IRVINE — The cork popped, the champagne glasses filled, and it was official. Steve Kemp and his agent, Dick Moss, toasted the five-year, $5.45-million contract the outfielder had just signed with the New York Yankees.
It was Dec. 9, 1982.
"Dick told me I would never have to worry about another dollar again," Kemp said.
But after a series of injuries forced Kemp into retirement in 1988, he learned to worry. A lot.
"I had an Arizona financial group handling my money, and when I was playing I thought it was in the right areas," Kemp said. "When I retired, I had nothing producing any income."
Today, Kemp regularly reads the business and sports sections at his home in Laguna Niguel. He reads about Roger Clemens making $5,380,250 a year. He knows Jose Canseco can buy a few more Porsches on the $4.7 million a year he's making.
He also reads about former Pirate star Bill Madlock suing his agent and accountant for accounting fraud. He reads about NFL Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas filing for bankruptcy.
"You're going to see a major fallout in the next few years where players will retire and say, 'I was making $1 million a year, and what do I have to show for it?' "
It's a question Kemp has asked himself.
He was left with little after his career ended. Bankruptcy loomed as an option.
"Fortunately, I had some personal ventures, where I had bought homes and property," he said. "I liquidated everything to produce some income."
His finances back in order, Kemp, 36, has reached a crossroads. He's testing the waters in the world of business and baseball coaching.
He spends his mornings working with a Newport Beach financial consulting group, in which he and former Angel Don Baylor are partners.
Their objective--use their baseball connections to recruit clients and persuade major league players to invest their money wisely, something Kemp said they didn't do during their playing careers.
"Athletes run into financial problems and they don't know where to turn," Kemp said. "Don and I know a lot of people in baseball. We want to go to the agents and convince them that if they care about their clients, they'll at least listen to us."
In the afternoon, Kemp is on a field in Irvine, shagging balls during batting practice as interim coach of the Woodbridge High School baseball team.
"This is really a neat situation to learn," he said. "It's harder to manage at this level than at the triple-A (minor league) level.
"I came in here and wanted to treat the kids like I wanted to be treated as a player. But you can't do that with this age group. They need discipline to get the most out of their day. You have to push them."
The Woodbridge job opened in January, when Coach Johnny Ceballos was suspended for a season for coaching players in the off-season, a violation of Southern Section rules. Ken Yoshino, an Irvine physical therapist who has worked with Kemp and with Woodbridge players, convinced Kemp to apply for the job.
"I told the kids, 'This is all new to me,' " he said. "We have, what, six teams in the Sea View League? I told them they had the sixth-best coach in the league."
But they're also being coached by a USC All-American, an 11-year major league veteran and a lifetime .278 hitter.
Kemp said he has returned to "square one" at Woodbridge. Nineteen years ago, he was a promising young player at Arcadia High School.
Does he see any future major leaguers at Woodbridge?
"It's hard to tell," he said. "I haven't seen a high school game since 1972."
Although it's only on an interim basis, the Woodbridge job gives Kemp the opportunity to polish his coaching skills.
Kemp said he has contacted a few major league clubs about possibly managing in their minor league systems. Ceballos is slated to return next season, and, unless another opportunity arises, Kemp would like to stay as an assistant.
Kemp doesn't get paid for coaching. He doesn't care. He's back in baseball.
"It's a lot different in pro ball than it is here," he said. "Just look at our batting practice. We don't have a bucket of balls to hit. We have about 20 old balls, and we're always running around picking them up all the time."
Kemp's career nearly ended during batting practice before a Yankee game in 1983.
After struggling most of the season with a bone chip in his right shoulder, Kemp was standing in left field playing catch before a game.
A line drive off the bat of Omar Moreno hit the unsuspecting Kemp just below his left eye, shattering his cheekbone.
His season was over, and he never fully recovered from the injury. Kemp came back the following season and hit .291 in 94 games, but he was never the player he once was.
"That was pretty much the beginning of the end," he said.
Kemp believes he could have been a Hall of Famer had it not been for the injuries. Angel outfielder Dave Winfield, a former Yankee, said the injuries didn't let Kemp reach his potential in New York.