Monday, January 19, 2009

Tigers Need Another Tony Phillips Type

It's an oft-misquoted phrase, but the difference is mainly one of punctuation.

Leo Durocher -- Leo the Lip -- said it, but he didn't say it the way you might think.

"Nice guys finish last."

That's the way the quote is almost always presented. The truth is, Durocher didn't quite say it like that.

He was talking about the New York Giants, back when he managed the Brooklyn Dodgers. In a 1946 interview with Red Barber, Durocher was speaking about the theory that teams with good chemistry had a better chance at success than those who didn't. Leo didn't necessarily buy that. He noted that the Giants had themselves a bunch of nice guys on their team, but would nonetheless finish last, despite the harmony.

"They're some nice guys. Finish last, but nice guys."

That got morphed into "Nice guys finish last."

You can see where the meaning between the two quotes is considerable.

OK, so why all this slicing and dicing of Durocher's words?

Regardless of the misquote, I submit to you that the Tigers could use a pugnacious guy or two on their roster. They, too, are filled with nice guys.

Curtis Granderson, who's about as nice as they get. Placido Polanco, who's quiet and courteous. Brandon Inge, a real cutup but all told, a nice chap. Carlos Guillen is a fine gentleman. Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson: all great guys. And on and on. Don't forget that they once employed Sean Casey, whose nickname was The Mayor for all of his affability.

The Tigers, though, I think, could use some piss-and-vinegar dudes.

One player who comes to mind is Tony Phillips.

Phillips, a Tiger from 1990-94, was a bundle of energy and, some would say, even anger. He argued with the umpires a lot. He played often times with a scowl. He'd be one of the first to jump into any battle. He was frenetic.

Phillips reminded me a lot of former Pistons point guard Kevin Porter. There was always something nervous about KP, and he frequently seemed bothered by something. Porter didn't appear to trust anyone, truly.

Phillips was mainly a leadoff hitter for Sparky Anderson in Detroit, and being a switch-hitter, he was pretty much there everyday. He wasn't a great infielder, but he was serviceable. He would have fit in perfectly with the Gas House Gang, St. Louis Cardinals teams of the 1930s.

Leo Durocher, it should be noted, was a member of that Gang.

Phillips never met a jersey that he didn't love to dirty. He also never met an umpire with whom he agreed, especially when it came to balls and strikes in the batter's box. I don't think Tony Phillips ever took a pitch that he thought was a strike.

At times, Phillips' anger was counter-productive and maddening. I suspect the umps probably looked at him as the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and maybe even made some calls against him because of his excessive whining. But nobody could accuse Phillips of not caring, of not being a good teammate.

Looking at the Tigers' roster today, I don't see a Gas House Gang type player on it.

It leads one to surmise that maybe the Tigers lack some leadership. The self-policing types who'll keep everyone in line when Jim Leyland isn't looking. Maybe it was poor leadership that got the Tigers last year when they began to cave under the weight of high expectations.

What's more, I'm not sure there's a player the Tigers employ who could even give the Tony Phillips thing a whirl. It would seem so contrary to these players' personalities.

Performance, obviously, trumps all. But what to do when you need a jump start? Is there a Tigers player who can take the lead? Or are they simply destined to be known as a bunch of talented, nice guys?

They DID finish last in 2008, you know.


Blogger xman said...

I think Guillen is a quiet leader and Kenny and Pudge were the departed leaders.
Sheffield, unfortunately, thinks he's that guy, but I think he probably pisses off as many as not, particularly when he hasn't produced during his Tiger tenure.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I loved his intensity as a Tiger, but the one lasting image I have of him is right after Roy Hobbs... er... Kirk Gibson's homer to end Game 1 of the 1988 Series, they show the A's players making the "ok, I guess it's over" walk from the dugout down the tunnel and Phillips is staring daggers out at the field. You know he's just thinking, "if all these cameras and people weren't here, I'd kick the s**t out of you, Gibson!" One of the most memorable games in baseball history and Phillips is just *pissed* because Gibby had the nerve to make the A's losers.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

Yeah, I know EXACTLY what camera shot you're speaking of re: Phillips in 1988. And I couldn't agree more. I remember he's also still spitting sunflower seeds or something out of his mouth as he gives "that look"!

3:06 PM  

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