Wellman's life comes full circle in San Antonio

Manager hopes to be remembered for contributions to baseball

Phillip Wellman will begin his 19th season as a Minor League manager and third with Double-A San Antonio in April. (Ozzy Jaime)

By Michael Avallone / MiLB.com | January 8, 2018 10:00 AM

In what amounted to barely three minutes, Phillip Wellman cemented himself in baseball lore. He's the first to admit it wasn't his finest moment, but the baseball lifer has turned that moment of notoriety into a positive. It's become a life lesson he falls back on, not only for himself but for the hundreds of players he's coached in the decade since he became an Internet sensation.

* * * *

Nothing outside of a burning passion for baseball could have foretold what transpired for Wellman on the night of June 1, 2007. 

"As a kid, my parents always impressed upon me what my priorities in life should be," he said. "God, family and, back in the day, school and baseball. I'll admit those last two weren't always prioritized correctly on my part, but when it's all said and done, I'd like to be remembered for having gotten them right."

Wellman's talents on the diamond were enough to produce a four-year career in the Minors with the Braves, Twins and Pirates. He enjoyed his best season in 1985 when he hit .269 with 21 homers and 78 RBIs with Class A Sumter of the South Atlantic League. Two years later, Wellman found himself in Spring Training with the Pirates as an outfielder. It didn't take the 25-year-old long to realize who the odd man out would be.

"You've got to be self-realistic and a good evaluator of yourself," he said. "[In 1987], I was playing in the outfield with guys named Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla. I remember looking around and wondering to myself, 'What can I do that they can't?' The answer was obvious and the reality of my situation hit me square in the face."

Wellman garnered one at-bat in 1987 due to injuries and decided to retire and move into a coaching role, which he began the following year as the hitting instructor for Rookie-level Pulaski in the Atlanta organization.

"I did something where I let my passion get the best of me. To be honest, I really wasn't that angry after the first 30 seconds. I didn't lose control; I knew exactly what I was doing. After I got tossed, I figured I might as well get my money's worth."
-- Phillip Wellman


"Before I was traded [to the Pirates], the Braves told me that should I ever be interested in coaching I should get in touch with them," the Texas native said. "So I did."

Wellman spent the next four seasons coaching in the Braves system before earning his first managerial job with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles. He spent 10 of the next 11 years as a manager, toiling in places like Lethbridge, Alberta. He worked his way up to Double-A with Chattanooga in 1999 and joined Triple-A Louisville as hitting coach in 2000. 

He returned to managing in Chattanooga in 2001 and remained there through the 2003 season. He went back to work for the Braves as Double-A Greenville's hitting coach in 2004 and made the move with the club to Mississippi the following year before taking over as skipper in 2007.

Managing in the organization that gave him his first shot at a career in pro ball, Wellman had the M-Braves atop the Southern League's Southern Division entering their game on June 1, 2007.

* * * *

The night started out innocently enough, including a 37-minute rain delay. The M-Braves were 34-20 when they took the field against Chattanooga and were trailing, 2-0, in the bottom of the second inning when, unbeknownst to Wellman, an ejection would transform his life forever.

Upset with home plate umpire Brent Rice's strike zone, Wellman was tossed for arguing balls and strikes. What followed was a tirade straight out of the Earl Weaver and Billy Martin handbook. While those kind of entertaining managerial explosions have largely become a thing of the past, Wellman brought forth the ghosts of his dugout brethren of yesteryear.

Video: Phil Wellman's epic tirade after ejection

Screaming, pointing, tossing dirt and bases would seem more than enough, but Wellman decided to add his own unique flair to the moment. He crawled on his stomach like a solider in battle before tossing the rosin bag like a grenade toward Rice, who stood motionless at the plate. His coup de grâce was blowing a kiss to the 4,240 fans who witnessed one of the great meltdowns of all-time.

What Wellman didn't -- and couldn't -- know was that Chattanooga owner and former employer Frank Burke sensed his old manager was on edge. Burke decided to grab his camera just in case anything noteworthy occurred.

Wellman obliged and the rest was history.

"I did something where I let my passion get the best of me," he said. "To be honest, I really wasn't that angry after the first 30 seconds. I didn't lose control; I knew exactly what I was doing. After I got tossed, I figured I might as well get my money's worth.

"Was it my proudest moment? Absolutely not, but I'm not embarrassed by it. My only regret was that it got my family involved. My parents, who were around 70 years old at the time, were getting calls at all hours of the night from reporters and people from David Letterman and Jay Leno's shows. My wife [Montee] and kids [daughter Britnee and son Brett] had to hear about it constantly."

