One of the most enigmatic players in Reds history blows away the competition for the honors of the best to wear #4 as a member of the Redlegs.
Initially, Phillips’ claim to fame was being involved in one of the most lopsided trades in Major League history involving star power being swapped for prospects. The Montreal Expos were desperate not only to win, but to keep interest in their ballclub that was destined for Washington D.C. as well. Cleveland sent ace starting pitcher Bartolo Colon north of the border in exchange for young left-hander Cliff Lee, promising outfielder Grady Sizemore and the young, outspoken middle infielder, Brandon Phillips.
Upon his entrance to the state of Ohio, the northern part just did not seem like the right fit for the outlandish Phillips. Disagreements with management about his behavior and his flashiness shown on the field bought him a one-way ticket out the door to Cincinnati. The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” may have never rung truer than when Wayne Krivsky shipped off reliever Jeff Stevens in order to acquire the man the Reds would pencil into the second base slot nearly every day for the next seven years and counting.
His initial season as a member of the Reds, 2006, was what could be described as his feeling out period, which is very normal for someone just arriving to the bigs. After getting his feet wet, he absolutely exploded in 2007 with a 30-30 season (30 homeruns coupled with 30 stolen bases) that may have unfairly set the bar too high.
Where Phillips shines is in his defense. Legendary FOX broadcaster Tim McCarver has said on air as recent as this past season that Phillips may go down as the best defensive second baseman to ever play the game. Many fans can take for granted the level of difficulty of certain plays that Phillips makes look supremely routine. His flashy smile and voracious personality may strike some the wrong way, but as Phillips himself has stated, that’s the only way he knows how to play the game.
His versatility in the lineup has been something quite often ignored by a fan base that so badly craves for the days of the Big Red Machine yet again. With high-priced contracts and loyalty to cities nearly thrown out the window, it is very unlikely we will ever again see a team such as the one that roamed the Queen City through the 1970’s. Phillips had a great relationship with former skipper Dusty Baker, which allowed for him to play loose. With the current off-season seeing Baker shown the door, and General Manager Walt Jocketty nearly pulling off a deal to ship Phillips to the Bronx, it will be interesting to see how the Reds most didactic personality acquiesces to his new surroundings.
Other candidates who presented consideration were: Kiki Cuyler, who all though he had a brief career with the Reds, did have a season where he batted .326 in 1935. Ernie Lombardi switched numbers quite often while a member of the Redlegs, so even though he had three productive seasons behind the plate wearing number four, it wasn’t enough to merit him winning. Chick Hafey put up gaudy numbers as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals outfield during his tenure which surrounding the Great Depression period. Upon donning number four as a Redleg, he batted over .300 yet again, proving he was one of the more underrated players of his generation.
Although he has become one of the faces of the franchise, Phillips seems to be living on borrowed time as a member of the Reds. Ultimately, should he stick out the final few years of his contract, it is entirely plausible to believe that one day, Phillips #4 may indeed be hanging as a retired number in Great American Ball Park.