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Phil Nevin's long road to MLB manager
Throughout his baseball journey, he's learned from some of the most respected managers in the game.
Phil Nevin has come a long way.
The interim Angels manager -- who ascended to the role Tuesday with Joe Maddon's dismissal -- has been a Team USA member, a top draft pick, a hotshot, a bust, a reclamation project, an all-star, a veteran, a minor league manager, a major league coach awaiting his chance guiding a team, and a baseball dad.
And throughout his baseball journey, he's learned from some of the most respected managers in the game. Phil played for Bruce Bochy, Dusty Baker, Terry Collins, Sparky Anderson, Buck Showalter, Buddy Bell, and Ron Gardenhire during his 12-year career.
I spoke to Phil in 2015, at the time he was managing the Triple-A Reno Aces, for my book on his mentor and friend Ken Caminiti. Phil was drafted by Houston in 1992, a third baseman waiting in the wings -- he played the same position as Ken. But instead of brushing his eventual replacement aside, Ken took Phil under his wing and invited him to Houston. Ken wanted to teach Phil what it meant to be a major league player.
While Phil's time with the Astros was cut short -- after a heated run-in with then-manager Collins, he was traded to Detroit -- he established himself with San Diego in 1999, filling Ken's shoes yet again after Caminiti departed the Padres. Phil found his greatest successes with San Diego, hitting 41 home runs and driving in 126 runs in 2001.
And it was there that he played for Bochy, who he later served with on the Giants coaching staff.
"There's no greater respect factor of any of the guys that I played for, and I played for a lot of good ones," Phil told me in 2015 of Bochy. "There's a lot of things that Bruce did in a clubhouse and the way you handle the players, bullpens, that I certainly take with me, without a doubt."
Phil was quick to note that he wasn't trying to replicate anyone's management style -- an approach that should serve him well in his new role. As the Yankees third base coach from 2018 to 2021, Phil was an enforcer and sparkplug, someone who wasn't afraid to speak his mind. Phil's introspective side has also emerged during his decades in the game.
"I always say 'you never try to emulate anybody.' In the position I'm in, there's certain things you take from each guy you've played for what you think is positive, even negative. But you gotta create it on your own," he told me. "You spend so much time with a team. When you're a leader, in a leadership role, if you try to be somebody you're not, they get to know you on a personal level, to a certain extent, over a period of time. And when you have that relationship with people, they can also see when you're trying to be somebody else, and the second they feel like you're trying to be somebody else, you lose respect in that room, so you do things in your own way."
In leading the Angels, Phil has the chance to do things his way, the longtime student of the game now a teacher himself.