COMMENTARY | After his playing days, Cincinnati Reds legend Pete Rose became the most scrutinized, vilified and controversial player in baseball history. Betting on his own team to win as a player and manager led Rose down a path of banishment from the game, and a tax evasion conviction in 1990 left him branded a common criminal.
During his playing career, the spotlight shined on Rose in a positive way unlike any player before or since him. Rose made his mark as the spark plug of the Big Red Machine and the spotlight followed him through his playing days as a World Series winner, his modern-era National League-best 44-game hitting streak, and, ultimately, his crowning moment as the all-time hits leader in the history of baseball with 4,256 hits.
No player or manager in the storied history of the Reds franchise will ever be under the public microscope like Rose, who will continue to trend off and on through the national attention span whenever he embarks on an endeavor like his recently short-lived reality TV series or the issue of reinstatement for his overdue enshrinement into the baseball Hall of Fame surfaces.
But there is no other more polarizing figure playing for the Reds today than Brandon Phillips, who commands more than his share of scrutiny and controversy through his play on the field and his comments off of it.
What Phillips Called the Cardinals
It's been three years since Phillips made his infamous disparaging comments about the complaining nature of St. Louis Cardinals' players. The remarks may have waned in intensity since then, but the comments and the brawl they sparked between the two teams in 2010 seemed to have cemented a rivalry that really hadn't existed before.
The impact of those unflattering comments by Phillips probably don't motivate any of the players on either team any longer (especially since many are no longer a part of either team). But for the success of the Reds franchise, those comments will remain connected with the rise of the team from a sub-.500 team to a perennial contender that is now seeking a third NL Central division title since those comments by Phillips.
A Slap in My Face
When the national media got its hooks into comments made by Phillips in a Cincinnati publication about his dissatisfaction with the way his contract extension in 2012 was prioritized by the Reds' front office, the spotlight found Phillips again. The idea that any player could call a process that led to a six-year, $72.5-million guaranteed contract a slap in the the face may seem incredulous to many, especially those in Reds Country. But the comments, originally buried in the middle of the magazine feature about Phillips, were a clear indication of just how competitive and unfiltered Phillips is, something that was not lost upon much higher-paid teammate Joey Votto, who expressed his deepened respect for Phillips because of the comments.
For all the polarizing comments that Phillips makes off the field, it's clear that he is beloved by his 700,000-plus Twitter followers for reasons other than the controversy he stirs. Phillips is most definitely a fan-favorite for his accessibility and the genuine enthusiasm he displays for his fan following. When it comes to Twitter popularity, the rest of the major league pack is a distant second to Phillips, who is the clear-cut Twitter MVP.
Clutch Hitter with the Gold Glove
Not since Ozzie Smith have baseball fans witnessed a fielder as utterly amazing as Phillips. A mere three Gold Gloves belie just how remarkable he is at second base, but his highlight reel in the field makes him perhaps the most watched fielder ever.
Phillips is a solid and versatile hitter who can hit anywhere from leadoff to cleanup. The 2013 season forced him into a full-time position as the team's cleanup hitter, and Phillips responded. As of August 14, Phillips is second in the NL in RBIs with 90 and second in the NL in RBIs and batting average with runners in scoring position.
As long as Phillips continues to be placed under scrutiny for the right reasons with his play on the field, his contentious comments won't detract from his success, even if his personality does occasionally continue to force a negative spotlight upon him.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds' season here.
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