MESA, Ariz. -- Former A's infielder Tony Phillips died Wednesday in Arizona at age 56, the team announced in a statement Friday.
Phillips is the third member of Oakland's 1989 World Series championship team to pass away in less than two years. Pitcher Bob Welch died in June 2014 after an accidental fall in his bathroom, and outfielder Dave Henderson suffered a fatal heart attack in December. Both were 57.
There was no immediate word on Phillips' cause of death, but the news was a somber note on the eve of the A's beginning spring training in Mesa. And the impact was felt across the Cactus League with camps just starting up. Former A’s third base coach Mike Gallego, a teammate on that 1989 team who is now working in the Angels’ organization, was among those grieving.
[STIGLICH: Former Athletic Tony Phillips passes away at 56]
“We’re all losing another loved one,” Gallego said. “It’s just disheartening and shocking. It’s hard to think of words that say what you’re supposed to feel like.”
A’s president Michael Crowley issued a statement on the passing of Phillips, who was playing second base when he made the play on Brett Butler’s ground ball that clinched the final out of the ’89 Series sweep of the Giants.
“The Oakland A’s lost another member of our family this week with the unexpected passing of Tony Phillips. We all have fond memories of Tony making the final play in the A’s 1989 World Series. He was a remarkable player. Our thoughts are with his family.”
Phillips made his major league debut with the A’s in 1982 and spent eight seasons with Oakland through 1989. He followed that with a five-year stay with Detroit from 1990-94 and also played for California (1995), Chicago-AL (1996-97), Anaheim (1997), Toronto (1998) and New York-NL (1998) before concluding his career with the A’s in 1999. Phillips hit .266 with 160 home runs and 819 RBI in 2161 career games.
He was a valuable utility player who played every position except pitcher and catcher in his career. Phillips batted a career-high .313 with Detroit in 1993 and hit a career-high 27 home runs with the Angels in 1995.
He would finish his career back with Oakland in 1999, at age 40. And it’s during that final season that Phillips found a way to make one of his biggest impacts. Longtime A’s equipment manager Steve Vucinich, employed by the franchise since it moved to Oakland in 1968, said Phillips was the wise sage on that ‘99 team that featured prominent young players like Jason Giambi and Eric Chavez.
“He taught a lot of young guys how to win and be serious,” Vucinich said. “The team that started that playoff run in 2000, he deserves some credit. Tony took everybody under his wing.”
But Gallego also remembers the fun-loving side of Phillips’ personality.
“Always that loud cackle of his,” Gallego said. “He’d keep you on your toes, but he also respected his teammates.”