CINCINNATI - It’s been a long, cold winter for everyone in Cincinnati, but especially for Brandon Phillips.
"It’s a cold, cold world out there," says the Reds' star second baseman. "I really didn’t know baseball was a business until this off season."
All winter, Phillips heard the same rumors you did. He was on the trading block, to whomever, wherever, and all because in a Cincinnati Magazine article , he called his boss a liar.
Don’t words trump performance? Why, he wondered?
Phillips won his fourth Gold Glove last season. He drove in 103 runs. He played hurt.
"I feel like if I hadn’t gotten hit, I would’ve gotten MVP," Phillips told WCPO at spring training. "I was on the move. But a lot of people think I’m declining because I played hurt and I never complained.
Fifty-six games into last season, Phillips was batting .296. He had just gone 2-for-3 against the Pirates. And then he was hit on the forearm.
In the next 30 days, his batting plunged 30 points. Phillips says Dusty Baker and Walt Jocketty were delighted when he opted to play on and not go on the disabled list.
"I talked to Dusty about it. I talked to Jocketty and those guys. 'Do you want me to play?' It was like, 'Yes, I really want to play.'
And they said:
" 'We’d love for you to play if you could just gut it out for us.'
"I did it for the team," says Phillips, who ended up hitting .261 - 20 points lower than in 2012 and 39 off his .300 average in 2011. "I didn’t do it for myself, honestly. I did it for the team."
"Team" is a word the 32-year-old Phillips uses a lot these days. He knows the window of opportunity for this core group of Cincinnati Reds is beginning to close.
If these Reds don’t win this year, who knows how long they’ll remain together?
Even in a world of guaranteed money, winning a championship remains a huge motivating factor.
"Failure is not getting a World Series ring," Phillips says.
"I reached all my goals - Gold Gloves, All-Star games. All those things are cool. But there’s nothing, you can’t take away somebody’s ring. That’s one thing you can’t do. I want to get a ring. That’s what it’s all about."
Though he remains at odds with several members of the print media, Phillips remains one of baseball’s most fan friendly players, tweeting, posing for pictures, joking.
"I put on some pounds - of muscle. I got a six-pack going. Can’t wait to do the body issue of ESPN. Looking forward to doing that so all the Debbies can look at me, see how I look with no clothes on," he says.
Phillips says he has patched things up with Bob Castellini. Phillips and the Reds boss both say the magazine article is in their wake.
The future apparently trumps the past. And Phillips says the reason is simple: It’s all about the fans.
"They pay a lot of money to watch me play. So I’m going to try to put on a show," Phillips says.
"I’m an entertainer. In baseball, I’m an entertainer. Anything off the field, I’m an entertainer. I feel like I’m a walking brand. So I’m going to go out there and entertain all the fans, and all the Debbies, too. That’s what I’m supposed to do.
"I mean, if you pay money to watch me, I’m going to make sure I put on a show."
And that's one thing about Brandon Phillips that hasn’t changed in eight seasons as a Cincinnati Red.
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WCPO will have extensive coverage of Opening Day. Live TV coverage begins at 4:30 a.m. Monday on Good Morning Tri-State. We'll also have live coverage of the parade starting on 9 On Your Side at noon and streaming live on WCPO.com.