Updated: Thursday, September 21, 2017, 12:17 PM
On Wednesday night, before he swatted his first home run in two weeks and cracked his first double in a month, Tommy Joseph put a Phillies jersey on a 12-year-old cancer patient from Boyertown. The boy followed Joseph into the dugout and onto the field for a pregame stretch. They played catch in right field. They jogged together. They fist-bumped Joseph’s teammates.
The boy, last month, caught one of Joseph’s homers to left field. Caught it on the fly. “It was sweet,” Joseph said. “He put his hands up and everything.” The first baseman heard about the boy’s interview later that day on the team’s broadcast — how he loved baseball and how he was undergoing treatment for leukemia.
So Joseph invited Zach Witt to Citizens Bank Park for Wednesday’s game, a game in which Joseph just so happened to earn a rare start — his third in the Phillies’ last 12 games. Joseph asked his manager, Pete Mackanin, for permission to allow Witt to shadow him before the game.
“To be able to do something little like that, it’s so easy for us to be able to do that stuff,” Joseph said. “I just found it necessary to do it. I felt like he deserved it.”
Mackanin, after a 7-5 win over Los Angeles, used that same word — deserve — to describe Joseph.
“He deserves a lot of respect,” Mackanin said. “He’s had a good year for us.”
But not good enough. Joseph has lost his job. He will not be an everyday player in Philadelphia again, barring an unforeseen development. Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams, two younger players, have thrived in the middle of the lineup that Joseph once occupied.
They have earned it; Joseph’s production has not matched last season’s. He is the team’s leader in homers, with 22, but his OPS has declined by 89 points. His .288 on-base percentage is 37 points less than the league average.
So he is a bench player.
“He understands that,” Mackanin said. “I told him I’d give him some games for the rest of the year. He was real professional about it.”
That can be hard. It would be harder, Joseph said, to harbor resentment.
“Professional is how I wanted to handle it,” Joseph said. “I understand right now what needs to happen. I’m a baseball player. I’m a competitor. I want to play every day. It’s what you train for; it’s what you prepare for. It’s what you want to do. That’s how you gain respect from your peers, showing up every day and going out there and playing.
“I understand the situation right now. We have a couple weeks left in the season. My job is to be able to be prepared and be ready to play when Pete needs me to play.”
The Phillies tried to trade Joseph in July but found no match. They’ll try again in the offseason, when an American League team could add Joseph for some righthanded power. He wants to play every day. If the Phillies keep him, he would be a bench player in 2018.
“I’m fortunate enough to not have to make those decisions,” Joseph, 26, said. “I get to let other people handle that, and all I can do is be ready to play when I need to.”
He asked a Phillies employee to connect him with the Witt family after the Aug. 24 game, when Joseph’s ball landed in Zach’s glove. Joseph arranged for more than the standard visit during batting practice. Zach wears No. 20 when he plays. The Phillies sought Mike Schmidt’s approval — the team’s merchandise store is instructed not to place No. 20 on any customized jersey, no matter what — and Schmidt approved it. Schmidt also signed a ball for Zach. Joseph collected some autographs from his current teammates, plus some batting gloves and other equipment.
“We ran around before the game, and had a good time,” Joseph said. “It was fun.”
Mickey Morandini, the team’s first-base coach, noticed how Joseph treated Zach in the dugout. He pulled Joseph aside before the game and offered a prediction.
“You’re going to hit a home run,” Morandini said.
Joseph’s seventh-inning solo homer put the Phillies ahead for a moment. Baseball has been both good and bad to Joseph. His future here is uncertain. But he has not lost perspective.