As a Red’s fan, I’ve always loved Brandon Phillips. A few years ago at Redsfest (a two-day Red’s celebration where all of the team’s players, former players, prospects, coaches and front office interact with the fans), meeting and watching how Brandon interacted with the fans and how much he enjoyed the them, made him my favorite player ever since. In fact, Red’s HOF broadcaster, Marty Brennaman, who has been with the club since 1974, once said this about Phillips in Hal McCoy’s article: “Outside of Sean Casey, there’s no other player I’ve ever been around more fan-friendly than Brandon Phillips.”
That is saying something for someone that has been around that long and seen so many players come and go. This is why I was so shocked when, being interviewed recently by Cincinnati Magazine (Justin Williams), Phillips said it was a “slap in the face” when the Red’s opted to sign MVP Joey Votto to a long-term contract of $250 million before him, when Phillip’s current deal was up first.
He went on to say, in the same Cincinnati Magazine article , “I told them that this is where I wanted to be. I begged them. I told everybody I want to finish my career here. And then they give someone a contract who didn’t ask for nothing? I just feel like they didn’t have to sign Joey to that contract. He still had two more years on his. And for (the front office) to go out there and sign him before they sign me, and they knew I was going to be a free agent? I understand Joey’s a good player. He’s one of the best players in this game. But I feel like I am too. I told them that this is where I wanted to be. I begged them. I told everybody I want to finish my career here. And then they give someone a contract who didn’t ask for nothing? To this day, I’m still hurt. Well, I don’t wanna say hurt. I’ll say scarred. I’m still scarred. It just sucks that it happened. For (Castellini) to sign somebody for $200 million, there must be a new vegetable or fruit coming out that we don’t know about (Castellini’s main line of business is a produce empire). For him to do something like that and tell me they didn’t have any more money, that’s a lie. But what can I do? I just feel like it was a slap in my face … But how can someone slap you in the face with all that money. It’s a nice slap in the face.”
Not only did he put Votto on the spot with these comments, he also called Red’s very popular owner, Bob Castellini, “a liar,” according to Cincinnati Magazine , stating that Castellini told Phillips that the team didn’t have the money to sign Phillips and then immediately signed Votto. Brandon ended up signing his $72.5 million deal only five days after Votto. To me, the comments are shocking, number one, and number two, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
This content and quotes from the article came out the first game day back from the All-Star break, with a team in the thick of the competitive N.L. Central Division, trying to gain some momentum entering the season’s second half to jump over the Pirates and Cardinals. Instead of the excitement of beginning the 2nd half of the season, the fans were given this to digest. To Votto’s credit, in C. Trent Rosecran’s blog, he downplayed Phillip’s comments, had his teammate’s back and even said he respected Phillips even more because of his honesty. It was a shining leadership moment for the Red’s star. From the other side, Red’s G.M. Walt Jocketty’s response, when questioned, according to another blog by C. Trent Rosecrans on 7/19/13, was that he had no further comment and it was an internal issue.
I still don’t know Brandon’s reasons for bringing this up 15 months after the contracts were signed, or why it was even brought up at all. He should have kept these thoughts to himself. Here is a quote from him after signing the deal in 2012, according to ESPN ” I cried about this. This is where I wanted to be, I’m still … you know … loss of words right now, for me to play in the city I really love. The fans have embraced me and they love me and I love them back.”
So my question is: Why bring this out over a year later? My first thought was this was going to pull this very close locker room apart, but they have proven that will not be the case. Perhaps the worst part of the interview was calling the owner a liar. That is a harsh word! Especially of your boss, and then suffer no repercussions? This obviously wouldn’t occur in any other line of work. There may be some sort of disciplinary action being taken internally as the Reds front office is very good about keeping “internal issues” internal, but we will probably never know.
It boggles my mind how can you make that public accusation against someone paying you $72.5 million. This is where I think he will take a bit of a popularity hit among the Cincinnati faithful. In Cincinnati, if you play hard, appreciate and respect the game and the fans, the fans will love you. That’s all you have to do and what Brandon has always been about. If you begin to complain, not hustle, etc., your popularity can spiral in a heartbeat (see Chad Johnson-Ochocinco).
To his credit, he added these comments in the Cincinnati Magazine article: “But how can someone slap you in the face with all that money? It’s a nice slap in the face…….Number one, the fans love me here. I love it here. It’s a blessing. It shows that [the team] invested a lot of money in me to go out there and do my job, and to keep representing the Reds in a positive way, I feel like that’s the only reason I got that deal-if they didn’t feel I was important to the city, then I wouldn’t still be here.”
Overall these comments will not sit well with fans trying to make ends meet in the midst of a bad economy…fans spending their hard-earned money to come see you play a game while making millions of dollars. His comments come across as selfish and “out of touch” and are not what I would expect Phillips to ever say as they seem way out of character. He backed his teammate and organization into a corner where they would have to respond. I still love Brandon. He brings a certain “swagger” to the team, plays hard, bats successfully anywhere needed in the lineup without complaining and is absolutely incredible with the fans. I suspect, with most fans, this will not drop his popularity too much, but there will now always be that asterisk of disappointment when it comes to Phillips.
When questioned by the media, according to C. Trent Rosecrans, after the Cincinnati Magazine interview was released, he said “What did I say wrong? Tell me what I said that was wrong?”
That may be the most disappointing part of the story — that he doesn’t see how calling your boss a “liar” in public isn’t wrong. It shows that, even the seemingly most “down to earth” professional sports athletes, are out of touch with the reality of the common fan.