Now, more than 10 years since the incident, Wellman said he still isn't sure why he did what he did.

"I don't know. I really don't," he explained. "I've asked myself that question and I still can't come up with a reason. When I look at the video, I wonder what in hell I was thinking. Looking back, if I'd have known the impact it would have on other people, excluding myself, I probably wouldn't have taken it to the level I did.

"Our club was in first place at the time and I deprived my players of the attention they deserved. But you live and you learn. I've paid the price in a sense because it will never go away. It's something I use as a lesson for my players. You lie in the bed you make."

Wellman was suspended for three games and fined $100 but returned to lead Mississippi into the playoffs. He remained the club's manager through 2010, winning the franchise's only Southern League championship in 2008. The Braves didn't renew his contract following the 2010 season, so he accepted a job as hitting coach for Double-A Springfield in the Cardinals system, where he spent three years. Wellman returned to managing with Double-A Arkansas in 2014 but left after one season, his first away from baseball in more than 30 years.

Phillip Wellman led Double-A San Antonio to the Texas League South Division title in 2017.

Despite sitting out the 2015 season, Wellman's fire to return to the game never flickered. When the Padres contacted him about the managerial vacancy at Double-A San Antonio -- where Wellman makes his offseason home -- he didn't hesitate to accept. The Missions struggled in his first year then won the Texas League first- and second-half South Division titles with a 78-62 record last season. He did so with the help of two of the Padres' best young players, No. 3 prospect Luis Urias and fourth-ranked Fernando Tatis Jr.

"Man, for a 20-year-old to do what he did was impressive," Wellman said of Urias, who hit .296/.398/.380 in his first Double-A campaign. "What impressed me most was his knowledge of the strike zone and his discipline. He was one of the youngest players in the Texas League, but he rarely would get himself out. It takes most players years to develop good strike zone judgement, but he had one of the most disciplined approaches you'll find in Double-A."

"As for Fernando, I only had him for about two weeks, but it was obvious in that short time that he gets it. Knowing his background and where he came from [as the son of former Major Leaguer Fernando Tatis] is fine and dandy, but it's obvious when you see him on the field that he's been tutored and brought up around the game. He's got tremendous instincts, he can run and he has some good pop in his bat."

* * * *

As he prepares for his 34th season in professional baseball and 19th as a manager, Wellman is at peace with his standing in the game. He's coached many players who have gone on to play in the Majors, including All-Stars Freddie Freeman and Adam Dunn.

"This game is all about the players. If there are no players, then guys like me don't have a job," Wellman said. "I want them to understand that I want to help them and be a positive influence on them. I'm so appreciative and grateful to be in the game as long as I have. So many young men have impacted my life and I hope they'd say I did the same for them. As a coach, you'll impact a few guys who will reach the Majors, but 95 percent or more won't and it's important how you make those guys feel, too.

"I hope they understand that there are far more important things than baseball. It's going to end. I was fortunate enough to continue coaching when my playing days ended, but it all stops eventually. At some point, I'll be out there, not as Phillip Wellman the baseball player but as an everyday person trying to find a job. So it's my goal to help them learn and take the skills they get from this beautiful game and apply it to their lives to lead them in the right direction."

Wellman ended 2017 with 1,073 wins in 18 seasons as a Minor League manager. Including his four-year playing career, he's been involved in pro ball for 33 of the last 34 years, but only once has he had the opportunity to coach in the Majors. That came in 2008 when he was brought up to the Braves in September at the conclusion of the Minor League season, a tradition certain big league clubs observe.

Offseason MiLB include

"The greatest thing about baseball for me is the love I have for the game," Wellman said. "Coaching or managing in the Majors is not my ultimate goal. I still do have aspirations to do so, even at 56 years old, but there's also a side of me that isn't quite as ambitious as I was 20 years ago. God has me where He wants me, which gives me a peaceful feeling. That's how I choose to look at things. When you get to be my age, the positive impact and influence you have on those around you is what you hope to be remembered by. I'll be OK if I die having never been given a coaching position in the bigs."

As for his most famous moment in the game, Wellman has regrets, but he's also used it to his advantage.

"You can't have do-overs in life, but you can take positives out of a situation," he said. "You are going to be held accountable for your actions and your words. I'm much more cognizant of that now than I was before. When they bury me someday, I hope those closest to me and those who've touched me and vice-versa remember me for something else. I hope they look at me as someone who contributed to the game of baseball outside of a few minutes of a video.

"I've been ejected since and I'll get rung again, too. But you won't find me doing anything like that again. I'm too old and too fat to crawl around while pretending to toss grenades at umpires."

Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More