Remembering the greatest tirade of all time

June 1 is the anniversary of Phillip Wellman's iconic ejection

June 1st, 2021

Editor's note: A version of this story was first published in 2017

The Phillip Wellman we know is three minutes, 21 seconds of hat-tossing, dirt-kicking, plate-covering, base-flinging, military-crawling, grenade-toss-mimicking YouTube gold. In the annals of the sacred-but-dying ritual that is baseball's managerial blowup, Wellman's incomparably inspired show -- which took place on a wet Chattanooga, Tenn., night 10 years ago -- earns a special, singular spot. And he's got more than a million Internet clicks to prove it.

Wellman's antics will live in perpetuity, sure to be summoned on whatever platform is pertinent the day he gets ejected from this game we call life.

"Dad," his son, Brett, has said to him mischievously, "how does it feel knowing when you die, they're still going to show that video?"

Such is the oddly comic existence of the inadvertent social-media star, and Wellman has lived it for a decade now, the time flying by much like the rosin bag he so famously hurled at an umpire's feet.

But don't look for that Wellman should you check out the San Antonio Missions, the Padres' Double-A affiliate for whom he serves as skipper. Don't make the mistake an elderly woman in a wheelchair did when she sat behind Wellman's dugout and waited patiently for an explosion that never arrived before shakily rising to her feet, pointing a crooked finger at the manager as he walked off the field and yelled, "Hey Wellman! Do something!"

If you want that Wellman, he's just a Google search away.

The real Wellman, though, has his own story to tell. About the emanation of the intensity that led to that manic managerial meltdown. About the reputation he's earned away from the spotlight and how it sustained him in a very unlikely place, in the lonely year when baseball didn't love him back. The 55-year-old says he's "too old and fat" to crawl on the ground anymore, but after some trying times, his passion for baseball is actually even stronger than it appeared on June 1, 2007.

* * * *

The night of Wellman's tirade, the then-manager of the Double-A Mississippi Braves wasn't hip to the 21st century realities that would consume him. Chattanooga owner Frank Burke, aware of Wellman's penchant for performance art disguised as argument from the skipper's time with the Lookouts, sensed trouble brewing when Wellman had a couple tiffs with third-base umpire Rusty Barrett. Burke went to his office to fetch a camera.

So when Wellman did explode on a ball call from plate ump Brent Rice, Burke's camera was ready. The video aired that night on WDEF-TV in Chattanooga, and by the next morning, it was everywhere. ESPN. CNN. And then its final resting place -- YouTube, which, to that point, Wellman didn't even know existed.

Wellman was mortified.

Yes, entertaining arguments were Wellman's shtick. But this one spread so wide that the distraction it caused was overwhelming. He hated that his parents back home in San Antonio had to field calls from reporters and that Brett, his daughter, Britnee, and his wife, Montee, had to hear about the incident from people in their community. The one and only time Wellman watched his unscripted spectacle in full, what bothered him most was not his own image but the word "Braves" so visible across his chest. He was all but certain he had earned a pink slip.

Until Bobby Cox called, laughing.

"I don't know how funny this is, Bobby," Wellman said.

"It's awesome," Cox replied. "If I thought my bad knees would let me get up off the ground, I'd try it myself."

That didn't mean Wellman was off the hook. Braves president John Schuerholz suspended him a few games, and even that small sentence ate at Wellman, who in 34 years of professional baseball has only missed games for his kids' graduations and the death of his grandmother. Tracking those three games on his computer, he felt terrible.

So, no, Wellman is still not ready to flip on the clip and have a good laugh about it.

But one other exchange from that aftermath sticks with him. A devout Christian, Wellman went to his home church after the season ended. His pastor, Richard Loser, teased him.

"If I would have known you were coming back this Sunday," Loser said, "I would have had the video ready."

"This is a holy place," Wellman said sheepishly. "You don't need to be showing that."

The pastor shook his head, and with just two words pointed out the good in the clip.

"That's passion."

* * *

Passion became profession. Wellman was signed by the Braves out of college, and while he wasn't a huge prospect, he led the Class A Sumter Braves with 21 homers in 1985, playing on a roster that featured future stars such as Tom Glavine, Ron Gant and Jeff Blauser. He never got past Double-A, though, and got his first managerial gig in Rookie ball at 30 in the Orioles' organization, and by 45, he was back with the Braves as their Double-A skipper, becoming a social-media sensation the night he tried to rile up his first-place club in the midst of a rough patch.

