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Crazy eights - Part four: Eisy and some unfortunate players from the late nineties

Jim Eisenreich was a fan favorite; Desi Relaford and Marlon Anderson, not so much.

Cincinnati Reds v Philadelphia Phillies
Jim Eisenreich was an unlikely fan favorite
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

In honor of the eight nights of Chanukah, I’ve been writing about some of the players to have worn the number eight for the Phillies over the years. I’ve already written about Hall of Famers and All-Stars, and this time, I’ll discuss one of the most unlikely fan favorites in team history.

Jim Eisenreich

When the Phillies signed outfielder Jim Eisenreich before the 1993 season, nobody made much of a big deal about it. After overcoming Tourette’s Syndrome to resume his playing career with the Royals, he had spent several years as a serviceable outfielder. He was expected to serve mainly as a bench piece on the 1933 Phillies, behind the more promising Wes Chamberlain.

At first, Eisenreich was mostly used as a defensive replacement for Chamberlain in right field. (As it turns out, most defensive metrics don’t show much of a difference between the two.) But as Chamberlain struggled a bit against right-handed pitching, Eisenreich thrived. By midseason, the right field spot became a full-on platoon.

Eisenreich’s best moment of the season came in game two of the World Series when his home run helped power the Phillies to victory.

Phillies fans, touched by his backstory and his unexpectedly good play embraced “Eisy” and he became a fan favorite. He continued to play well over the next four years even though the team made a dramatic fall in the standings over that time.

After the 1996 season, the Phillies allowed Eisenreich to leave as a free agent, and fans were unhappy. Yes, the team was rebuilding, and he was entering his age 38 season, but why not keep a beloved good clubhouse guy around to help get through the bad times? Especially when the team basically signed 36-year-old Rex Hudler to replace him.

Leaving Philadelphia worked out well for Eisenreich. He signed with the Florida Marlins who would go on to win the 1997 World Series.

Desi Relaford

After Eisenreich left, backup catcher Mark Parent took over the eight for a couple of seasons but didn’t have many notable moments with the team. With Parent’s departure, young shortstop Desi Relaford took over the number in 1999.

Relaford was typical of the Phillies in the late 90’s in that he wasn’t particularly good on offense or defense. For some reason, manager Terry Francona insisted that Relaford could bat near the top of the order, and if Relaford started to hit well lower in the lineup he would try to move him to the two-spot with almost universally poor results. (Francona went on to have a great managing career, but there were some definite growing pains in Philadelphia.)

Midway through the 2000 season, the Phillies had seen enough, and traded him to San Diego for David Newhan. (Who?) As it turns out, he wasn’t heartbroken to leave Philadelphia, since he doesn’t have a high opinion of Phillies fans.

Relaford somehow bounced around the majors for a few more years, and one day in 2003, I happened to be at Camden Yards to see the Orioles take on Relaford’s Kansas City Royals. Relaford was playing the outfield that game and dropped a fly ball not far from where I was seated. The fans gave him a hard time, and I believe he may have heard my cry of, “Nice catch, Desi! You still suck!” and he responded with a thumbs up. Good times.

Marlon Anderson

With Relaford gone, the eight shifted to his former double play partner, Marlon Anderson. Anderson had hit a home run in his very first plate appearance with the Phillies, but sadly, that was probably the highlight of his time in Philadelphia.

While a better player than Relaford, the biggest problem with Anderson was that he wasn’t especially good at any aspect of the game. He didn’t get on base well, he didn’t have much power, he wasn’t especially fast, and he was merely adequate on defense. Sure, you can win with those guys, but you don’t win because of them.

Now bearing the number eight, Anderson had his best season in the majors in 2001 when he had a .758 OPS and was worth 2.9 wins above replacement. But his numbers sagged the following season, and with Placido Polanco on hand, and a top second base prospect named Chase Utley waiting in the minors, there wasn’t much use for Anderson, so he was allowed to leave as a free agent.

The best thing Anderson ever did for the Phillies came after he left the team. As a member of the 2007 Mets, he slid into second base in the ninth inning of a crucial game in September of that season. But his slide was deemed interference and turned into a game-ending double play for the Phillies.

Next time, I’ll wrap up the series by talking about the players to have worn the eight for the last two Phillies teams to win the National League pennant.