Taylor Phillips had an outstanding career in armed-services baseball, good seasons in the minor leagues, and a six-year major-league career highlighted by being part of the 1957 world champion Milwaukee Braves.
William Taylor Phillips was born on June 18, 1933, in Atlanta, Georgia, to parents Amos and Jewell Phillips. He had a kidney disease as a youngster that prevented him from participating in contact sports, so he began playing baseball. He started pitching when he was young, tossing baseballs to his sister Betty. Phillips’ love of the game led him to join the Douglasville, Georgia, town team. (Douglasville, where the family lived, is a suburb of Atlanta.) He recalled, “The boys from Douglasville would choose up sides and play teams from Winston and White City. Back then there were no Little Leagues. We played for fun.”1
Phillips attended Douglas County High School and earned letters in baseball for three years, graduating in 1950. He attended the University of Georgia on a baseball scholarship for one semester.
Atlanta Crackers scout Skipper Bartlett noticed Phillips while Taylor was pitching for the Marietta (Georgia) Bombers American Legion Junior baseball team during the 1950 State American Legion finals. (Marietta lost to Savannah in the tournament finals.) Phillips was also approached by a New York Yankees scout. The team’s manager, Marietta School Superintendent Shuler Antley, who had coached major leaguer Whitlow Wyatt at Cedartown High School, considered Phillips the best pitching prospect he had seen since Wyatt, and thought Phillips had an excellent chance to make the major leagues.
Phillips posted amazing statistics during the Legion season; his record was 23-4, with all four losses decided by one or two runs. In a two-game stretch, he allowed a total of three hits, taking no-hitters into the seventh inning of each contest, while striking out 19 in one of the games. During one stretch, Phillips pitched six games in eight days.
Deciding who to sign with wasn’t a difficult decision for Phillips. He said, “The Yankees wanted to sign me, but I wanted to sign with the Crackers (Atlanta of the Southern League). I loved the Crackers because it was my home team.”2
At the age of 17, Phillips began his professional career with the Waycross Bears of the Class D Georgia-Florida League. In 1951 he had a 10-8 record with a 4.25 ERA in 167 innings, walking 162 and striking out 125. His victories included a no-hitter and a one-hitter.
Back in Waycross in 1952, Phillips had a breakout season. He led the league in innings pitched (297), games pitched (46), and wild pitches (23), tied for the lead in strikeouts (265), was second in ERA (1.40), posted a 21-10 record, and was named to the league’s All-Star team. On September 4 against Tifton he yielded a lead-off single, then pitched hitless ball the remainder of the game. “I had a super year that year,” Phillips commented in a 1990 article in Sports Collectors Digest. “There were only two people in baseball, Mike Garcia and Robin Roberts, that pitched more innings than I did in 1952. I played a 140-game schedule in Class D ball, and they played a 154-game schedule in the big leagues. I was proud of that.”3
The next season Phillips was promoted to the Crackers. “I progressed a little fast and was always the youngest player on each team,” Phillips said in the Sports Collectors Digest article. “It was a challenge to be playing with my heroes, seeing their names in the paper one year, and playing with them the next. Being put in the same company as those guys was really fantastic for a country boy.”4 One of his biggest thrills took place on July 8, when, as a member of the Southern Association All-Star team, he pitched two innings of shutout baseball to close the game for the All-Stars in their 8-6 victory over Nashville.
Another notable event of the 1953 season was the genesis of his nickname, T-Bone. The Crackers had another Taylor, pitcher Jack Taylor, so to avoid confusion Taylor Phillips was referred to as “T,” with the “Bone” being added later.
After the 1953 season Phillips was drafted into the Army. He was stationed at Fort McPherson, near Atlanta. The base team played a 130-game schedule in 1954. Phillips won eight of his first nine decisions and in the first 77 innings he had a 0.81 ERA, striking out 91, giving up 49 hits, and walking 45.
Fort McPherson fielded an impressive 17-man roster for the 1955 season. Eleven of the players had major-league contracts, including pitchers Vinegar Bend Mizell and Billy O’Dell, infielder Frank Bolling and outfielder Norm Siebern. Phillips hurled a no-hitter against Fort Benning (Georgia) and another one against Fort McClellan (Alabama), striking out 21 batters. He finished the season with a 21-0 record, the same as Mizell. At season’s end, Phillips’s team captured the All-Army World Tournament, held at Fort Belvoir (Virginia).
