Book excerpt: Phillip Wellman, much more than three minutes of video infamy

“Never a Bad Game,” which chronicled the first 50 years of the Southern League, has been updated and re-released. (Ordering information below). Over the coming weeks, I’ll present excerpts from 10 of my favorites of the 50 stories told in the book.

He was the winningest manager in the first 50 years of the Southern League, the only manager with more than 1,000 games in the league, a man held in such high regard he was twice voted the Best Managerial Prospect in the league, though he said, “It’s like being named MVP twice. Why aren’t you moving on?”

He won a pennant, won four half-season championships, won over friends among fans and players and media, and his teams won 544 regular-season games.

Phillip Wellman spent 3,000 hours in Southern League dugouts managing games, yet he knows he’ll be remembered for what may be the most famous, widely-viewed three minutes in the first half-century.

“I don’t run from it. I don’t hide from it. It’s out there for the whole world to see,” Wellman said.

What “it” is is the video from a June 1, 2007, game when his Mississippi Braves were playing at Chattanooga.  Wellman erupted against the umpiring crew and the theatrics included his yanking both third and second bases from the ground and lobbing, hand grenade-style, the rosin bag at an umpire. It happened to caught on video by Rick Nyman of WDEF-TV and was quickly sent to ESPN and CNN, and was viral in 24 hours.

“I had done some stupid stuff,” he said. “My wife and kids will tell you they’ve seen better. It just so happened there were no TV crews there.”

Wellman managed games with a passion and has a big personality. There’s a little showman to him. But he’s not the quintessential hothead, a manager destined to be thrown out of a game every two or three weeks.

It was familiar territory when the Mississippi Braves went to play the Lookouts, a team he had once managed. June 1 was the umpiring equivalent to a bad-hair day for the crew of Brent Rice, Jeff Latter and Rusty Barnett, with a rain delay and several other screwy instances.

 Two M-Braves had bickered with Barnett, and Wellman went to their defense. Then Rice made a call on the first pitch of the third with which Wellman disagreed. He burst from the dugout and flung his cap to the ground as he got in Rice’s face. Wellman covered home plate with dirt, then drew an outline of a much larger home plate for Rice’s benefit.

From there, he stalked to third and blasted Barnett. He tugged third base from its moorings and flung it into the outfield. Ditto second base. Between second and pitcher’s mound, he dropped to the ground and did a belly crawl. He grabbed the rosin bag and threw it toward Rice, landing just as the ump’s feet, an absolutely perfect throw.

 “When we got back to Chattanooga, (former team owner) Frank Burke told me attendance was up 50 percent. They wanted to see if I was going to make an ass of myself again. I heard a lot about it,” Wellman continued. “It hit me people were spending money to see if I was going to do something stupid.”

 In 2008, the M-Braves started dreadfully but rallied to win the second half and beat Carolina in five games for the Southern League pennant. Many years earlier, he had decided that the first championship ring he ever won, he’d give to his dad James. “I just had no idea it’d take 25 years to do it,” he said.     

He boxed up the ring and shipped it to his father with a note included. Phillip’s phone rang after the package arrived. His mother Janie was on the other end of the line. “For the first time in I don’t know how long,” she said, “I saw your dad cry.”

To order a personalized copy of Never a Bad Game, email markfmccarter@gmail.com and provide an address, and we’ll bill $22 via PayPal or Venmo (postage included). Or send check or cash to me at 604 Vance Road SW, Huntsville, AL 35801.

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