How fiery Phil Nevin won over the Angels: ‘The energy he brings is contagious’
Phil Nevin was in the visiting clubhouse in Kansas City, having been ejected from a June 2, 1998, game for charging the mound and inciting a seventh-inning brawl, when another fight broke out between the Angels and Royals in the ninth.
Amid the usual shoving, finger-pointing and screaming, Royals infielder Felix Martinez sucker-punched Angels utility man Frank Bolick in the mouth, touching off a wild melee that lasted 15 minutes.
Nevin, who spent one of his 12 big league seasons as an Angels catcher, didn’t see Martinez’s blind-side blow until after the game, when it was shown on a clubhouse television, which was probably for the best.
“If I would have seen that live,” Nevin said that night, “I would have run onto the field naked and killed him.”
Two months later, the Angels were slumping in Seattle, having opened July with five losses after going 22-6 in June. Then-manager Terry Collins expressed concern before a July 9 game that the Angels lacked intensity and emotion.
Not for long. Disgusted after taking a called third strike with the bases loaded in the sixth inning of an 8-6 loss, Nevin hurled his bat toward the dugout and was immediately ejected by umpire Larry Barnett.
Nevin ripped off his jersey, à la Hulk Hogan, buttons flying, and launched into a lengthy profanity-laced tirade at Barnett. He threw his batting helmet into the dugout, took a pair of shin guards off the bench and tossed them onto the field.
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In 2004, while playing for the San Diego Padres, Nevin hit a double off the Petco Park wall that he believed would have been a homer in other stadiums. Nevin had made no secret of his disdain for the park’s spacious dimensions — 403 feet to left-center, 411 feet to right-center at the time.
When he reached second, Nevin pointed toward then-Padres general manager Kevin Towers’ suite and issued a stream of expletives about the park. Nevin and Towers got into a postgame argument that was so heated then-Padres manager Bruce Bochy had to intervene.
“I had to give him a timeout,” Bochy said of Nevin, “like he was my child.”
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Nevin chuckles when asked what he sees when he looks back at fiery Phil.
“Immature kid,” he says. “Thought I had it all figured out.”
Nevin is 51 now, the father of three, including sons Tyler, a corner infielder who has touched the major leagues with the Baltimore Orioles, and Kyle, who is transferring to Oklahoma after two seasons at Baylor. He’s a grandfather, too, his daughter, Koral, giving birth to a baby girl seven months ago.
The former Placentia El Dorado High and Cal State Fullerton standout spent eight years as a minor league manager, the first in an independent league, and 5½ years as a major league third-base coach before being named Angels interim manager for the rest of the season after Joe Maddon was fired Tuesday.
The volcanic temper that erupted often as a player has cooled a bit over the years, giving Nevin the kind of temperament — a mix of intensity and calm — that the Angels believe will make him a successful big league manager.
But it wasn’t necessarily his baseball journey, the long and arduous path he took to the manager’s chair, that helped Nevin mature the most.
“It’s probably my kids, them growing up,” Nevin said. “My oldest son, Tyler, is like another coach. His demeanor is totally opposite to mine. He’s been sent down a couple of times, and to be honest, I’ve learned a lot from the way he’s handled things.”
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Nevin, who replaced Maddon amid a franchise-record 14-game losing streak that ended with Thursday night’s 5-2 win over Boston, admitted his temper is more dormant than disappeared. He has no doubt that, at some point, he’ll get into a heated argument with an umpire and get ejected from a game.
“It’s just part of the job,” Nevin said. “We all lose our minds … but you can’t do those things all the time.”
If there is one thing Nevin learned from the stoic Bochy, who guided the San Francisco Giants to three World Series championships from 2010 to 2014, it’s that you can’t be Earl Weaver every night.
“That beats you up, but more importantly, it beats your players up,” said Bochy, who retired in 2019 after 25 years as a big league manager. “You have to have a sense of calmness there. That’s such a big part of managing. You don’t want to put added pressure on the players.
“There’s no question Phil is fiery, but he’s grown, he really has. He’s controlling those emotions. He’s still gonna have that edge, but it’s a good edge.”
That edge fueled — and nearly derailed — Nevin’s playing career. After leading El Dorado to the 1989 Southern Section 5-A championship in 1989, Nevin turned down a $150,000 offer from the Dodgers, who drafted him in the third round, to play football and baseball at Fullerton.
He made all 69 extra-point attempts and 31 field goals in three seasons as the Titans’ kicker and punter, but his future was clearly in baseball, where Nevin, with an attitude adjustment from legendary coach Augie Garrido, developed into a Golden Spikes Award winner and the No. 1 pick in the draft in 1992.
After a disappointing sophomore season in 1991, when Nevin hit .335 with three homers and 46 RBIs and had several on-field meltdowns, Garrido, who died in 2018, had a sit-down with his third baseman.
“He was trying to be coach, general manager, owner and chief of umpiring at the same time,” Garrido said in 1992. “He wanted to wear all the hats. We told him to keep it simple and just be a baseball player.”
