Reds History

Celebrating Brandon Phillips and joy in baseball

For some reason, whenever I think of Brandon Phillip’s legacy with the Cincinnati Reds, I think of then-Astro Jonathan Villar sliding face first into Phillips’ posterior. Not the between the leg flips, not the 30/30 season, not even the social media preening and local media bans–my mind is stuck on an innocuous tag that took a slight turn for the comical.

Phillips, for all of his bluster, continually embodied unadulterated joy on the field during his time with the Reds. He endeared so many Reds fans to himself through his smile, through his antics, through his willingness to be a human as much as an athlete. DatDudeBP played the game in exclamation points, shifting their meaning from wonder to outrage and back at the drop of a hat. The Villar slide more than anything demonstrates how Phillips made the game fun for everyone involved, taking an accidental goof and making it into a sticking point for those of us who loved him.

By accepting what amounted to a release with a specific destination last week, Phillips concluded his time in Cincinnati in probably the least ostentatious way possible. Maybe aging allowed him to add grace to his theatrical quiver or maybe he was simply tired of fighting. Either way, Brandon Phillips’ trade to the Atlanta Braves brings to a close his tenure in the least dramatic way possible. If anything, it was the smallness of the move that gave the ending the appropriate flourish.


Brandon Phillips joined the Reds in 2006, traded from the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later (eventually Jeff Stevens). The very next year, Phillips went 30/30, with 30 home runs and 32 stolen bases. While he never even sniffed either of those marks again, Phillips was named to three All-Star teams during the Reds renaissance of 2010-2013. He won four Gold Glove awards, one Silver Slugger, and sniffed MVP consideration twice during his Reds career, anchoring the right side of the infield while the left cycled through a revolving door of shortstops and third basemen.

More than anything though, Brandon Phillips was known for his wizardry with the glove. There was the between the legs flip, the between the legs double play flip, the behind the back double play, the high five glove out (wait, wrong person’s glove). Phillips had such a knack for the extraordinary that he managed to convince a large section of the fanbase that he wasn’t a liability at the plate.

And that’s what makes him so hard to write about. More polarizing than any other Reds player of his era (Chapman starting vs. relieving debate aside), Phillips forced baseball fans to reckon with the nuance of humanity. Through social media, through his happiness, through his displeasure, Brandon continually reminded us that he was a sentient human being as much as he was a professional. No debate about Phillips’ legacy has ever ignored his personality, usually for the worst.

But Phillips’ joy should be celebrated too. In some way, Brandon Phillips and Cincinnati Reds fans have taught me what humanity means. That a person should approach their work with a smile and a laugh every single day, engage with the people who look up to them as much as they can, and be stubborn for what you believe.

On that last point, there may be some contention because Brandon usually picked the wrong battles. A contract war with Joey Votto, playing time as he aged, his relationship with the media–none of these made him look good from the outside. But there’s something to be said for sticking by your beliefs. Phillips’ pigheadedness, despite annoying a sect of Reds fans, has likely earned him entrance into the team’s Hall of Fame and a favorable trade to his hometown.

And then there’s the Cardinals brawl, a decision by Phillips that I will defend to this day. Yes, it may have ended Jason LaRue’s career, and yes, it was objectively stupid, but it made the rivalry exciting for three or four years. I always looked forward to Cardinals’ games and still love going to Busch Stadium now because of the sheer anger St. Louisians feel toward DatDude. I always make a point to wear my #4 jersey as well, just to watch the Midwestern “niceness” fly out the window.

Brandon Phillips is the only second baseman I’ve ever known, and to some extent, that makes his farewell impossible to stomach. Baseball is a business and happiness doesn’t usually mean a smart economic decision, but I guarantee Phillips’ joy brought at least one extra fan to the stadium each game.

Leaving Cincinnati as one of the best second basemen in team history is no small feat, but in this day and age of farewell tours and grand cinematic gestures of love, it seems anti-climatic. Brandon may not have received the love of the city on his way out the door, but he certainly deserved it, rebuild or not.

44 thoughts on “Celebrating Brandon Phillips and joy in baseball

  1. One of my favorite Phillips’ moments was him dancing with a Reds intern behind a Jim Day segment during a rain delay. It was so ridiculously fun. He was a great player and a joy to watch.

  2. He was a terrific second baseman, the trade to get him was a steal, and I hope he eventually returns as a Reds elder statesman. He’s not quite statue-worthy, but he was a great Red.

    • Statue-worthy or not, a statue of the butt slide Wesley references would be a spactacular addition to the GABP landscape.

  3. A couple of years ago–I think against Milwaukee–BP turned a double play where he barehanded the ball and slid across the bag with his knee while twisting to throw over to first. That was probably the greatest defensive play I’ve ever seen. Anybody smarter than I am remember that and able to find the video?

    • We were there that night. Scored some really cheap Champions Club seats. It was rainy as I remember. That was an amazing play. Thanks for bringing back that memory!

