The Cincinnati Reds traded second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Atlanta Braves a few weeks ago, in a youth movement/salary dump move (even though the Reds are still paying almost all of his salary). I’ve never seen a better defensive second baseman… he made amazing plays on a daily basis. Barehanded. Leaping. Diving. Over-the-shoulder. Behind the back. Between the legs. A true magician with the glove.
He even tagged a guy out behind his back and between his legs once – it’s one of the photos I use for my blog header.
More importantly, he never lost his youthful enthusiasm, love of the game and respect for the fans. In an era of prima donna players, “Dat Dude BP” was easily the lovable and most accessible Reds player. I took my sons to dozens of Reds games when they were younger, and we’d go down behind the Reds dugout prior to the game in hopes of getting an autograph or three. Most players would completely ignore the kids yelling their names, or half-heartedly and hastily sign two or three autographs before retreating to their dugout cocoon. But BP would greet the fans before every game, and sign autographs for as many kids as he could, flashing his megawatt smile the entire time.
“The thing about Phillips is that there is obvious joy in his game,” says Will Leitch, senior writer for Sports on Earth and New York’s go-to sports scribe. “He’s always having a good time. That’s extremely appealing.”
“This ain’t a career. This ain’t a job. This is fun,” Phillips recites, mantra-like, over a glass of ice water in the Art Deco confines of the bar at the Netherland. “I wanna smile out there. Some people like the old-school way. Nah, you gotta show some emotion. The fans feed off that.”
Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty wrote a nice column about BP after the trade. Here’s an excerpt:
And yet it’s impossible, if you are a Reds fan, to say you won’t miss him. Phillips was a fixture along the railing before games, signing autographs. He was a mainstay in the community. When most of his well-known teammates were enjoying a full winter break, Phillips was boarding a bus for places like Parkersburg, West Virginia, and Fort Wayne, Indiana, as a member of the Reds Caravan.
Brandon Phillips Field was the first baseball field built under the auspices of the Reds Community Fund. Phillips, along with Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, was also a prime financial supporter of the team’s Urban Youth Academy.
“In this day and age, he’s a rarity,’’ said Charley Frank, the community fund’s executive director. Even in recent years, when Phillips’ contract didn’t mesh with the team’s reboot, “He was still out there making fans feel wanted,’’ said Frank.
Phillips hit anywhere he was needed in the lineup. As a cleanup man, he hit 30 home runs. As a leadoff guy, he stole 30 bases. Phillips played hurt frequently and never made a big issue of it. He played at least 141 games in 10 of his 11 seasons here.
He approached baseball with a child’s heart. Some didn’t understand that. Some found it bogus, some thought it was a self-serving act. Old Schoolers didn’t care for Phillips’ flair, though the truth is, baseball needs all the flair it can get.
Even after he was traded, he still showed some love for Reds fans.
I understand the economics of baseball for a small-market team like the Reds. But our whole family — and all Reds fans — will miss Brandon a bunch.