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#559 Dick Phillips

12/27/2010

Dick Phillips is shown here posing in front of one of Washington, D.C.’s famous palm trees. I’ve always contended that the reason so many Senators are pictured with palm trees in the background is that the Topps photographer made one stop at Washington’s spring training so as to avoid having to attend an actual regular season Senators game. The oddest part of the card is that Phillips is listed as a “1b-of,” even though he never played a single inning in the outfield in the majors.

The undisturbed trivia question asks the name and size of the Pirates’ park. We know the answer to the first part at the time to be Forbes Field, but I’m not sure what they’re looking for as an answer to the second part that can be contained in that little box. My guess is “huge.” Forbes was a big stadium at the time, and wouldn’t even be allowed to exist these days. It went 365 down the left field line — a full 10 feet further than the current longest left-field foul pole (Wrigley Field). The deepest part of the yard went to 457, with straight-away center measuring out at 442. The right field foul pole started out at 376, but new seating brought it all the way in to 300, but a 27-foot screen was erected to keep the dimensions fair. I’ve heard many people say Willie Stargell got screwed out of a lot of home runs playing in that place.

On to Dick Phillips. “Dick Phillips” is a classic ’60s baseball name. He sounds like he should’ve been a guy who was the size of a house and hit 35 homers a year despite a .220 average. Unfortunately, Dick Phillips was mostly a career minor-leaguer who spent two full seasons as a part-time player for the dismal Senators.

Phillips was, however, a pretty good minor-leaguer. He won the 1961 PCL MVP with Tacoma, and also won MVP awards in the Northern League and Southern Association. He started his minor league career in 1951 at the age of 19 after signing with the Senators. He was in the military from 1952-54, but he resurfaced in 1955 as a Braves farmhand. He stayed in the Milwaukee system until 1960, when he was traded to the Giants for the great Reeve “Bud” Watkins.

He continued in AAA while with the Giants, but did score 4 plate appearances with the 1962 NL-champion Giants. After the season, the Senators purchased his rights.

He made the Washington roster for both the 1963 and 1964 seasons. He got into 124 games in 1963, though that only resulted in 359 plate appearances. He did hit a respectable 10 home runs, but only batted .237 with an 83 OPS+. Things got worse in ’64, as he sluggged a putrid .297 (6 doubles and 2 HR in 267 PA) and his OPS+ dove to 58. That earned him a trip back to AAA, where he mostly stayed until retiring in 1967 (he did get into 25 games with the Senators in 1966).

After his playing days, Phillips managed in the minor leagues and spent one season as a coach for the Padres. In 1981, his Visalia team finished first in the California League (though they lost in the finals).

Phillips worked for the Vancouver Canadians in the 1990s and died in Burnaby, B.C., in 1998 at the age of 66.

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