Steve Phillips' wake-up call: GM to XM, he's rebuilding his life, career

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Former Mets GM Steve Phillips shares a laugh Former Mets GM Steve Phillips shares a laugh while anchoring on the morning radio show "Evan ... Phillips in the Morning" at the studios of Sirius XM Radio. (June 5, 2012) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

It sounds like penance for past misdeeds: Rise at 3:15 in the morning, make a long, dark drive, then spend four hours trapped in a small room with people who relentlessly make fun of you.

And in some ways that is precisely what it is for Steve Phillips, who in nine years has gone from Mets general manager to rising star at ESPN to tabloid scandal to morning talk show host on satellite radio.

But if it all is part of the process that took him from there to here in his life, he readily accepts it -- embraces it, even.

"I've lost a lot," he said Tuesday after his "Evan and Phillips in the Morning" show on SiriusXM. "I have lost money -- thousands and thousands of dollars. I lost my reputation. More than anything I lost my family. I got divorced, but my relationship is really, really good with my kids. I lost a career.

"But I would not take any of that back if the trade-off was I had to go back to being sick and not in recovery. Despite having lost a lot, I'm happier than I've ever been. I'm more relaxed than I've ever been. I worry less than I ever did. And I've got great hope for the future."

Phillips, 49, certainly talks the talk of recovering addicts, in his case a sex addiction that he says landed him in rehab and for which he still attends meetings and speaks to fellow sufferers.

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But available evidence suggests he is living it, too.

His mood certainly has brightened in the two years since he began rebuilding his career, first with guest spots on WFAN, then with a fantasy baseball show on SiriusXM and since October 2010, with the morning gig.

And despite the challenging hours, there is the bonus of free time in the afternoons to be with (and coach) his four sons, ages 10 to 19. (Phillips and the boys' mother, Marni, have divorced; he lives in an apartment near them.)

Best of all, he seems to be enjoying himself, even though co-host Evan Cohen and producer Mike Babchik tease him mercilessly about assorted issues -- none more so than his acquisition of Mo Vaughn in 2002.

Vaughn's name came up five times in the final two hours of Tuesday's show, usually in the middle of discussions that had nothing to do with the Mets.

"I think initially I probably threw it out there to see, how's he going to handle this?" said Cohen, who joined the show in September. "And he throws things back at me."

Cohen called the kibitzing part of the "humanizing of Steve." Usually it involves him diving into the give-and-take of morning show "guy talk." Sometimes it means respecting when he opts to bow out on certain subjects; sometimes it means drawing upon his experience to relate to others' missteps.

Most important, Cohen said, is Phillips' openness.

"Once we do that, making those guy kinds of jokes almost becomes more interesting to people like, 'Wow, this guy has been to hell but he is certainly back because now he can handle it,' " Cohen said.

Phillips does have a sense of humor about himself. ("Who's fallen further, T.O. or me?" he said during Tuesday's show when the discussion turned to Terrell Owens.)

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Phillips' afternoon counterpart on "Mad Dog Radio," Chris (Mad Dog) Russo himself, said Phillips has done "a superb job," especially in proving to be a credible commentator on sports other than baseball.

"I can't say enough about him," Russo said. "I just get nervous we're going to lose him."

That could happen eventually. "Would I like to get back on television at some point? I would," Phillips said. But he no longer stresses over it and said even if it happens he does not want to give up his SiriusXM job.

"I'm looking to add to what I'm doing, not replace what I'm doing," said Phillips, who also is working as a radio analyst on some nationally syndicated Angels games this season.

ESPN fired Phillips in October 2009 in the wake of his affair with a young production assistant. By spring, he was appearing with Mike Francesa on WFAN. Then Russo brought him aboard.

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Phillips noted the irony of two guys who regularly beat him up on the air when he was with the Mets playing key roles in his personal and professional rebirth. He is grateful to both.

So for now he has no complaints, including the hours, which he conceded can be "a grind," especially on the two afternoons he does the fantasy show. But if this is where Phillips is meant to be, so be it.

"I've kind of surrendered my career to God," he said.

Another part of his recovery has been learning to stop caring what others think of him. He has gone from walking down the street imagining what people were saying about him to appreciating that many of them wish him well.

"People have been so compassionate to me publicly," he said. "Most often someone says, 'Hey, man, we're rooting for you.' "

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