Former Tiger Phil Nevin is top candidate to be the next Detroit manager

Former Tiger Phil Nevin could be the next manager of the Detroit Tigers. He played for the team from 1995 to 1997 and in a 12-year career he hit 208 home runs.

It’s been less than two weeks since the Detroit Tigers announced that Brad Ausmus would not return as manager, but we’ve already heard several prominent candidates mentioned as part of the managerial rumor mill. There has been talk that the Tigers will consider one of their own coaches, Omar Vizquel, a bright guy who has the advantage of being able to communicate in both English and Spanish. The name of a former big league manager, the lively and controversial Ozzie Guillen, has also been bandied about. Vizquel and Guillen are both intriguing candidates, even if their personalities are as different as could be, but I believe that the Tigers have set their sights on another man for the job.

Over the weekend, Jon Heyman of the MLB Network reported that the Tigers have shown serious interest in hiring Phil Nevin to be their next manager. Heyman has his flaws as a writer, but he is usually on the mark when it comes to the never-ending rumor mill of trades and managerial hirings. I believe that Nevin will be the Tigers’ next manager, with an announcement coming as soon as this week.

First off, Nevin has a number of connections to the organization. He played for the Tigers for three seasons in the mid-1990s. He later managed for the Tigers in their minor league system, putting in time at Single-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. And perhaps most importantly, he has a personal relationship with Tigers GM Al Avila, the man who will make the decision to hire the Tigers’ next manager.

If Nevin does become Ausmus’ successor, this should come as good news. In some ways, he is this year’s Torey Lovullo, a top managerial prospect who has interviewed for several jobs in the past, only to come up short. In past winters, Nevin has reportedly interviewed for managing positions with Arizona, Miami, San Diego, Washington, and Houston, only to be bypassed each time. (He ran second to Lovullo for the Diamondbacks’ job last winter.) When you’ve been asked to interview that many times, it’s an indication that people throughout the game hold you in high regard. Clearly, front office people think that Nevin has real managerial talent. It’s only a matter of time before Nevin not only interviews for another position, but finally gets the job.

Nevin spent this past season in San Francisco, where he served as the Giants’ third base coach. Like a lot of third base coaches, he drew criticism from the Giants’ fan base for having runners thrown out at the plate. In reality, that’s a common complaint from almost every fan base directed at almost every third base coach. It’s also irrelevant when it comes to the subject of whether someone will make a good manager. Nevin is young, intelligent, and carries a good range of experiences, as both a minor league manager and major league coach. He also has some familiarity with Detroit and the Tigers’ organization. He managed Toledo through the 2013 season, allowing him access to some of the players who remain within the organization. Among his players that season were Nick Castellanos, Bryan Holaday, Blaine Hardy, and Bruce Rondon, who all spent 2017 in the Tigers’ organization.

Nevin’s background offers up some intrigue. At one time, he was one of the most highly touted players in the amateur ranks, a player whom the Astros selected with the first overall pick of the 1992 draft. That selection drew some controversy, largely because Tigers Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser, who was working as a scout for the Astros at the time, felt that the team should have selected Derek Jeter with the first pick. The Astros decided to cast their lots with Nevin, mostly because they were concerned that Jeter wanted too much in bonus money. Newhouser ended up quitting the Astros in protest of their decision.

In some ways, the Astros mishandled Nevin, moving him from third base to left field to first base while he toiled in their farm system. Prior to the 1995 season, the Astros traded Ken Caminiti, seemingly opening up third base for Nevin, but the Astros chose not to invite him to spring training. Some speculated that the Astros’ decision was revenge against Nevin for his refusal to work out with replacement players during the spring of ’95.

After starting the season at Triple-A, Nevin received a midseason call-up but flopped badly. In July, the Astros demoted him to Triple-A once again. Already known for his temper and intensity, Nevin reacted with fury to the news. He cursed out both manager Terry Collins and general manager Bob Watson. Regretting what he had done, Nevin later apologized for the incident and promised to work on better controlling his temper.

Even with the apology, Nevin lost some credibility within the organization. In August, the Astros traded Nevin to the Tigers for veteran reliever Mike Henneman. The Tigers decided to convert Nevin into a catcher, a challenge that he accepted. Over the next two and a half seasons, Nevin played sporadically as a jack-of-all-trades for the Tigers, putting in time as a catcher, infielder and outfielder. But he never gained traction with the Tigers, who traded him to Anaheim after the 1997 season.

After an undistinguished season with the Angels (where he reunited with Terry Collins), Nevin moved on to the Padres. After years of struggles, he gained a foothold in San Diego. Perhaps indicating his ability to persist and endure, Nevin became a productive player for the Padres, playing there for six and a half seasons and reaching a high point by making the All-Star team in 2001. He finally started to tail off in 2005, prompting a trade to the Texas Rangers. From there, he put in time with the Rangers, Chicago Cubs, and Minnesota Twins, before retiring in 2006.

All these years later, Nevin retains much of the intensity that he had as a player, but has curtailed the temper tantrums that hurt him, particularly in Houston. He has shown the ability to persevere, salvaging a decent playing career after failing to live up to the enormous promise that comes with being the first pick in the draft. He has also paid his dues as a coach and minor league manager, indicating that he is ready to manage at the highest level.

On a number of fronts, the Tigers have a good candidate in Phil Nevin. Assuming that they hire him, the Tigers have made a solid choice for their next manager.

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About Bruce Markusen

Bruce Markusen is the manager of digital and outreach learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. He is the author of seven books on baseball.