Brandon Phillips: a reincarnation of Barry Larkin

Brandon Phillips is done fooling around. His request to bat lead-off was a Larkin-esque thing to do. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

After a recent loss to the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips took it upon himself to turn his team around. Phillips entered manager Dusty Baker’s office, normally a good place to avoid after an embarrassing loss, and volunteered to bat leadoff just to shake things up. Clearly, this team hasn’t been getting it done, and Phillips has too much pride in his team to take it lying down. Phillips reminded Baker that the Reds took off when he started leading off last year, but he made his most convincing argument when he said, “It can’t get no worse.”

Phillips led off 72 times last year, with the Reds going 43-29 in those games. But it’s not last year’s results that impress me most about Phillips. It’s his willingness to confront the manager with ideas to help his club win games. Phillips is one of those rare players you can place anywhere in the lineup and he’ll produce. He’ll work counts and draw walks in the leadoff spot and drive in runs when he hits cleanup. He has that combination of power, speed and ability to hit for average that managers love to plug into lineups every night. In 2007, Phillips hit 30 homers and swiped 32 bases, becoming just the second second baseman to join the 30-30 club.

This is starting to sound familiar. A middle infielder in the 30-30 club with a leadership mentality that can hit anywhere in the lineup? Let’s throw in a couple Gold Gloves and see if the comparison gets any clearer. It may be more than a coincidence that Phillips’ favorite player growing up was the great Barry Larkin.

Larkin and Phillips are players baseball fans in Cincinnati need to be able to look past so many consecutive losing seasons. Both love the city: Larkin as a hometown hero and Phillips as the transplant from Georgia we welcome as our own. Larkin spent his entire career as a Red, and, according to Phillips, he’d like to end his career in the Queen City, too.

And that’s exactly what Reds fans have been dying to hear. Cincinnati takes its baseball seriously, and we love it when players feel the same way about our city as we do. Phillips is becoming that perennial anchor at second base just as Larkin was the anchor at shortstop for 19 straight seasons. It’s still too early to tell if Phillips is going to develop into the kind of player Larkin was, but he seems to be on the right track. Larkin ended his career with three Gold Gloves and Phillips currently has two. Now all Brandon needs is an MVP Award, nine Silver Slugger Awards, a World Series ring, the Roberto Clemente Award, the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award and 10 more All-Star appearances. No problem for “dat dude.”

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