On This Date in 1999: Tony Phillips Celebrates 40th birthday with game-winning homer

John Hickey

If Tony Phillips is remembered for one thing during his baseball career, it’s for fielding the ground ball hit by the Giants’ Brett Butler and shoveling it to A’s reliever Dennis Eckersley for the final out of Oakland’s 1989 World Series win over San Francisco.

But in an 18-year career there were plenty of other high points, and one of those occurred on this day 21 years ago. On April 25, 1999, the switch-inning Phillips became just the fifth player in Major League history to homer on his 40 birthday.

It wasn’t just any homer. Phillips, who got to the big leagues with Oakland and who was back with the A’s after spending a decade bouncing around with the Tigers, Angels, White Sox, Blue Jays and Mets, had already hit five homers in his first 17 games with the A’s, mostly as a leadoff hitter.

On opening day that year in the Coliseum, it was Phillips’ two-run homer off Yankees’ ace Roger Clemens, the defending Cy Young Award winner, that accounted for Oakland’s first two runs of the game, erasing a 2-0 deficit and leading to a 5-3 opening day A’s victory.

He didn’t stop being consequential, least of all on his birthday in Baltimore. He’d walked and scored a run in a six-run second inning, but A’s starter Kenny Rogers and the bullpen blew the 6-0 lead. The A’s were down 10-6 at one point and down 10-8 by the time the ninth inning rolled around. Eric Chavez single and Tim Raines walked before Phillips went deep to right-center off closer Mike Timlin.

To that point, only Bob Thurman (1957 Reds), Joe Morgan (1983 Phillies), Darrell Evans (1988 Tigers) and Wade Boggs (1998) had celebrated a 40 birthday by going deep. Since then, Jim Thome, (2011 Indians), Chipper Jones (2012 Braves) and Alex Rodriguez (2015 Yankees) also have done it.

Phillips spent his first eight big-league seasons with the A’s before signing a free-agent contract with the Detroit Tigers in 1990. He returned to Oakland for one last season in 1999 before retiring, having also played with the Angels, White Sox, Blue Jays and Mets.

In 1993 with the Tigers, the switch hitter became the only player in big-league history to reach triple digits in walks (a league-leading 132), hits (177), runs (113) and strikeouts (102) while hitting fewer than 10 homers.

Phillips, who died of a heart attack in 2016, developed more power later in his career, belting a personal best 27 home runs with the Angels in 1995. Phillips, who lived in Scottsdale, Ariz., continued to play in independent leagues after his 1999 retirement because he liked playing baseball. He was a member of the Yuma Scorpions in the independent North American League before the team folded in 2012.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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