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.

25 Responses

  1. Nick Carrington

    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. Eric The Red

    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.

  3. Eric The Red

    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?

    • Eric The Red

      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.

    • VaRedsFan

      I remember watching that on TV that night….mesmerizing

  4. Simon Cowell

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

    • Streamer88

      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. Simon Cowell

    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?

    • Chuck Schick

      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.

    • VaRedsFan

      I put that on management for running him out there when he was only 70-80%

    • VaRedsFan

      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.

  6. Travis

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

  7. Steve

    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.

  8. big5ed

    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.

    • Eric The Red

      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….

  9. Jay King

    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.

  10. ohiojimw

    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.

  11. mrlcpa22

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

  12. VaRedsFan

    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.

  13. historyoftelephony

    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?

    • VaRedsFan

      Basically he was blocking the middle infielders that the Reds have as part of their rebuild.

  14. brunsfam

    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!

  15. Steve Remley

    If maybe not the best defender I’ve ever seen, though certainly he was at 2nd base, BP was definitely hands down the most entertaining. Thanks for the memories, BP. We’ll miss that unique flair and flashy smile.