Discharged from the Army on November 15, 1955, Phillips wasted little time returning to baseball, joining the Caguas-Guayama team managed by Ben Geraghty in the Puerto Rican winter league. Felix Mantilla, Tommy Lasorda, and Wes Covington were also on the Caguas roster. Phillips won outings against National Leaguers Ruben Gomez and Jim Owens. He finished with a 6-3 record as Caguas captured the league title, defeating Santurce, the regular season champ, in six games in the league playoff.
In 1956 Phillips began spring training with Milwaukee in Bradenton, Florida, then was sent to Jacksonville, where the Braves’ Wichita and Atlanta farm clubs were training. He began the season with Wichita, where he posted a 2-2 record, including a 1-0 loss in ten innings to Indianapolis on May 28, the winning run scoring on Phillips’s own throwing error on an attempted pickoff. Four days later, the Milwaukee Braves, in need of left-handed pitching, help, called him up on the recommendation of Wichita manager George Selkirk. He drove the 600 miles to Milwaukee to begin his major-league career. Meeting Warren Spahn was a big thrill, Phillips said. “He’s always been my idol, and it was a great thrill to play with him. He’s a great pitcher, and a man to go with it. The first night I was in the majors he came over and patted me on the back, helped me in a lot of things and during the rest of the season he told me what I was doing wrong.”5
Phillips made his major-league debut on June 8, 1956, in front of 33,360 fans in County Stadium, entering the game against the New York Giants in relief of Ernie Johnson with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh inning. He struck out the first batter he faced, Whitey Lockman. During the 7-2 Braves loss, Phillips pitched 2⅓ innings, yielding one hit, walking none, and striking out three, including Willie Mays. Giants manager Bill Rigney was impressed, saying, “That kid really showed something. Where did he come from anyway?”6
A very excited Phillips went to the clubhouse to shave and shower after the game. “When I came out from shaving, it looked like I had been in a knife fight. I was so scared. I had cut myself in a hundred different places. But the first appearance I had in the major leagues is a thrill a person will never forget.”7
On July 15 Phillips won his first major-league game in a six-inning relief appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Relieving Bob Trowbridge, who had been struck on the pitching arm by a line drive, Phillips gave up just three hits (including a home run by Frank Thomas, the first batter he faced) as the Braves won, 4-1. “I wasn’t at my best,” Phillips said after the game. “My curve wasn’t working, I couldn’t get it over, so I used the fastball most of the time.”8
Phillips made his first start on August 9 against the St. Louis Cardinals at County Stadium on August 9, and pitched a three-hitter, winning 4-1 with the Cardinals’ only run scoring on an error. He finished the season with a 5-3 record and a 2.26 ERA. He was selected unanimously by Milwaukee sportswriters as the team’s Rookie of the Year, and was named to The Sporting News 1956 All-Rookie team. “I was real pleased with my rookie year,” Phillips said in the Sports Collectors Digest interview. “The only thing that bothered me was we didn’t win the pennant. We had a lot of chemistry in that team, but the experience wasn’t there. We didn’t jell like they thought they would, and we lost the pennant by one game. That was a big disappointment.”9
Phillips played in the Puerto Rican League again after the season. He left the team in early January with a sore arm. Later that month, when he received his Rookie of the Year award, he assured everyone that his pitching arm was OK. “I can’t remember I ever had a sore arm. X-Rays showed nothin’ wrong with it and the doctor said that I should just rest. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since I got home.” 10
Phillips appeared in 27 games for the Braves in 1957, starting six games and posting a 3-2 record in 73 innings. His 5.55 ERA was largely due to one really bad game. On July 15 Phillips played the role of sacrificial lamb in a game at Brooklyn. Losing 11-4 going into the bottom of the eighth, Braves manager Fred Haney put Phillips into the game and he faced 13 batters, in a nine-run inning, giving up five hits, walking four, hitting a batter, and unleashing a wild pitch as the Dodgers won 20-4. “I wasn’t trying to show the kid up,” Haney said. “Nobody felt worse about the thing than I did. But I felt I had to leave him in because I’ve got only nine pitchers and I already used five.”11
Phillips didn’t pitch in the World Series but said, “It was a thrill to just be there and know that you were part of a world championship team.”12
Phillips didn’t have too long to celebrate as a Brave. On December 5 he and catcher Sammy Taylor were traded to the Chicago Cubs for pitchers Bob Rush and Don Kaiser and outfielder Eddie Haas. After the trade he said he looked forward to playing with the Cubs: “Their shortage of left-handed pitching gives me an open shot at a starting job and I think I can make it.”13
“We’re certain Taylor Phillips is going to do the job for us,” Cubs manager Bob Scheffing said. “I know he has the stuff. It may take him a while to get into the groove because he only pitched 73 innings last year.”14 Phillips had a rough spring training, but the Cubs needed him to excel as a starter, because Moe Drabowsky was on the disabled list with a serious throat infection.
