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Muir High's Vince Phillips Ends His Love Affair With Football, Signs With Yankees

August 13, 1987|MARTY ESQUIVEL | Times Staff Writer

To Vince Phillips, it was merely a decision to end an affair in favor of the one he loved the most.

Phillips decided to dump a college football scholarship with USC to sign a six-figure contract with the New York Yankees on Friday, ending a dilemma that had both sides eagerly awaiting his decision.

"I figured if I went to SC and played football and baseball and didn't get hurt I'd still have to eventually pick one and that it would be baseball," said Phillips, a two-star athlete at Muir High. "Then, I figured if that's what I'm going to do, I might as well play baseball and start while I'm young rather then wasting those years at SC."

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Phillips had signed a letter of intent to play football and baseball at USC in December. But in June, the Yankees (on the advice of scout Orrin Freeman) took a chance and drafted Phillips in the 13th round anyway.

"It was an educated guess," said Brian Sabean, the Yankees director of scouting. "Our area scout thought that baseball was his priority."

In terms of the future, Phillips said he saw a longer, less painful career in baseball as opposed to football.

"I like football," said Phillips. "It's just that I've seen more athletes play football for a short amount of time than baseball players."

The letter of intent Phillips had signed with USC apparently scared off other teams. Sabean said that Phillips would have gone higher if he hadn't signed with USC and added that "he was not treated like a 13th-round pick."

Phillips and Sabean denied earlier reports that he was offered $150,000, although he confirmed the offer was in the six-figure range.

"He was treated comparably to other high draft picks," said Sabean.

In his senior year at Muir, Phillips, an outfielder, had a .511 average with 27 RBI. His three-year batting average was an impressive .520.

In football, Phillips was equally as impressive. He threw for 1,955 yards his senior season, completing 163 of 247 for a 66% completion mark. He had 19 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

On the ground, Phillips rushed for 418 yards on 78 carries, good for a 5.3 average. Phillips led Muir to 24 straight wins in his last two seasons, including a 14-0 record last year. Muir was the CIF Coastal champion last season, while Phillips was the Coastal co-player of the year. It was those statistics that made him a prize recruit in Trojan eyes. USC Coach Larry Smith acknowledged the loss of Phillips with disappointment, but grace.

"We wish Vince would have made up his mind to come to USC and play football and baseball," Smith said. "I'm sorry he didn't, but I wish him luck and hope he made a good decision."

That decision took longer than most thought it would. With only a month left in the minor league season, the Yankees decided they would not assign Phillips to a team. Instead, they have invited him to a mini-camp for their top prospects in October. After that, he'll have to wait until March for spring training.

Phillips said he took his time with the decision to evaluate both sports professionally. He has two uncles who have played pro football. Charlie Phillips, a former USC star, played for the Los Angeles Raiders, while Michael Dennis played for the New York Giants.

"It was a big decision to turn pro or wait a couple of years," said Dennis. "He wanted to look at it from all angles."

Dennis accompanied Phillips to New York last week to visit the Yankee organization. Sabean says his visit to Yankee Stadium might have been the turning point in the decision.

While in New York, Phillips spoke to New York owner George Steinbrenner and Yankee General Manager Clyde King.

"To his credit, all along he was consistent in his comments about playing baseball," said Sabean. "He was very much interested in a baseball career. We knew it would take some time for him to make a commitment (to us).

"But because of his commitment to baseball, there was no question (as) to what his signability was. We had to get to a point where we could compensate him to actually change his life. He was giving up a lot. He knew that and we knew that."

Phillips said that he was inundated with opinions, but ultimately made the decision on his own.

"Everyone had their opinion," said Phillips. "But I'm the one who had to live with the decision."

Phillips was scheduled to play in the Hall of Fame All-Star Game last Friday at Royal High in El Monte but did not. He was at home signing with the Yankees.

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