Before I take Lonnie Wheeler to task here, let me say that 90 percent of this column is a pretty good read. Brandon Phillips is having himself a very nice season, and he most definitely deserves to be recognized for that. And defensively, Phillips does deserve a serious look at the Gold Glove. Whether he deserves it or not, I'm not really sure, but he does deserve a look.Phillips carving name of his own
Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler
At this point of Brandon Phillips' career, we wouldn't be talking Joe Morgan at all except that it was Morgan's team record for home runs as a second baseman that Phillips just broke, with 28; it was Morgan whom he recently joined as the only Reds second basemen to hit 25 homers and steal 25 bases in the same season; and it was Morgan who was voted onto the Rawlings all-time Gold Glove team. And Phillips is a better fielder.
Not to knock Little Joe. Heaven forbid that. The man won five of the traditional Gold Gloves from 1973-77, when he was in the middle of everything for the Big Red Machine, and made all the plays, including the double one. He made that one, in fact, better than Phillips; but that one only. Here's how it goes, otherwise. Range: Phillips. Arm: Phillips. Hands: Phillips. Dazzle: Phillips.
Anyway, this is not heading where it sounds. Morgan's a Hall of Famer, world champion and two-time MVP. Phillips hasn't made the all-star team yet. He's just over a year removed from being designated for assignment by Cleveland and traded to Cincinnati for a player to be named Jeff Stevens. To make comparisons between Phillips and Morgan is actually a little embarrassing.
On the other hand, there is this: Not since Morgan has a Cincinnati second baseman put together the kind of season that Brandon Phillips is having at the age of 26.
To watch Phillips every day is to consider him a Gold Glover. To be Phillips every day is to consider him a Gold Glover. Currently, that distinction belongs to Orlando Hudson of Arizona, whose acrobatics and defensive derring-do are in league with Phillips', and who has the advantage of getting there first.
"In my eyes," says Phillips, "I think I'm a Gold Glover, and I really hope I win it this year. The only person I know who can probably get me defensively is the guy who won a Gold Glove the last two years at second base. The thing is, if a person wins a Gold Glove, it's kind of hard to beat that person the next time.
"O-Dog is my boy. We talk in the offseason. He talked to me and said he thinks I'm better than him. We go back and forth, but he's got the Glove to prove it. But I think I deserve one also."
As far as that goes, Phillips leads the National League in both total chances and fielding percentage, which ought to be an unbeatable combination when weighed along with the countless plays he has made from his belly and knees, and his vertical leap on line drives, and his defensive moments like the one last week against the Pirates, when he barehanded a pop fly on the first hop in right field, heading up the foul line, and pivoted and threw a blind strike to nail the dumbstruck baserunner at home plate and end the game.
And all that from a cleanup hitter. One of the best moves Pete Mackanin made when he took over as interim manager was to install Phillips in the fourth slot, between Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn. The surge in production has him on pace to score more than 100 runs this year and possibly drive in three figures. Like, you know, Morgan.
What Morgan never did, however, was hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in a summer, for which Phillips now needs two and three. The only second baseman in major-league history to do that is Alfonso Soriano, who was moved to the outfield at age 27. The only middle infielders to do it are Soriano, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Larkin. The only Reds are Eric Davis and Larkin.
Not expressly for that reason, Larkin was always Phillips' favorite player. "His style," said the Red.
"He played shortstop, I played shortstop. He was making spectacular plays. He was just a guy who stood out to me. I want to be the Barry Larkin to everybody in Cincinnati. I want to be just like him."
Larkin, of course, was from here. Here, as well, Phillips is happily adapted. And adopted.
"I know this city so much and I love the way everything is run here," said the Atlanta native, who lives in Newport and walks to movies there, and GameWorks. "It's cool. The thing is, people are starting to notice my face now. It's cool. I like to be a part of that."
Unfortunately, he can't hoof it to Kingpin Lanes in Anderson Township, where he bowls with a wide hook and has twice rung up 300 games. Dunn calls him the Tiger Woods of bowling. At Griffey's benefit bowling party the other day, Phillips averaged 199. Then, on a friendly bet, he rolled 153 between his legs.
