CINCINNATI — There was a time, not long ago, when Brandon Phillips hated all things Cleveland. As far as he was concerned, they could take Progressive Field, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Terminal Tower and toss them all into the deepest part of Lake Erie.
It traces to 2005 when he was with the Cleveland Indians and the Tribe designated him for assignment — in effect, tossing him into a dumpster.
Enough time has passed that the word hate has dissipated but the memory is imbedded.
“I wish the Indians all the best, I really do,” he said on Monday, a couple of hours before the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians began to play four straight games against each other. “But, when they play against us, I still don’t like ‘em. That’s just how it is.”
Adding to Phillips dislike for the Tribe isn’t the fact they traded him to the Reds, “That was a blessing in disguise for me and I thank them for that,” but for whom the Indians traded him. They received a non-prospect named Jeff Stevens, who pitches for the independent South Maryland Blue Crabs in the Atlantic League after appearing in only 33 major league games.
The man with whom Phillips had a problem is no longer with the Indians and, as Phillips said, “The man aint there no more.” He wouldn’t say his name but it is former manager Eric Wedge, now managing Seattle.
“People always have to do what they need to do to cover their own butts,” said Phillips. “When a team is going bad, somebody has to be a scapegoat. It was a learning experience for me and everything that happens happens for a reason and it made me a stronger person and gave me a second chance with another organization to show my talent.”
Phillips was only 21 when he played 112 games with the Tribe in 2003. He hit only .208 with six homers and 33 RBI. Cleveland kept him at Class AAA Buffalo for most of 2004 and 2005 before designating him for assignment after the season.
“Do I hate anybody? Not now. I don’t hate nobody,” he said. “Hate is a strong word. From the bad things they told me about myself, yes, I hated at the time. But I walked away from that and went home to Stone Mountain, Ga. and said, ‘You know what, I’m going to change this hatred into motivation. And that’s what made me grow up, right there. You can’t live your life with hatred in your heart.”
His motivation has led to two All-Star games and three Gold Gloves and what so far has amounted to career year this season — .284, eight homers, league-leading 42 RBIs.
“Nobody wants to be designated for assignment, no professional athlete,” he said. “You prefer a second chance if the first chance doesn’t work.”
Of his DFA, Phillips said a was a horse pill he could never swallow or nor dissolve because of the spring training he put together in 2005.
“I led the team in everything in spring training,” he said. “I was behind Travis Hafner and they chose who they wanted and it wasn’t me. That’s the thing about baseball. It isn’t all about putting the best team on the field, it is all about who the manager and general manager and organization likes. That’s the problem with teams these days.
“Instead of putting their best teams on the field, they keep who they like and who they want on the field,” Phillips added. “It is guys they respect as a person and they are good friends, but they may not be the best players.”
Phillips recalls what happened to him and that sticks to his craw like melted cheese.
“They chose (infielder) John McDonald over me and they chose some guy named Famond Vazquez — they picked those guys over me and I’m thinking there is no way in hell they are better than me. But that’s who they wanted.”
“All I could do is keep my head up and go out there and play this game that I loved, and still love it to this day,” he said.
And the Reds love it that Phillips, known on Twitter as DatdudeBP, is guarding second base like a one-man palace militia and swinging one of baseball’s more potent bats with runners in scoring position — .449, third in the national league.
The feeling works the other way, too.
“Never been any hate involved here,” said Phillips. “I love it here — love the city, love the fans, love the team. I want to finish my career here.”