SAN DIEGO — Phil Nevin is at the peak of his career His $34 million contract kicks in next year, giving him financial security for life.
Yet Nevin already is thinking about his next job.
No worries for Padres fans. Nevin didn’t spend the Monday off-day poring over the want ads. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.
But Nevin’s playing days will end eventually, and he knows exactly what he wants to do then. In fact, every day he spends in uniform is training for his next goal. Every baseball experience is recorded in his mental files, ready to be used on the next job.
What is that job?
“I’d like to manage someday,” said Nevin, the Padres’ first baseman. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine my life without baseball, whether I’m playing or not.
“I think I took this game for granted for a long time. First and foremost, I think it would be fun. I love the mental side of the game. And it’s a way to give back.”
Phil Nevin in charge of a big-league ballclub? The same Phil Nevin who can turn any piece of equipment into a projectile with one flare of his temper? The same Phil Nevin who has been tossed from a game this year? The same Phil Nevin who launched into a public tirade in the dugout at Pac Bell Park last season? The same Phil Nevin who once tore apart the Astros’ clubhouse when he was demoted to the minors? The same Phil Nevin who turned a rookie’s wardrobe into ashes late last season?
Yup, the same Phil Nevin.
And to those who watch him on a daily basis, there’s nothing surprising about it.
“Let me tell you,” said Padres manager Bruce Bochy, “Nevin knows the game. He loves the game. He knows the league, the players. When I talk to him and listen to his comments, you can tell he’s got a great feel for the game.
“I think he’d be a great manager.”
Then Bochy couldn’t resist putting tongue in cheek.
“I don’t know how many games he’d stay in,” he added.
Even if it’s more perception than reality, Nevin knows his reputation as a hothead — even if it was earned mostly by youthful indiscretions — is something he will have to address once he seriously seeks a dugout job. There are a few Billy Martin types who have thrived as managers, but they are vastly outnumbered by the Tom Kelly, Walter Alston types who have the patience and staying power to deal with the bad times as well as the good.
Take Larry Bowa, for example. Like Nevin, he was a fiery player who left it all on the field. But he was a terrible manager when he got his first shot with the Padres in 1987. He lasted less than 1 1/2 seasons and had to wait another 13 years for a second chance. Bowa toned down his act, though he hardly has become milquetoast, and earned National League manager of the year honors with the Phillies last year.
“I don’t think I’d be a Larry Bowa kind of guy,” Nevin said. “No disrespect there. He’s fiery and all. But I think the important part of managing is communicating.”
One thing Bowa was not prepared for when he first became a manager was failure. For all his intensity, Bowa spent his entire big-league career as a star. He was a started in his rookie year and remained one for 15 seasons, becoming a backup only in his final season.
Nevin, on the other hand, has been humbled by the game. He understands failure, but he also has experienced what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
He came in cocky, then was knocked down. Form being a college player of the year and first overall draft pick, Nevin had to learn to survive as a utilityman just to avoid the minor leagues. He became a part-time catcher, causing him to view the game in a new way. No longer was he focused only on his responsibilities, but he came to understand what should be happening everywhere on the field.
Even after breaking out as a star with the Padres, he has remembered the tough times. He remains a student of the game. He took advantage of being around Tony Gwynn for three seasons. He bends Bochy’s ear whenever possible. First-base coach Alan Trammell, another who might become a big-league manager someday, is a big influence.
“I feel like I’ve played for some great managers — Sparky Anderson, Buddy Bell, especially the guy here (Bochy),” Nevin said. “I find myself watching the game and strategizing, playing along with what the other guys do. It’s just fun, and it keeps you in the game mentally.”
It just might keep Nevin in the game for decades to come.
Published in the North County Times on April 30, 2002.