In an unprecidented act of empathy, generosity and compassion, Yankees manager Joe Torre assured youngster Andy Phillips not to worry about baseball, to go to Alabama to be at the bedside of his ailing mother, who had been seriously injured in an automobile accident.
"But, of course," Torre quickly added, "if you leave, you'll never make the team and probably will have to spend the rest of your career in the minors."
No, no, no, Torre didn't really say that. He might as well have, though, considering the headstart Phillips has given rival Josh Phelps, who is competing with him for the right-handed designated hitter's job.
In the 10 days since Phillips left, Phelps is hitting .421 with a .622 slugging percentage in 19 at-bats. Phillips, who just returned, has yet to appear in game, other than simulated action against teammate Andy Pettitte, in which Phillips was credited with a couple of singles. Big deal.
Phillips is doing well just to be in the running, considering his major league career batting average is just .220 in limited action, while Phelps hit .291 with 21 homers in 467 at-bats last year.
Okay, okay. Phelps did it at the Orioles Triple A affiliate at Ottawa. But it was only four years ago at Toronto that Phelps hit 20 homers in 396 at-bats off genuine major league pitching. That Phelps' star has been tarnished since then is obvious, but considering his minor league numbers last year, maybe he's just a late bloomer.
In any event, it seems surprising that the Orioles left Phelps unprotected. So far Yankees GM Brian Cashman looks wise to have snapped him up in the Rule 5 draft. If Phelps doesn't make the team, he will have to be sent back to Baltimore, so expect the Yankees to keep him, also allowing continued control of Phillips at Triple A Scranton-Wilkes Barre.