Kemp wants other major-leaguers to avoid financial mistakes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IRVINE, Calif. -- 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 $5.38 million a year. He knows Jose Canseco can buy a few more Porsches on the $4.7 million a year he is making.

He also reads about former third-base star Bill Madlock suing his agent and accountant for accounting fraud. He reads about former football great Johnny Unitas filing for bankruptcy.

"You're going to see a major fallout in the next few years," Kemp said, "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 is 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 baseball standout 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 did not 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 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 California high school 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 are 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 in the Los Angeles area.

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 does not get paid for coaching. He does not care. He is 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 said he 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 did not let Kemp reach his potential in New York.

"New York wasn't kind to him," Winfield said. "It wasn't a good place for him. It was the beginning of the end for him -- that happens to a lot of people with the Yankees. Once you're injured there, they give up on you."

"He just had bad luck over there with the Yankees. I thought he was a hustling, productive player with Chicago."

The injuries forced Kemp to sit out a year and a half. He made a comeback in 1988, playing in the major and minor leagues with the Texas Rangers, Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League and Oklahoma City of the American Association. He retired at the end of the season.

But retirement only led to financial problems. He was going through a divorce. He owed thousands of dollars in back taxes. His investments were producing no income.

Kemp turned over his financial affairs to Newport Beach businessman Rich Fell. Fell, a lawyer who has taught business classes at USC, showed Kemp some conservative, but productive, alternative investments.

"Fortunately I was able to pay my obligations," Kemp said. "If it wasn't for Rich, I would have been in big trouble."

Kemp wants to persuade players to steer clear of "the get-rich-quick scheme" when investing their earnings.

"Players think that if they're making $2 million now, they have to be making $2 million when they retire," Kemp said. "That's ridiculous. It won't happen.

"Baseball players make a large amount of money over a short period of time. Someone like a doctor, who's making a lot of money over a long-term period, can afford to take some risks."

Kemp will deliver that speech to the players he meets with during a week-long trip to Arizona for spring training. Dave Cowen, Woodbridge's athletic director and assistant baseball coach, will take over Kemp's coaching duties while he's away.

"I think it can help a lot of people with the financial aspect," he said. "I'm not out to make a lot of money off this. I'm in it for the longevity, and I'm trying to get us clients.

"Baylor has been there, too. We're tired of this . . . ."

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