Thursday, April 18, 2013

#533 - Mike Phillips

This card is a rarity of late. It is a rookie card, and a home one at that. Mike Phillips made his Giants debut in ’73 and didn’t look back for nearly ten seasons of reserve infield work in the majors. He was a pretty solid guy in that role and he moved around a bit during his career but always stayed in the NL. In ’73 he came up a couple games into the season to provide depth at third and shortstop. Mike was a pretty versatile guy, playing all over the infield. For a while with the Cards in the late Seventies he even took some work behind the plate in spring training though he never had to go there in the regular season. Here he gazes off at Candlestick with one of a couple potential candidates – Gary Thomasson, Jim Barr? – behind him. It’s not a crazy exciting card but Mike would go on to have a fairly long career on the field in his utilitarian role.

Mike Phillips grew up in Irvine, Texas, where he was enough of a schoolboy baseball star – I couldn’t find any stats – to get drafted in the first round by the Giants in ’69, his senior year of high school. In Rookie ball that summer he didn’t hit so hot but he did better in Fall ball. He upped his average in A ball in ’70 and then moved up the chain the next two years, never hitting particularly well, but showing off his versatility in ’72 by playing second and third in Triple A along with his normal shortstop gig. After a game in Phoenix to start off ’73 he came up to San Francisco.

In 1974 Chris Speier and Tito Fuentes were injured for a bit so Phillips upped his plate and field time considerably and also squeezed some time in the hodgepodge at third base. But his average dipped to .219 in 283 at bats. In ’75 the Giants picked up Derrell Thomas for Fuentes. Thomas was a bit of an infield chameleon himself so after a few games Mike was placed on waivers and picked up by the Mets. That acquisition led to his busiest season since Bud Harrelson missed most of the year due to injuries. Mike improved his average to .256 but unfortunately also led NL shortstops in errors. He then maintained that average in ’76 as he split time at short and got some starts at second and third. He also reduced his error totals significantly and raised his profile a bit when he hit for the cycle against the Cubs. In ’77 his playing time came in a bunch and after hitting .209 through mid-June he was sent to St. Louis for Joel Youngblood. The Cards began employing Mike more as a pinch hitter and he hit .241 the balance of the year for them. In ’78 he subbed primarily at second and did nice work in his pinch role, raisng his average to .268 and showing his best power with 28 RBI’s in 164 at bats. He stuck with the Cards through ’80 but during that time didn’t approach his ’78 stats. After the ’80 season he went to San Diego in a big trade that also sent Terry Kennedy to the Padres and brought ex-A’s Gene Tenace and Rollie Fingers to St. Louis. Mike put in some infield reserve time for San Diego before he was sold that spring to Montreal. He then spent all of ’81 with the Expos before splitting ’82 and ’83 between Montreal and its Triple A franchise, ending his career. He hit .240 up top and .247 in the minors. He got out in his only post-season at bat.

While playing Phillips did off-season work selling radio ads back in Texas, which he continued doing after he finished playing. He then moved to selling ad spots for the Texas Rangers in the late Nineties. In 2002 he moved to the Royals organization and since 2005 he has been the team’s director of group sales.

I didn’t know Topps did the high school all-star teams until I saw this card. I believe Mike is the first guy from this set I have seen mentioned making one of those teams. I have found no information about team rosters so I am unsure as to whether other MLB players were on it.

These guys were teammates:

1. Phillips and Skip Lockwood ’75 to ’77 Mets.eHHeHYeHJh

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