Not that it matters, but could Morgan do that? Or dunk a basketball, which Phillips did routinely as a high school point guard? His 6-foot-2 sister plays basketball for the University of Georgia. Phillips had an offer to play football there.
By his senior year of high school, however, he had dropped other sports for the one that would become his livelihood. As an admirer of Larkin's, he often thought about making that living in Cincinnati. He still does.
"Like I've said many times," he repeated Friday, "I want to spend the rest of my career here. I wish we would win more. That's the only thing about it. When you look at the young players we have, it may take us till next year or some years down the line to become a winning team, but I want be part of it.
"I just want to do my job and keep a smile on my face and hopefully one day I'm a leader of this team. If I'm that type of person they want to build around. I feel like I'm that type of person. But it's really up to them."
If the Reds had a 26-year-old Joe Morgan playing for them right now in the middle of the infield, surely they would regard him as a player - perhaps the player - to build around. It's a little awkward comparing any young second baseman to Morgan, but ...
Actually, at 26, Morgan was still with Houston. And, well, it's a hard thing to say, but he wasn't as good as Brandon Phillips is today.
Is Brandon Phillips a greater defensive second baseman than Joe Morgan? I have no idea, maybe he is, maybe he isn't. Morgan won a bunch of Gold Gloves, but much of the data I've seen suggests he was merely a "good" defensive second baseman rather than a great one. For the sake of simplicity, let's call them a wash ... because if one player was greater than the other defensively, it probably isn't by much.
All that said, I do have a very big problem with a small part of Wheeler's column, specifically when he reaches way over the top with his last paragraph and claims that Brandon Phillips at the age of 26 is a better player than Morgan was at the age of 26.
Sorry, Lonnie, but you clearly have no idea what you're talking about.
Through his age 26 season, Joe Morgan had already logged 731 games in a big league uniform in through five full (or nearly full) seasons and small bits of three other seasons. He was playing his home games in the Astrodump, which throughout its history was an excellent pitcher's park that greatly suppressed hitting. And while Morgan didn't possess the home run power that Brandon Phillips is showing, he was still the much superior player.
On its surface, Morgan's .774 OPS through 1970 (his age 26 season) doesn't look too impressive, but this was an era that much more greatly favored pitching than today, and he was playing half his games in a pitcher's park. Even without an era adjustment, Morgan's .774 OPS is still nearly 50 points higher than Brandon Phillips' .727 lifetime OPS. But back from 1963-1970, the average 2B posted an OPS of .655, and that's considerably lower than the average 2B OPS of ~.755 today. Morgan was dominating his peers at second base (and in the league overall) at a much higher level than Brandon Phillips.Code:JOE MORGAN 1963-1970 YEAR TEAM AGE G AB R H 2B 3B HR HR% RBI BB SO SB CS AVG SLG OBA OPS 1963 Astros 19 8 25 5 6 0 1 0 0.00 3 5 5 1 0 .240 .320 .367 .687 1964 Astros 20 10 37 4 7 0 0 0 0.00 0 6 7 0 1 .189 .189 .302 .492 1965 Astros 21 157 601 100 163 22 12 14 2.33 40 97 77 20 9 .271 .418 .373 .791 1966 Astros 22 122 425 60 121 14 8 5 1.18 42 89 43 11 8 .285 .391 .410 .801 1967 Astros 23 133 494 73 136 27 11 6 1.21 42 81 51 29 5 .275 .411 .378 .789 1968 Astros 24 10 20 6 5 0 1 0 0.00 0 7 4 3 0 .250 .350 .444 .794 1969 Astros 25 147 535 94 126 18 5 15 2.80 43 110 74 49 14 .236 .372 .365 .737 1970 Astros 26 144 548 102 147 28 9 8 1.46 52 102 55 42 13 .268 .396 .383 .779 TOTALS 731 2685 444 