Phil Nevin, a former No. 1 overall pick who didn’t reach his potential until he was 30, opposed steroid testing. Something doesn’t sound right.
Once again, to be fair, Phil Nevin has never been named in any official steroid report. It is entirely possible that his numbers were not aided by performance-enhancing drugs. How likely is it? We’ll present the case and let you decide.
In the February 2004 edition of Peter Gammons’ “News and Notes,” the Hall of Fame sportswriter makes a couple of interesting observations.
First, Gammons tells us that San Diego Padres first baseman Phil Nevin “has lost 30 pounds after a winter of yoga, pilates, and workouts and looks tremendous.”
Then, Gammons adds that another first baseman, the Yankees’ Jason Giambi, “has lost 25 pounds and is clearly focused on coming back from the knee surgery to play first base.”
Hulking, power-hitting first basemen going on crash diets and joining their wives for pilates? Something smelled fishy. Just the season before, Giambi had the third-best at-bats-per-home-run ratio (13) in the American League. Meanwhile, during his four years with the San Diego Padres, Nevin had been averaging a home run every 17.4 at bats.
What Gammons failed to mention in his notes: during the 2004 season, Major League Baseball would begin implementing random testing for performance enhancing drugs.
After his “weight loss,” Giambi—an admitted user and steroid poster boy—would go on to hit .208 with 12 home runs during the 2004 season. Nevin, on the other hand, has slipped under the radar during the steroid conversation—he’s never confessed, nor has he ever tested positive. Yet like Giambi, after testing began in earnest in 2004, his numbers stagnated, before plummeting.
Three seasons and three teams later, Nevin’s career would be over.
Up until joining the San Diego Padres in 1999, it looked as if Phil Nevin’s lasting legacy would be a high ranking on ESPN’s 100 biggest draft busts.
In college, Nevin had starred for Cal State Fullerton, winning the Golden Spikes Award, given to the nation’s best collegiate baseball player. Nevin then entered the draft, where, as a highly touted prospect, he was projected to go early in the first round.
The Houston Astros held the first overall pick, and there was some uncertainty over who they would choose. As ESPN’s Buster Olney recounts in his bestseller The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, Astros scout Hal Newhouser was smitten with a skilled high school shortstop from Michigan named Derek Jeter, whom he strongly urged the Astros front office to draft. When they decided to go a different route and select Phil Nevin, Newhouser was devastated—“If he couldn’t convince the Astros to take Jeter,” writes Olney, “then he could never convince them of anything.”
Newhouser promptly resigned from the Astros organization, while Jeter fell to the New York Yankees, who snatched him up with the sixth overall pick.
The rest, of course, is history. By the ’96 season—four years after the draft—Jeter had taken home the Rookie of the Year award and led the New York Yankees to their first World Series title in 18 years. Meanwhile, a 25-year-old Phil Nevin had already been traded to a new team (the Detroit Tigers) and was attempting a position change (from third base to catcher) for their AA affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida.
By the time he joined the San Diego Padres, the former No. 1 overall pick’s career was in shambles. He had played for three different teams (the Tigers had flipped him to the Anaheim Angels in ’97), had just turned 28 years old, couldn’t hit for power, and had a career .230 batting average.
But these were the Ken Caminiti Padres, where light-hitting third basemen won MVP awards, wiry outfielders magically discovered their power strokes, and aging, injury-prone players who failed their physicals could smash 50 home runs, just like that.
Nevin fit right in.
In his first season with the Padres, he hit 27 home runs. Then 34. Then 41. All of a sudden, the huge draft bust, the guy who the Astros were dumb enough to select over Derek Jeter, was fulfilling his potential.
Is it any surprise, then, that Nevin, fresh off his 40-home-run season, opposed testing?
“I do believe that the mind-altering drugs and that stuff should be looked into,” Nevin told Sports Illustrated in 2002. “But I’m not too sure about steroids. It’s a touchy subject. I’d say, if a guy wants to abuse his body that way, that’s his business. That’s his problem. We’re all grown men.”
In light of the fact that at the same time, Padres closer Trevor Hoffman said steroids “have to be addressed,” Padres General Manager Kevin Towers conceded that “guys get bulked up during the offseason and come in bigger and stronger and you wonder …” while Padres manager Bruce Bochy flat-out admitted it: “Players are using steroids.”
Of course, in Nevin’s view, it was the mind-altering stuff—hallucinogens like LSD, maybe PCP, that needed to be addressed—you know, the stuff that makes it harder to hit baseballs.
Please. Grab your glove, Phil, and take the field—you’re our starting first baseman.
More From the All-Steroids Team:
- C: Todd Hundley
- 2B: Bret Boone
- SS: Rich Aurilia
- 3B: Ken Caminiti
- OF: Gary Matthews Jr.
- OF: Brady Anderson
- OF: Jay Gibbons
- UTIL: Jay Bell
- DH: David Ortiz
- SP: Edinson Volquez
- MRP: Brendan Donnelly
- SU: John Rocker
- CL: Eric Gagne