Phil Nevin was named Mud Hen manager on Thursday after spending last season as Detroit's Double-A manager in Erie, Pa., leading the SeaWolves to a 66-76 record. He also spent one season as manager of the Orange County Flyers in the independent Golden League. The 39-year-old native of Fullerton, Calif., spent 12 seasons in the major leagues, including parts of three seasons with the Tigers. Nevin hit .270 in his big-league career, finishing with 208 home runs and 743 RBIs. His single-season career highs were the 41 home runs and 126 RBIs he had with San Diego in 2001, a year in which he was named to the National League All-Star team.
When did you realize you wanted to become a manager?
“Managing was something I thought about before I retired. When I got an opportunity to manage in independent ball, the moment I put on the uniform I realized this was what I wanted to do.”
How did your season in Erie prepare you to become the manager in Toledo?
“There was a lot of different things that went on [with that team], with the turnover throughout the year and not having a hitting coach most of the time. It was a learning experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Development-wise, a lot of those guys got better, and I'm proud of that.”
You had a losing streak to start your career in Erie, didn't you?
“We lost our first eight games, but we also only won five games in June and didn't win a home game all month. But when we had a group together for a period of time, we played much better. For the last month we had a core group and played better then too.”
What is the biggest lesson you have learned from baseball?
“I've learned to never take the game for granted. Whether I've played in the big leagues or in Triple-A, it has brought a lot of neat things into my life. I've seen a lot of different cities and country, and met a lot of interesting people through baseball. To be able to give back to the sport in this way is pretty neat for me.”
What are your memories of playing in Toledo?
“I think I was only here a couple of weeks. All I can remember was the sun [at Skeldon Stadium] – it was brutal! It seemed to sit in centerfield, and for the first couple of innings you couldn't see the pitcher when you were up to bat. And I remember one day Danny Bautista charged the mound and started a brawl. The next day I got called back up to the big leagues.”
What style of play do you favor?
“You can really only do what your personnel allows you to do. But you'll notice that I'm an aggressive guy; I like to put the runners in motion and put pressure on the defense to make things happen. I couldn't run when I played, so it's exciting to be able to push the buttons and make my guys do that.”
What was the hardest part of the transition from player to manager?
“I was a fiery player, and I still have that passion and enthusiasm. I remember Sparky Anderson saying, ‘You can't manage on emotion.' I'm a different guy [now]; I'm a lot more calm. You'll see fire, I promise you that. But only when it's called for.
You were the first overall pick in the 1992 draft. Is that of benefit to you as a manager?
“I think it is, because I've seen just about everything. I was a top pick, but I struggled and got sent down. I became a utility player, I learned how to catch. I had some good years as a player and got into the playoffs. I've seen just about all sides of the game, and I think that helps me relate to a lot of different players.”
What was it like to manage a player in Erie that you once played with (Ben Johnson)?
“When that stops happening, then I'll start feeling old. But that goes both ways — growing up, Alan Trammell was my favorite player, and I ended up being a teammate of his. And he ended up being a coach of mine when I was in San Diego. I played with Cecil Fielder, and 15 years later I was playing against his son. Now I've managed against sons of players I played against — and that makes me feel old.”
When you played baseball at Cal-State Fullerton, you also played football, right?
“I was the punter and placekicker at Fullerton. Since [Mud Hens pitching coach] A.J. Sager was a quarterback, I was a kicker and I'm sure [Toledo hitting coach] Bull Durham played, I think we could field a pretty good football team. Seriously, I think college football and baseball were two different experiences. If being a kicker helped my baseball career, it was in [dealing with] becoming an individual in a team sport. Just like being a kicker, when a hitter steps into the box he becomes an individual in a team sport.”
— John Wagner