Phillips picked up his first victory in a Cubs uniform on May 7, defeating the Cincinnati Redlegs in a five-hitter. On the 21st he improved his record to 2-0 with another complete-game five-hitter, against Pittsburgh.
On May 25, before 40,962 at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, Phillips started the first game of a doubleheader against his former teammates. He didn’t disappoint, giving up just six singles in a 1-0 victory that ran his record to 3-0. After the game he said, “I’ll always like to beat this club because I used to play for them, but everybody in the organization treated me fine when I was here. They didn’t do me a dirty trick trading me. It was the biggest break of my life. I don’t say I’ll be a big winner, but at least I’ll get the opportunity.”15 Phillips also said he had added another pitch to his repertoire, the knuckleball: “I threw about a dozen knuckleballs against the Braves, and it sure helped me get out of two or three rough spots.”16
Phillips reported a week early for the 1959 spring training in Mesa, Arizona. He recognized the importance of the coming season, saying, “I figure this is my make-or-break year. Let’s face it. I’ve been up three years now, and I haven’t shown anything yet. Oh, I’ve shown enough to stay on a big-league club, but that doesn’t satisfy me.”18 In seven early-season games (two starts) Phillips compiled a 7.56 ERA and posted an 0-2 record. On May 12 he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for southpaw Seth Morehead. As he left to join his new team, Phillips said, “I’m just sorry that I couldn’t have done better here.”19
It wasn’t much fun playing for the last-place Phillies. In his interview in Sports Collectors Digest, Phillips said, “I didn’t care for the Phillies at all. That was probably one of the worst teams I’ve been on. But Philadelphia had one of the best persons I’ve ever met in my life and that was Robin Roberts. And I was fortunate (that) my roommate was Jim Hegan, a catcher from Cleveland. Some good people, but they were all on the way down.”20 Phillips went 1-4 for the Phillies with a 5.00 ERA. His victory, 3-2 in a rain-shortened six-inning game against Los Angeles on July 19 in Philadelphia, was the only victory of the season by a Phillies southpaw.
Phillips began the 1960 season with Triple-A Buffalo. In midseason he was called up by the Phillies and appeared in ten games, pitching 14 innings and posting an 8.36 ERA. He finished the season back in Buffalo, where he went 6-3 with a 3.65 ERA. On March 27, 1961, before beginning the season with Buffalo, Phillips married Betty Ferguson of Hiram, Georgia. They had met on a blind date at a square dance three years earlier. The ceremony took place at the Calvary First Baptist Church in Clearwater, Florida.
At Buffalo, Phillips struggled with an 0-1 record and a 7.07 ERA in 14 innings pitched. In early June he was loaned to the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers, a Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels in the American Association. In his first starting assignment, he pitched a three-hit, 3-0 victory over Louisville. He finished the season with an 8-6 record and a 3.46 ERA. After the season Phillips and utilityman Bob Sadowski were traded by Philadelphia to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Frank Barnes and third baseman Andy Carey. Phillips and Sadowski were assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Phillips spent the entire 1962 season with Indianapolis, posting an 8-5 record with a sparkling 2.11 ERA. One of his highlights was a 2-0 two-hitter against Dallas-Fort Worth. The Indians won the American Association title but lost to Louisville in the Junior World Series. Phillips played winter baseball for the Rapinos in Venezuela. (The team was owned by Luis Aparicio.) He had an outstanding season, going 10-4 with a 2.73 ERA and leading the league in strikeouts.
After posting a 4-4 record with a 2.86 ERA for Indianapolis in the first half of the 1963 season, Phillips was called up by the White Sox on July 16. His White Sox debut, on July 23, was anything but auspicious. Entering a tie game in Detroit with two outs, he gave up a grand slam to Norm Cash. He appeared in nine games in all, pitching 14 innings and posting a 10.29 ERA.
