The first time Phillip Wellman saw the San Antonio Missions, he cried. He was standing at V.J. Keefe Field, the Missions’ home park at the time, holding up a foul ball he had chased down in the stands.
Wellman was in second grade and full of excitement. The first professional baseball game he’d seen had just ended and players from the home team were filing past him as he stood near the infield fence, ball in hand.
Who would stop and sign his prize? The starting pitcher? The catcher? Maybe a utility infielder? Nobody did. The boy returned to the car, brokenhearted and in tears.
“Did you ask anyone to sign your ball?” his father, James, asked.
“No,” Phillip sobbed.
“It might be a good idea to ask,” his father said. “You want to play professional baseball, don’t you?”
The boy nodded.
“Then remember this moment. Remember how it made you feel.”
Phillip Wellman remembered. The 1980 graduate of Madison High School went on to play pro ball, reaching the Double-A level, and moved on to managing. He has won 1,045 minor league games in a career that began in 1992, including 50 with the Missions this season. He fulfills every autograph request.
“When you reach my age,” said the 55-year-old Wellman, “you don’t want to send a 7-, 8-, or 9-year-old home crying. I sign as many balls for little kids as ask. The lesson from second grade stuck with me.”
The hometown kid has done well. Wellman led the Missions to the first-half title in the Texas League on June 15. Less than a week later, the owner of San Diego Padres’ Double-A affiliate announced the team would move to Amarillo in 2019. Will Wellman relocate with the team and autograph balls in the city’s proposed, new $45.5 million downtown stadium?
“That’s two years away,” he said. “Light years in baseball. If the Padres end up in Amarillo, I’ll be in Amarillo. But a lot can happen.”
When Wellman is on the field, anything can happen. He’s not known primarily for winning league titles, accumulating 1,000-plus wins, managing in his hometown, or signing balls. He’s best known for epic, managerial meltdowns.
The one from June 1, 2007, is an all-timer, a YouTube classic with multiple versions logging more than 3 million views. Wellman was the manager of the Mississippi Braves. An umpire, of course, started it, ejecting Wellman for the way he protested a called “ball” from his pitcher.
As the public address system played Let’s Stay Together by Al Green – I’m I’m so in love with you, Whatever you want to do is all right with me – Wellman stormed out of the dugout, threw down his cap, gesticulated wildly, and yelled until his face and neck changed color.
Fans whooped at the display. Al Green sang on – Lovin’ you whether, whether, times are good or bad, happy and sad – and Wellman played to the crowd. He picked up two bases and hurled them into the outfield. He dropped to his knees and crawled like a soldier in combat toward the pitcher’s mound, picking up the rosin bag, pulling an imaginary pin with his teeth and tossing the object like a grenade. The bag flew high and landed – boom! – in a cloud of dust and bounced off the left foot of the home plate umpire.
Wellman wasn’t finished. He motioned for an umpire to be ejected and blew a kiss to the crowd.
The phone rang at his parents’ home in Marlin, Texas. James Wellman, Phillip’s father, turned on ESPN. Then he started calling friends and relatives. “You’ve got to see this,” he said.
Ten years later, the outburst remains a source of fatherly pride. “I thought that was fantastic,” said James, 76. “He put on a show.” ESPN thought so, too, naming it the No. 1 meltdown in sports history.
Phillip’s wife, Montee, was amused, but asked her husband: “What were you thinking?” Other family members had questions.
“My son asked, ‘How does it feel to know that when you’re dead and gone people are still gonna see that video and watch it,’” Phillip said. “I don’t know how to answer. I did it. It’s there for all to see. If it provides a little laughter for somebody, good.”
When the Missions hired him last season, Phillip said he was too old to melt down. But he wasn’t. On May 26, 2016, he was ejected after arguing a call and unleashing a red-faced, base-kicking, base-tossing scream fest. It paled next to the grenade-tossing eruption of 2007, but it was big enough. Montee lifted a checkbook in the direction of the Texas League president to signal that, yes, she was prepared to pay another fine.
James would like to see another epic tantrum. It would show his son fighting for his players. But he understands how management feels.
Said James: “I will never forget what one of his bosses told him after a game: ‘You’re going to have to calm down.’ Phillip said, ‘Well sir, was my runner safe or out at first base?’ The boss said, ‘Oh, he was definitely safe.’ Phillip said, ‘Were we behind or ahead?’ The boss said, ‘Behind.’ Well, did we win? ‘Yes, you did.’ Point made.”
James remembers that long-ago Missions game at V.J. Keefe Field, the one where Phillip brought an unsigned ball to the car and cried. The father remembers his son playing Little League, high school, college, and pro ball. Dad remembers the transition from playing to managing – the wins and tirades. He also remembers the phone call: Phillip was coming home.
When the Missions play at Wolff Stadium, James and his wife, Janie, 73, make the three-hour drive from Marlin to San Antonio. They were there when their won his 1,000th game on April 13, and let him know how they felt.
“My parents were standing and clapping,” Phillip said. “Right there were my heroes. That almost brought tears to my eyes.”
After the game, the family shared a heartfelt embrace. Then the son went out and signed some baseballs.