Phillips sets himself apart from his opponents and teammates by playing with flair: shoveling a ball with his glove, flipping it between his legs or around his back, or going horizontal to take away a single. Because of his athleticism, Phillips is no doubt one of the best (if not the best) second basemen in the game today.
In an interview with John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Phillips said he was surprised that he didn't win the Gold Glove Award last year. Watching him play every day, I can't imagine any other second basemen creating something out of nothing more often, getting to more balls, or taking away more hits than Phillips. Phillips said part of the reason he didn't win is because of the flair he plays with day in and day out. His attitude and flair, he said, rubs people the wrong way -- specifically, the people that vote on the Gold Glove.
Phillips also said that if he was on any other team, his manager would love him because of his skill and work ethic. He's right. Reds fans love Phillips because he's a great player and because he's flashy. Phillips makes ridiculous plays in the field and laughs afterwards, as if he surprises even himself. He hits home runs and winds up for a big high-five for Billy Hatcher as he rounds first. He backs up for pop outs and lets his glove fall behind his head as he catches the ball. He stretches his arms before throwing the ball to 1B Joey Votto for an easy out.
Phillips plays the way he does because he likes to have fun. Even when the Reds are down or lose a game, Phillips finds a way to laugh.
As long as he makes the plays, his flair is OK. As long as he doesn't take too much time to throw it to Votto, actually catches the ball before letting his glove drop behind his head, and doesn't hurt his hand high-fiving Hatcher, his flair is acceptable.
Aside from anything that could lead to a mistake, there is one thing that I wish Phillips would drop: the helmet tap. After every single, Phillips carries his bat out of the box, brings it up to his head, and taps himself on the head. Sometimes he'll carry the bat for a few extra steps, to wait and see if a ground ball gets through.
Let the rant begin.
What does it even mean? It's not superstitious; the ball is already in the outfield. It's not to show off; no opponent could even notice it. He's not mad at himself; as stated, the ball is in the outfield. It's pointless; it slows him down and takes his focus off the play. If an outfielder bobbles the ball, could Phillips make it to second base? Sure, he's fast enough. But if he gets thrown out there by half of a step, you know what to blame it on.
I know I sound like a curmudgeon, complaining about 0.01 percent of a player's game. Truthfully, I never watch for the helmet tap but if I notice it, I just think: why?
Maybe there is no reason. Phillips plays hard and plays well. I love 99.99 percent of the way he plays (even smiling after a loss), but the helmet tap just doesn't make sense.
Rant over. Game on.
Andrew J. Roth studied journalism at Lehigh University and received his Master's from the University of Illinois. He has been following the Reds and Major League Baseball since he met Barry Larkin in 1993. For Reds and other sports tweets, follow him on Twitter @AndrewJohnRoth.
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