As the video of Wellman dragging his big belly through the infield grass was making the rounds, people who knew him best would point out what a "great baseball man" he is, how much care he had for giving direction to young kids who needed it, helping them become not just better players but better citizens.

You don't see that in the YouTube clip. You just see a man possessed.

But Wellman's real reputation would serve him well the day baseball turned its back on him.

* * * *

Wellman spent three full seasons managing Mississippi after the infamous ejection and another three as a hitting coach in the Cards' system. He had no reason to suspect his single season managing the Angels' Double-A affiliate in 2014 might be his last in pro ball.

But the Angels didn't renew Wellman's contract at season's end and, quickly, the phone stopped ringing. He had been in talks with a Major League team (he won't say which) about an assistant hitting coach job in the bigs, but the general manager of that club shot the idea down because he deemed Wellman -- a full seven years removed from the video -- as "too much of a risk."

Where do you go when the only world you know has given up on you?

If you're Wellman, you go to church. There, he ran into a friend named Brent Bass, vice president of sales at Covenant Transport, a trucking company in Chattanooga, where Wellman had not only made YouTube magic but had also made his permanent home. Wellman told Bass what was going on in his life. The next week, Bass had a message for him.

"Our senior vice president of operations wants to talk to you," Bass said. "He said he knows you."

"A lot of people think they know me," Wellman replied, "because I've got this video floating around."

But Andy Vanzant did know the real Wellman. He had been a season-ticket holder for the Lookouts, so he had seen the side of the manager those three minutes could not convey. He requested a meeting, talked to Wellman a bit about his career and asked him what the Angels had been paying him.

"Sleep well tonight," Vanzant told Wellman. "You'll have a salary, benefits. You know nothing about this industry, and I understand that. Just come in here and give me a good eight hours."

Just like that, the field manager became a fleet manager, responsible for addressing the schedules and needs of drivers traversing the country.

"He was a little rigid at first," Vanzant says now. "But once he got to know his drivers and heard their hard-luck stories, his entire demeanor changed. It became, 'Do you want to go to church with me while you're here for the weekend? Can I buy you lunch?'"

Vanzant called Wellman the company's best fleet manager out of 40 people. He became a father figure to folks inside the building. His hiring was an enormous gain for Covenant.

"The ultimate compliment I can give him is I'd hire him back right now," Vanzant said.

For the first time in Wellman's life, he had to buy a set of slacks and dress shirts, and he had to make the morning and evening commute. That his drive happened to pass AT&T Field, the home park of the Lookouts and the place where he made the rosin bag toss seen 'round the world, only made the situation more strange.

But Wellman adjusted, learned to appreciate the non-baseball blessings in his life. And though he didn't have the heart to step foot in a pro ballpark, he stayed active giving hitting lessons in the evenings.

Wellman also came to understand why baseball executives might not want their managers acting like madmen.

"After a year in the corporate world, I get it," Wellman said. "If I got upset there, I couldn't crawl around on the ground and fire a stapler across the room like it's a grenade."

* * * *

So by the time San Diego called about its Double-A gig in the lead-up to the 2016 season, a more grateful and self-assured Wellman answered. In his interviews with the Padres, he addressed what he called "the elephant in the room" right away and vowed that while he will always sticks up for his players, he's thrown his last fake grenade.

Still, the video remains a part of Wellman's life. No matter the sport or the time of year, if a coach somewhere blows a gasket, some network or website is going to run a list of the greatest tirades of all-time, and Wellman will almost definitely be included, if not No. 1 with a bullet. He's had current players, who were in most cases 10 or 11 when it happened, ask him, "So skip, aren't you the guy who ..." He puts up with it all as best he can, and he doesn't hide from his past.

The Phillip Wellman from YouTube will always have a place in the game as a source of humor. But the real Phillip Wellman still has a place in it as a source of leadership.

"There are very few Major League games I watch now where I haven't crossed paths with some of those kids," Wellman said. "So I'm hoping when they put me six feet under, people will remember me for more than just that video. If they don't, they didn't know me."