    • Ha, Eric, I just looked that up myself. One of the strangest, yet elegant, infield plays I’ve ever seen.

      • That’s the one! Thanks for finding it. I think on the surface it seems like a very good play, but if you keep watching it you realize how spectacular it was. And it helped preserve a lead when it looked like the wheels were about to come off.

        • You’re right: that play grows on you, particularly when you consider that, had he tried to do it more conventionally, the guy would have been safe at first. Quite a few of his flashy plays share that characteristic, and they point up a level of awareness and the ability to execute that many good players lack.

  4. He was fun to watch. Just not a sabermetric success story. Hence…. run out of town by the ever changing face of fandom.

    • He was both fun to watch and a Sabermetric success story for many years! He has become less of both recently as is the way of things and before the trade was playing for a team who no longer had room on the diamond for an aging veteran with near replacement level production.

      What a career he had in Cincy. With his departure secure, I wish him the best. Now we can begin to speak of him in past tense, which will allow all the positive reflection and nostalgia take center stage. His legend building starts now!

  5. In many ways, I think BP personified the old school vs. SABR battle every bit as much as Joey does only from the exact opposite perspective. Everything you saw from Brandon was great. Great plays, great joy, 100 RBI out of the clean up spot, etc. But, the numbers showed a rapidly declining player who had slipped to below average status.

    • I don’t disagree with your assessment. Here is what I find ironic. If a pitcher receives an arm injury there are a 100 excuses made as to his decline in performance and yet a perceived understanding that it takes time to come back from injuries. If a batter/fielder receives an injury there are a 1000 excuses as to his decline in performance and yet no perceived understanding that it takes time to come back from injuries. BP has sustained some pretty ugly thumb injuries over the past few years. Why isn’t it considered recovering from injury like a Homer Bailey situation instead of being considered age decline?

      • Point taken on the injuries and yes, they certainly played into the decline. That said, as I’ve aged, I’ll point out that it takes me a lot longer to recover from injuries and problems. This coming from a guy who isn’t a pro athlete like BP is, where anything less than 100% means a significant performance decrease. Sometimes BP coming back too soon or playing injured wasn’t necessarily the best thing for him or the team. I do however understand and appreciate his willingness to do so, and his competitive spirit. It’s not easy to go out there when you aren’t 100% at any level, I imagine especially at the MLB level. It’s painful, and sometimes frustrating and embarrassing him. BP’s willingness to do so, right or wrong for him and his team, was very endearing to me as a fan.

      • I loved Brandon’s play several years ago; I do not love it now, even though I still love the memory of the best fielding second baseman I have ever seen (and his silver slugger offense, too). Every second baseman in the history of baseball has suffered age-related decline in their mid-30’s. No matter what direction you lean in your preferred manner of evaluating players, from advanced metrics to the good old-school eye test, Brandon’s play is in decline. And yes, increasing injuries (especially the nagging kind) and slower recovery are part of the aging process, as well. While different positions and skill sets decline at different rates and times, every player will suffer age-related decline when they hit a certain point in their career.

        • What nagging injuries are you referring to? Hamstrings, groins, and backs are the typical ones (showing of age). BP didn’t have these. A few years ago, he was off to a torrid start when he was hit in the hand by a pitch from the Pirates. 2nd half stats suffered. A year later, he injured his thumb making a great diving play, and the same thing happened, his numbers tailed off. Even last year, he was performing above average when he fouled 2 consecutive pitches off of his shin and ankle that really affected him for 4-6 weeks.

          These were not “old-guy” injuries. They came from game situations. Now I will concede that recovery time takes longer for the 30+ guys.
          I totally blame management for sending him out there before fully healed…most of the times resulting in a short roster.

          Some people just look at an end of season number without taking into account how he got there. When healthy BP produced at a very high level.

      • While injuries likely contributed to the decline, he is 35 and there is an extreme probability that he’ll never be what he once was as player.

        Also, his low walk rate isn’t something that 35 year olds often fix, which likely accelerates the decline because he becomes an easier out as his power and bad speed dissapate. Also, he has lost range and that likely isn’t going to comeback at his age

        He was a great player and now he isn’t. He will likely be a worse player when the Reds are able to compete.

  6. I’ll miss the spectacular plays and the mega watt smile.

    Thanks Brandon, and thank you Wesley.

  7. I loved datdude. First it was Larkin, then Casey, and now Phillips. All my favorites gone. Hardest part of being a fan.

  8. I loved to watch BP play the game I love. He seemed to be always having fun while playing and that smile. Thanks and good luck BP.