711 109 47 48 1.79 222 497 316 155 50 .265 .394 .380 .774 LG AVERAGE 2656 333 694 107 21 65 2.46 309 251 415 38 23 .261 .392 .327 .719 POS AVERAGE 2622 315 670 100 20 29 1.10 224 205 290 36 25 .256 .342 .312 .655 YEAR TEAM RC RCAA RCAP OWP RC/G TB EBH ISO SEC BPA IBB HBP SAC SF GIDP OUTS PA POS 1963 Astros 4 1 2 .674 5.68 8 1 .080 .320 .467 0 0 0 0 0 19 30 2B 1964 Astros 2 -3 -2 .168 1.74 7 0 .000 .162 .279 0 0 0 0 0 31 43 2B 1965 Astros 102 36 45 .685 6.01 251 48 .146 .341 .508 1 3 3 4 4 458 708 2B 1966 Astros 76 24 32 .665 6.31 166 27 .106 .341 .499 3 3 9 2 2 325 528 2B 1967 Astros 88 34 43 .704 6.46 203 44 .136 .358 .532 5 2 1 2 2 368 580 2B 1968 Astros 5 3 3 .830 9.00 7 1 .100 .600 .630 0 0 0 0 0 15 27 2B 1969 Astros 86 13 27 .569 5.29 199 38 .136 .434 .523 1 1 7 4 5 439 657 2B 1970 Astros 92 19 37 .598 5.75 217 45 .128 .391 .518 3 1 5 2 11 432 658 2B TOTALS 455 127 187 .641 5.89 1058 204 .129 .372 .513 13 10 25 14 24 2087 3231 LG AVERAGE 343 0 0 .500 4.44 1041 194 .130 .239 .430 34 18 23 19 59 2087 2968 POS AVERAGE 281 -64 0 .402 3.63 898 150 .087 .179 .375 19 17 36 16 59 2087 2896
Now let's quickly compare each season by season via win shares and OPS+ ...
- Morgan win shares: 30 (1965), 26 (1967), 24 (1970), 24 (1969), 19 (1966) ... plus three total win shares covering 1963, 1964, and 1968.
- Phillips win shares: 15 (through Sept. 2, 2007) and 14 (2006) ... he had a combined total of five win shares before joining the Reds.
- Morgan OPS+: 132 (1966), 130 (1965), 130 (1967), 113 (1970), 109 (1969)
- Phillips OPS+: 106 (2007) and 85 (2006)
Normally I'd also opt to take a look at other historic measures, such as WARP, but it's not necessary because this isn't even close. Brandon Phillips has an outside chance at reaching 20 win shares this season if he has a brilliant September. Last season he had 14 win shares.
Joe Morgan had already posted a 30 win share season, a 26 win share season, and two 24 win share seasons through his age 26 season. He already had posted three seasons with an OPS+ of 130 or higher; Phillips this season only has a 106 OPS+.
Of course, we all know what Joe Morgan ultimately developed into ... which is one of the three greatest second basemen of all-time (and arguably the greatest alongside Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby), the greatest second baseman the game has seen since the Great Depression, and the greatest player in all of baseball in the 1970s. Morgan's MVP seasons of 1975-76 are also two of the greatest single seasons the game has seen in the last 35 years.
While Joe Morgan may oftentimes be a blathering idiot on ESPN nowadays, the fact is he's one of the greatest players in baseball history. Morgan was a very good player early in his career with the Astros, and then he developed into a legend with the Reds. And I'm not trying to take anything away from Brandon Phillips, because he has also been a good player with the Reds this season in 2007.
But as nice as 2007 has been for Brandon Phillips, he still doesn't come remotely close to what Morgan had accomplished through 1970 with the Astros. And for Lonnie Wheeler to suggest that Brandon Phillips at age 26 is a better player than Joe Morgan was by the time he was 26 is sheer lunacy at its finest. All that type of hyperbole is going to do is ramp up expectations for Brandon Phillips to become the next Joe Morgan, and when that doesn't happen (and it's not going to happen), then some people are just going to be disappointed with Brandon Phillips when instead they should be thrilled with the actual contributions he's making to the Reds out at second base.
Brandon Phillips has developed into a pretty nice player for the Reds, and he already has Joe Morgan's single season franchise record for home runs by a second baseman.
But Brandon Phillips isn't Joe Morgan, and he'll never be Joe Morgan.