When you are an uber-obsessed fan like me, who watches the majority of the games, you pick up on a few nuances along the way. Obviously, we don't really know these guys, and who they are as people, but for me, Brandon Phillips has always been a guy with a megawatt smile who built up his career after nearly tearing it apart, but displaying some annoying, almost diva-like tendencies at the same time.
From everything I've heard, he was a headache for the Cleveland Indians, which is a big reason why things didn't pan out for him there. Dealt for "a player to be named later" (who turned out to be Jeff Stevens), he took advantage of his second chance. He posted steady numbers in 2006 and proved himself worthy of the everyday starting job at second base.
In 2007, he really took off, and as Reds fans know, became a 30/30 player while batting .288 and showing that Gold Glove defense at second base.
In hindsight, this may have been one of the worst things to happen to him in his young career.
The following two seasons, I saw a guy who was a total enigma, a guy playing for personal stats and not to help the team win. His uppercut swing and his documented lack of hustle drove fans crazy, and even Dusty Baker, who is a big time "players' manager," was growing weary.
After a July game last year against the Dodgers when he didn't run out a routine fly ball that ended up being dropped, here's what Baker had to say:
“We should have gotten some more in that first inning, big time,” Baker fumed. “You have to hustle on that ball there or it’s a totally different inning. That was a rally killer for us.
“We’ve repeated it many, many times. You have to play hard all the time. That was big, real big. We had them on the ropes and we killed the rally…
“We’ve all talked to him until we’re blue in the face,” Baker said. “Evidently, this must have started long before I got here.”
In Cincinnati, with what Pete Rose did for this team back in his day, "hustle" is held in high regard. In the modern era, you still see a lot of Ryan Freel shirts in the stands, even though he is a few years removed from the team. Why such love for a marginal player? Because he would run through a wall if it meant he could get to a fly ball. He had no regard for his body.
Reds fans want to see that type of guy, and heading into this season, viewed Phillips with a certain degree of skepticism. There was chatter that the Reds would look to slash some salary by dealing him at the deadline, if the team was out of contention.
Don't look now, but Phillips is putting together the best year of his career, and contributing to winning baseball. In early May, there was yet another infuriating incident where he admired a ball that he thought was going over the fence, but for the most part, I see a guy who is routinely getting from first to third on singles, shortening up his swing, and working the count more.
Not to mention, he's putting up better numbers than perennial all-star and fellow second base counterpart Chase Utley. His adjustment from the cleanup spot to the No. 2 hitter in the lineup has been fantastic.
His .308 average, .366 on-base-percentage (which thus far shatters what he's produced in prior years), 9 home runs, and 24 RBI should net him serious all-star consideration. Not to mention, his defense is still as awesome as ever.
Guys like him are how the Reds will win games. They will likely never compete for the big name free agents, so they have two choices: Draft well, and pick up guys off the scrapheap. Occasionally, Phillips needs a reminder where he came from, but more and more each day, I'm seeing the hungry player that came to the team in 2006, and not the diva from 2008-09.