Former Oakland Athletics Infielder Tony Phillips Dead at 56

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Jul 19, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics former players Jose Canseco (33), Tony Phillips on the field during the celebration of the 1989 Oakland Athletics World Series Champions before the game against Baltimore Orioles at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 19, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics former players Jose Canseco (33), Tony Phillips on the field during the celebration of the 1989 Oakland Athletics World Series Champions before the game against Baltimore Orioles at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports /
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Former A’s Infielder Tony Phillips Dies; Nine Seasons With the A’s – Part Of ’89 Champs

It’s heartbreaking when the stars of your youth, or even of your favorite championship teams, start to pass away. This is one of the thoughts I had when I heard the news this morning (Feb. 19, 2016) of the passing of Oakland Athletics infielder Tony Phillips at age 56  due to an apparent heart attack on Wednesday, Feb 17.

In less than two years, the 1989 championship club has lost three members; pitcher Bob Welch in June 2014, outfielder Dave Henderson in December 2015, and now, Tony Phillips.

Phillips came to the Athletics as a shortstop in the 1982 season, and I recall in May 1986, when he became the first Oakland player to hit for the cycle, in a game against the Orioles.

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Both Phillips and A’s third baseman Carney Lansford were holdovers from the A’s losing teams of the mid-80s, and Phillips developed into a fine utility man – playing both infield and outfield positions when he was not at his regular second base position.

He became a key member of the Bash Brother teams, playing in two World Series, 1988 and 1989. To close the 1989 World Series, in a four-game sweep of the Giants, Phillips threw out Giants outfielder Brett Butler at first base for the final out of that 1989 World Series. Like Henderson, he had also homered in Game 3 –one of four A’s who hit home runs that game.

Phillips’s ability as a utility player allowed him to have a lengthy career after leaving the Athletics at the end of the 1989 season and signing with the Tigers. He also played with the Angels, White Sox and Mets before returning to the A’s for his last season in 1999, at age 40. In his final major league game, playing for the A’s, he hit a home run against the Blue Jays.

Phillips was a career .266 hitter with 160 home runs and 819 RBIs in 18 major league seasons. He finished his career with 2,023 hits and 1,300 runs.

I have a couple personal memories of Phillips. In 2014, when the A’s were honoring the 1989 team I was assigned to supervise the autograph table where he and Dennis Eckersley were greeting fans and signing items. At times, during down moments, I felt I was fortunate to be present in their conversations as they discussed that last out – Tony joking with Eck about how he briefly thought about running to the base himself to take away Eck’s glory, or how he felt during the on-field celebration.

The Athletics released a statement on Feb. 19 from team president Michael Crowley announcing the death,

“The Oakland A’s lost another member of our family this week with the unexpected passing of Tony Phillips,” Crowley wrote.  “We all have fond memories of Tony making the final play in the A’s 1989 World Series. He was a remarkable player. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Funeral services are pending.

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