995 where he contributed a career high 27 home runs in spite of the infamous strike that delayed opening day and shortened the season to only 144 games. Phillips had a second run with the Angels in 1997, which was cut short due to an arrest late in the season for cocaine charges. On August 10, 1997, Phillips was arrested in Anaheim and charged with buying a small quantity of free-base cocaine. Phillips had been found in a hotel by local police with $30 of cocaine along with drug paraphernalia. Phillips had been arrested by undercover officers as part of an on-going investigation into the street level sale of cocaine. Phillips plead guilty to one count of felony cocaine possession which was dismissed after completing drug counseling and staying clean for one year. After leaving the Angels via free agency at the conclusion of the 1997 season Phillips bounced around Major League Baseball from 1998 to 1999 playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets and finally the Oakland Athletics. In November 1999, Phillips was granted free agency and subsequently walked away from Major League Baseball after not signing with a team.

For those wondering what ever happened to Phillips, he actually spent 9 years out of the game of baseball, retiring to Scottsdale AZ. During his absence from the game, Phillips developed a new focus on life as well as a new dedication to caring for his family including his newly born grandson. In 2008, Phillips had an overwhelming desire to return to the game of baseball. It was then he reached out to his former Angels General Manager Bill Bavasi, who was now the GM for the Mariners. Phillips made it clear that he wanted to assist any way he could during Spring Training, he even offered to do it for free.. Bavasi, having a self proclaimed soft spot for Phillips, gladly welcomed him to camp. Despite never playing for the Mariners, Phillips assumed the role of Special Instructor, teaching the players from his 18 years of baseball experience. At the conclusion the 2008 Cactus League Phillips returned to his Scottsdale, AZ home where he again focused on his family as well as his golf game. It wasn’t until 2010 that Phillips got the “itch” to return to the game yet again, this time as an instructor for the Cincinnati Reds. This time Phillips reached out to Dusty Baker, who at that time was the Manager of the Reds. Again, despite never playing for the Reds, Baker welcomed Phillips aboard in the role of Special Instructor. Upon his arrival to Spring Training Phillips made the comment to the players “This is the reason God didn't give me any sons. I got about 100 of you guys here.” It started to become very apparent, that even if you were never a fan of his, Tony Phillips truly did have a deep love for the game of baseball. Again, after the conclusion of the Cactus League in 2010, Phillips returned home to his family. Rather than use his free time perfecting his chip shots on the golf course, Phillips decided to become a coach for a nearby youth league. For those thinking that coaching youth baseball would keep Phillips satisfied you’re wrong. One day, while taking part in baseball drills, Phillips and his players began some lighthearted trash talking when one of the players commented that Phillips was past his prime. Not liking that comment, Phillips proclaimed to his players he could still play at a high level and vowed to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Of course this proclamation was received with doubt from his young players, however being a man of his word Phillips dedicated himself whole heartedly to returning to the diamond as a player. In July 2011 at the age of 52, in an attempt to get back into playing shape Phillips signed with the Yuma Scorpions of the Independent North American League where ironically his manager is his former Oakland Athletics teammate, Jose Canseco. If all goes as planned, Phillips hopes to use his time in the North American League to prepare for the competition in the Dominican Republic.

In August 2011, during a scheduled league game, Phillips’ “competitive nature” again reared its ugly head as he and Chico Outlaws manager, Mike Marshall, got into a volatile altercation. The trouble began when the Chico bench barked at Phillips for taking, what they thought, was an unnecessary timeout while in the batter’s box. The following inning Phillips returned to his defensive position at third-base. Marshall, who was in the third-base coach’s box, began exchanging words with Phillips. Philips approached Marshall, tackled him to the ground and landed a punch. The two were separated and Yuma Manager Jose Canseco chose to forfeit the reminder of the game giving Chico a 9-0 win. Yuma’s season concluded with Phillips batting .269 in 78 at-bats with 0 HR’s, 1 RBI and 0 SB’s. The altercation also lead to Marshal pressing battery charges against Phillips. As of this writing the battery charges are still pending and Phillips has yet to sign on with a winter ball team. It is unknown at this time if Phillips will wear a Yuma Scorpions uniform next season or not.

In all honesty, before writing this piece I viewed Tony Phillips as a hot headed, drug using, self centered person. Now, I embarrassingly admit that I was wrong. Phillips may be hot headed and he may have made a few mistakes in life (who hasn’t?) but he has a great passion and love for the game of baseball, something I think we can all appreciate. His desire to share his 18 years of baseball knowledge with the up and coming major leaguers as well as his youth team is commendable. Although I definitely don’t agree with some of the choices Phillips has made in life, after writing this piece I do have a new appreciation for him and what he has accomplished on the diamond.

*Kristen Gibson from AngelsWin.com also contributed to this story

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