More to Phillips' legacy than his infectious smile
Braves' new second baseman hailed for all-around impact
By Richard Justice
Brandon Phillips probably signed more than 30,000 autographs during 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, and that's not an insignificant part of his legacy.
Phillips also contributed both time and money to a variety of community projects around Cincinnati, including the Reds Urban Youth Academy. In the dead of winter, he would join the Reds Caravan for stops in West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana.
In this way, Phillips was a role model for every other professional athlete in interacting with fans and investing in Cincinnati as an adopted hometown. His smile could light up a room, and if his new Atlanta Braves teammates learn just one thing from Phillips, this wouldn't be a bad one.
Phillips played second base with energy and an acrobatic touch, but it's that smile and a willingness to connect with and relate to fans and make them feel appreciated that help explain his enormous popularity.
"I'm always on Twitter," Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton said, "and I see people saying, 'I'm going to miss my favorite player' and 'He's the reason I come to games,' and stuff like that."
Twitter? Glad you asked. Phillips has more than 1 million followers and is active there, too. For instance, there was this from January 16: "Just wakin' up in the mornin' gotta thank God. #ItWasAGoodDay."
"Everyone knows the All-Star performances, the Gold Gloves, the impact he's had on the organization," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "That emotional component is what stands out most."
Phillips is fanatical about his conditioning, and at 35, he hopes to play beyond this final year of his contract. He sometimes has been at his best when he has felt he had something to prove.
When the Braves see Phillips pushing himself at 35 as much as he did at 25, they'll surely see that the best of the best are the ones who combine physical gifts and a burning desire to be great.
Was Phillips perfect? Of course not. He had some silly feuds with the media.
On the other hand, Phillips played through injuries and did it with an attitude that was exemplary.
"The big smile,'' former Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky, who acquired Phillips from the Indians, told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "He always had the smile, lighting up the room. He loves to play the game, and he loves to play it with flair. He took such joy in the game.''
Anyway, this isn't how Phillips probably thought things would play out with Cincinnati. In a perfect world, he scores the winning run in Game 7 of the World Series and rides off into the sunset a hero.
Instead, Phillips found himself in the middle of a franchise rebuild. Yet, he vetoed three other trades the Reds had worked out, including one previously to the Braves. This time, though, he gave his go-ahead after Atlanta learned its projected second baseman, Sean Rodriguez, will be sidelined several months with an shoulder injury suffered in an auto accident.
Here's where it could get awkward again for Phillips: The Braves are loaded with young talent and believe they're close to turning an important corner to get the franchise competitive again.
They need a veteran second baseman only until 20-year-old top prospect Ozzie Albies is ready. With Cincinnati offering to pick up $13 million of the $14 million Phillips has remaining on the final year of his contract, Atlanta general manager John Coppolella had a deal he couldn't refuse. This time, Phillips, acknowledging that the Reds wanted to play rookie Jose Peraza, gave his approval.
This means the Braves will open the season with one of the more interesting double-play combinations this side of Houston's Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa: 23-year-old Dansby Swanson, one of the game's most heralded prospects, and Phillips, a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner.
Phillips' .736 OPS in 2016 was his best since '12 and just a bit south of his career .741 OPS. His 71 Weighted Runs Created (WRC) was 11th among all Major League second basemen a year ago.
Now Phillips is off to his next great adventure, back to his hometown of Atlanta, and to a team with a new ballpark and a boatload of optimism about the future. However long this relationship lasts, here's hoping it's as productive as the one he's leaving behind.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.