After spending the 1963 offseason pitching for Caguas in the Occidental (Venezuela) League, Phillips was again assigned to Indianapolis. He was placed on the disabled list with a muscle tear and pinched nerve in his throwing arm on May 14, 1964. “I didn’t get loose and tried to throw hard,” Phillips said, “and the first pitch I made was up on the screen. I pulled everything loose in my elbow. It was a whole month before I could throw again.”21
After coming off the disabled list, Phillips was released. He signed with the Triple-A Atlanta Crackers to finish the season. Phillips was a part of a memorable moment while pitching for Atlanta on September 10, throwing the last pitch at Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Park and retiring Johnny Lewis on a grounder to first. After the game, Phillips took a large chunk of sod from the park, and planted it in his yard, where it remains as green as ever.
Phillips retired after the season. He immediately applied for employment at the post office in Austell, Georgia. He was hired and began his new career the next day, working an overnight shift, which allowed him to take a part-time position as the Atlanta Braves’ batting-practice pitcher. “I went out one day, to see some of the guys I knew, and Kenny [Silvestri] says, ‘Do you want to pitch batting practice?’ I said sure. ‘We’ll pay you. When do you want to start? Kenny replied, ‘Tomorrow.’ So that’s how I got hired.”22
The batting-practice job ended when Phillips had to transfer to another post office and his hours changed. He stayed involved with baseball, working as a volunteer giving lessons to local players. He estimated that he was helpful in helping around 100 athletes obtain scholarships. One of his more noteworthy pupils was Matt Capps, a pitcher who became a major leaguer in 2005 and was still pitching in 2013. Phillips was also active as a coach in American Legion baseball.
Phillips expressed gratitude to Braves general manager Paul Richards for a roster move he made in the closing weeks of the 1969 season. In 1968 the Braves had activated Satchel Paige so he could qualify for a pension, and Richards told Phillips, “If they can do that for one guy, we can do it for you. I had been out of baseball for four or five years, so for the 1969 season, I spent the last three weeks on the active list.”23
Phillips retired from the Postal Service after 28 years, enabling him to spend time with his children, Debra, Karen, John, Kyle, and an adopted daughter, Beth. Taylor and Betty as of 2013 had nine grandchildren.
Phillips’s biggest regret: “I was better than my record showed, was young, single, and I was not as aggressive as I should have been. I took everything for granted.”24 His fondest memory: “The first game I pitched in the big leagues. I pitched a three-hitter against the Cardinals in my first start. I’ll never forget that, and how happy I was. I couldn’t wait to call home to tell my mother and dad what I had done.”25
This biography is included in the book “Thar’s Joy in Braveland! The 1957 Milwaukee Braves” (SABR, 2014), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To download the free e-book or purchase the paperback edition, click here.
In addition to a telephone interview with Taylor Phillips on January 25, 2013, the author accessed Phillips’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and consulted Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference.com.
Newspapers consulted include the Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee Sentinel, and The Sporting News.
Povletich, William, Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak (Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2009).
1 Joe Baggett, “Satisfied: Phillips Reflects Back On His Pro Career,” Neighbor News, no date, no page (in Phillips’s file at the Baseball Hall of Fame).
3 Bill Ballew, “Taylor Phillips recalls his days in the majors,” Sports Collectors Digest, June 15, 1990, 280.
5 Al Thomy, “Rookie No Longer, Phillips Aims High in Braves World,” Atlanta Constitution, February 13, 1957.
6 Bob Wolf, “The Silver Lining: Taylor Phillips, Rookie Lefty Shows Plenty,” Milwaukee Journal, June 9, 1956, 10.
8 Bob Wolf, “Rookie Taylor Phillips Is No Shrinking Violet, Takes Victory Calmly,” Milwaukee Journal, July 16,1956, 9.
10 The Sporting News, February 6, 1957, 6.
11 Bob Wolf, “Braves Still Reeling After Worst Licking,” Milwaukee Journal, August 16, 1957, 12.
13 “Quickly Quoted,” Milwaukee Journal, December 11, 1957, 21.
14 The Sporting News, January 22, 1958, 7.
15 Steve Weller, “New Taylor Phillips is Far Cry from Old; Some Excitement Has Gone Out of Hurling,” Milwaukee Journal, May 26, 1958, 12.
16 The Sporting News, June 6, 1958, 9.
18 The Sporting News, March 4, 1959, 15.
19 The Sporting News, May 20, 1959, 25.
22 Taylor Phillips, telephone interview with author, January 25, 2013.
23 Phillips telephone interview.
24 Phillips telephone interview.
25 Phillips telephone interview.