Every night for 18 years in the big leagues, Tony Phillips prepared to go to baseball war. He'd do it with the opposing team, making himself...
PEORIA, Ariz. — Every night for 18 years in the big leagues, Tony Phillips prepared to go to baseball war.
He’d do it with the opposing team, making himself angry at them before every game. Do it with fans that got out of line, including one in Milwaukee he chased into the stands and punched. Phillips would do it with the media, which chronicled every misstep, like his arrest for freebasing cocaine in a motel toward the end of his career.
There was little room for middle ground with Phillips, now 48 and at spring training with the Mariners as a guest coach. His was a 100 mph, chip-on-his-shoulder, take-no-prisoners style and he didn’t care what anyone outside his own clubhouse thought about it.
“I was going to fight everybody,” he said. “That’s the way I was. I’m in battle. I’m in war mode. You’re going to mess with me, I’m going to mess with you.”
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Phillips still doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him.
Nine years after his career ended, he’s here sharing the experiences that came along with his .374 lifetime on-base percentage, five seasons of drawing at least 100 walks, and a World Series ring earned with the 1989 Oakland Athletics. In addition, the Mariners quietly hope some of their players, having spent six weeks alongside Phillips, will leave here wanting to do something with their baseball bats other than swing at balls.
“This game isn’t about being nice,” said Phillips, who claimed that when he tried to play being nice he hit .240, and when he was a jerk, .280.
“So it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.”
Phillips was just 5 feet 10, 175 pounds, but played every position except pitcher and catcher with the A’s, Tigers, White Sox, Angels, Blue Jays and Mets. He learned the game from the likes of A’s veterans Carney Lansford, Dave Stewart, Jose Canseco and Dave Henderson — hard men who expected teammates to have their back and got in their face when that didn’t happen.
“You play it for the other 24 players,” Phillips said. “And the players all play for each other.”
The Mariners relied heavily on Jose Guillen to police players giving less than their all last season. But Guillen has left, signing a three-year deal with the Kansas City Royals.
“He plays with passion,” Mariners manager John McLaren said of Guillen on Monday when a visiting writer from Kansas City asked about him.
Now that Guillen is gone, the team needs others to fill that void.
But Phillips says it has to be a collective effort and expectation by everyone in the clubhouse.
“It’s a game, but to play at this level, you have to be a man,” he said. “It’s some serious stuff. It ain’t just, ‘Ha, ha! Hee, hee! Ho, ho!’ If I’m going to be with you for eight months, and the other [team's] guy is going to be trying to kick my butt for eight months, I need to know that we’re on the same page.”
Phillips won’t talk about the work he’s doing with individual players here. He has spent a lot of time with second baseman Jose Lopez.
When Lopez fields grounders hit by Phillips, or lays down bunts with the former player standing nearby, he hears shouts of encouragement. Later on, Phillips will put a hand on Lopez’s shoulder and offer quieter advice.
Phillips isn’t here to be a whip-cracker. He remembers how Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi treated him when Bavasi was GM of the Angels in 1997, at the time of Phillips’ drug arrest during his second go-round with that club.
“He was there for me when everyone else wanted to run me out of the game,” Phillips said. “The only one. He was the only one who cared. I’d take a bullet for that man.”
The years since Phillips left the game haven’t always been easy. After 22 years of professional ball, going full speed ahead, he was forced to get his life in order and refocus on his relationships with his wife, Debbie, and his two children.
But Phillips insists he’s at peace. He lives in nearby Scottsdale, plays loads of golf, shops with his wife and is unburdened by his past.
“I owned up to my mistakes,” he said. “I took it like a man.”
He makes no apologies for his past drug use. For charging the mound whenever a pitcher threw at him. Or for being one of the most despised by opponents in his era.
To hear him tell it, he’s quite easy going. Except for during those 2,200 or so major-league games, when he turned into a ball of fury he’d like some Mariners to emulate.
“It’s just for four and a half hours a day,” he said. “That’s all. I’m fighting you for four and a half hours a day. After that, let’s go get a beer. But between those lines, there ain’t nothing nice about being nice.”
• Mariners starter Erik Bedard will take the mound for the team’s Cactus League opener on Friday against the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale. Jarrod Washburn is to start in the exhibition charity game against San Diego on Thursday at Peoria Stadium.
• Jose Vidro shook off a bruised knee from the day before and worked out Monday.
• Several of the team’s pitchers were sporting close-cropped or shaved heads Monday, having lost a bet the previous day during fielding drills.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org