  9. BP was on the Reds Caravan stop here after the 2012 season. He was engaging and endearing to younger fans, older fans and those in between. He cut up with everybody who wanted to cut up with him.
    BP had so, so many great defensive gems that he made the improbable play a routine play.
    He had his lapses, too, at times. Some were comical. Getting picked off 2B while talking to the other team’s SS was one. The time he went out to the new Krispy Kreme on a rain delay, tweeted a pic of his car going through the drive thru about 10 minutes before the game started, and barely getting back in time.
    Many great defensive plays to remember, but the ones I marveled at were the ones where he went up and horizontal and would snag those high line drives right out of the air. Defensively, BP is going to be a tough act to follow.
    Unfortunately, it was his time. Probably just a bit past his time actually. Thanks for the memories BP.

  10. Everybody has their favorites, which I respect; I, after all, just loved Pokey Reese,

    I wasn’t a big BP guy at all, but some of his Pokey-like defense as a young player was just ridiculous. He clearly loved the game. He would play hurt, even when he probably shouldn’t have played, I didn’t like some of the sideshow–like his being picked off second base while yukking it up with Jimmy Rollins, and his ill-advised attempt to take an extra base in the 3rd game against the Giants, which to me was the turning point in the series. But on balance, a clear Reds Hall of Famer.

    • His trying for that extra base against the Giants is still painful to remember. Aside from mentally running through some defensive highlights it was the first thing I thought of when the trade was finally completed. Which is a shame, because he did a lot of great things as a Red. But that was a very bad decision that seemed bad at the time and just got worse as that series continued….

  11. I like all of your posts Wesley, B P was great for the first 7 to 8 years he played for the reds, His decline was certainly somewhat due to injuries, but age catches up with all of us. When you’re a mid thirties second baseman your starting time is running out. And B P was no butt kisser, your photo shows quite the opposite. I hope he gets a heroes welcome when he returns to Cincinnati in an Atlanta uniform. His work on the field, with the fans and in his charity work speaks well of B P.

  12. I loved his willingness to play hurt, even at his own or the team’s detriment. What should never be lost about BP is that he is a real gamer.

    I am also a big fan of the “shin guard tap” and the fact that he always elicited boos in St Louis.

    The way he embraced the community and might just randomly show up at a little league game because of a Twitter invite was priceless.

    And what a wizard with the glove….

  13. I understand why the Reds did the deal and I am thankful to Phillips for agreeing to go to Atlanta. I am sure going to miss his overall confidence and presence on the field during games. Yes he has taken a step back defensively but what 35 plus year old hasn’t

    I will always remember what he did for the team and the city of Cincinnati. He has been such a huge privilege to watch play over the years and I only wish him the best.

    Like Jay Bruce, I will keep tabs on Phillips to see how he is doing. Hopefully Bruce can comeback to his normal self cause he had a horrible time with the Mets last year. I Hope Phillips has another surprising season this year too. I honestly thought Phillips did a pretty decent job for us last year.

    Good luck to the new kids Herrera and Penaza. Hopefully one of them can be like Phillips was in his prime or even better.

  14. Thanks for the post. I liked it a lot. I believe what you may have highlighted perhaps without even realizing it is that in many ways BP was actually an old school throw back with a contemporary edge. Those “regular 8” guys from the 1970’s pretty much always played with a smile on their faces which belied their their assassin’s edge. There was a lot of that in BP despite some high profile lapses.

  15. One of my fondest memories of BP was him stealing 2B and 3B, on the same pitch because of the shift.

  16. Thanks Wesley…Very nice synopsis…Thanks BP for being a great Reds player who played with swag and enthusiasm.
    His first 5 years….When he was hitting for power…He was as good as any 2b in baseball. I would say he is the best Reds defensive second baseman of all time and perhaps second only to Johnny Bench at any position…Billy Hamilton could challenge that.

  17. I’m a bit surprised I’m not as sentimental about Phillips departing as I thought it would be. Awesome defense, truly awesome defense, and there was a time when he would produce at the plate. … But calling Castellini a liar and the tirade against the reporter stick in my craw a bit, to use an old-fashioned expression. … I kinda wish he had accepted one of the trades last year, though I fully understand he was well within his right to stick around and maybe try to make a better business deal for himself.

    But I wish him well, except when he plays the Reds !!!

  18. I remember him getting picked off 2nd against phillies in extra inning game. He was talking with Rollins and got picked off. Good riddance.

    • That kind of stuff happens from time to time. Heck, how many people got picked off 1B because they were talking to Casey over there? There were at least 3-4 I recall.

  19. Here is one of my favorite highlights. I’ve been a Reds fan since I was a kid, but had never saw them play in Cincinnati. Six years ago (2011) me and my boy drove out to Cincy from Virginia to see a 3 game series vs. the very much hated Cardinals. Pujols had hit a 2 run HR off of Chapman in the 8th to give the Cardinals a 1 run lead. With 2 outs in the 9th up came Brandon Philips with a man on.

  20. Thanks for the post and as a cubs fan it is nice to see him out of the division. Why would the reds pay 13 million of his 14 million dollar contract? Why did they want him gone so badly?

  21. Nice article – thanks for the tribute to a guy that gave it all for the Reds for many years! It’s terrific that he can close out his career near home and family. Best of luck BP!

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