Nevin hit .398 with 21 homers and 81 RBIs as a junior and led Fullerton to the College World Series championship game, where the Titans lost to Pepperdine 3-2. While Nevin was hitting .526 (10 for 19) with two homers and 11 RBIs in Omaha, Neb., the Houston Astros selected him with the top pick.
Nevin reached the big leagues by 1995 but struggled to find a position and a consistent power stroke. He was traded to Detroit in 1996 and to the Angels after 1997. He played third base, left field and became proficient enough behind the plate to start 64 games at catcher in Anaheim in 1998.
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Nevin’s career took off with a 1999 trade to San Diego, where he hit .291 and averaged 25 homers and 88 RBIs a year for six seasons. Injuries took a toll, and Nevin closed out his career by playing for three teams — the Rangers, Cubs and Twins — in 2005 and 2006.
“My last couple of years, I spent a lot of time sitting on the bench,” Nevin said. “Whether it was next to Boch or Dusty Baker, Ron Gardenhire or Buck Showalter … you understand how prepared they were and what made them good.”
Bochy said when Nevin played for him, he was “always curious, always asking questions” about moves he or the opposing manager made.
“That was his nature,” Bochy said. “He paid attention to detail. Nothing got by him in the dugout. Sometimes we had to remind him to stay in his lane, but that was Phil. He was one of those guys who was destined to manage at some point.”
Nevin didn’t think much about managing or coaching until he was asked to replace the ailing Gary Carter as skipper of the independent-league Orange County Flyers in 2009. Nevin’s career path quickly came into focus.
“I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do after I got done playing,” Nevin said. “But the second I was on the field with the players in uniform and saw that team camaraderie, I missed that part of it. And then, getting to see how players react to you at times … that’s what I like.
“This is what I’ve done my whole life. I love being in the clubhouse with the guys, I love the games, I love the relationships you create with the players, the clubhouse kids, the media, everybody. For me, that’s what my life has been all about.”
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Nevin spent the next four years with the Detroit Tigers, managing their double-A team in 2010 and triple-A team from 2011 to 2013. The Arizona Diamondbacks hired Nevin to manage at triple-A Reno from 2014 to 2016.
Angels reliever Archie Bradley, a former Arizona prospect, spent parts of 2014 and 2015 in Reno, where Nevin had a reputation as a straight shooter and a good communicator.
“He just gets it,” Bradley said. “There’s something about his demeanor that makes guys really want to play hard for him. I think our team’s excited for him. I think he’s going to be the guy to lead us and get this thing turned around.”
Nevin spent 2017 as Bochy’s third-base coach in San Francisco and four seasons (2018 to 2021) as the New York Yankees’ third-base coach for Aaron Boone before Angels general manager Perry Minasian hired him as third-base coach last winter.
“His feel for the game is tremendous,” said Angels infielder Tyler Wade, who spent parts of the previous five seasons with the Yankees. “He communicates well with the players, whether it’s something he sees on the field or that you need to keep an eye on or that you might try. He’s passionate about the game, and the energy he brings is contagious.”
Former Angels right fielder Tim Salmon, who played with Nevin in 1998, believes the breadth of Nevin’s experiences has prepared him for this moment.
Nevin played third base, first base, left field, right field, catcher and designated hitter. He was a starter and a bench player. He failed to fulfill his potential as a No. 1 pick for years but was also an All-Star in 2001, when he hit .306 with 41 homers and 126 RBIs for the Padres.
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“Guys who have been starters or superstars, it’s all they’ve ever known, and it’s hard for them to relate to that kid who plays once a week or has been struggling or going through an injury,” Salmon said. “Phil was a Golden Spikes Award winner who went from the top of the world to having to resurrect his career.
“He has a good understanding of success and failure, and he’s seen it all. He probably had to figure out how to motivate himself, and that will help him motivate his players, to know what guy, when he’s struggling, needs a pat on the back and what guy needs a kick in the pants.”
“He has a good understanding of success and failure, and he’s seen it all. He probably had to figure out how to motivate himself, and that will help him motivate his players.”
— Tim Salmon, former Angels outfielder, on interim manager Phil Nevin
Nevin played for one of the greatest college coaches ever — Garrido won 1,975 games, second behind Mike Martin (2,029) on the NCAA’s win list — and some of baseball’s most successful big league managers, many of whom contacted him Tuesday to congratulate him on his promotion.
Nevin got choked up on the bench before Wednesday’s game when asked what Garrido would have said if he were here to see Nevin manage the Angels.
“That’s a tough one,” Nevin said after a long pause to gather himself. “There are probably a couple of calls I would have liked to have made [on Tuesday], and he would have been one of them, for sure.”
Nevin said he learned much from every manager he played for and worked with, including the one he replaced — Maddon was the Angels’ bench coach who oversaw Nevin’s transition to catcher in 1998 — and he plans to apply those lessons as Angels manager.
He admitted his promotion was bittersweet because it came at the expense of a friend who was fired, but a discussion with Maddon after the job changes Tuesday put Nevin’s mind at ease.
“He told me to just take this opportunity and run with it, and be the person I am, which I plan to do,” Nevin said. “If I’m trying to be somebody else, they’re gonna see right through that. So be authentic, be up front and be honest with these guys, and I think they’ll appreciate that.”
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