Why Mike Scioscia is the best manager in baseball
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- How's this for a vote of confidence? Speaking about Angels manager Mike Scioscia, club owner Arte Moreno tells SI.com, "He was here when I got here, and he'll be here when I leave.''
When that endorsement is relayed to Scioscia, he laughs, and he says, "I certainly hope Arte's not going anywhere.''
What Moreno says is correct, of course. Scioscia's about as likely to be dislodged from his job as a ball was to come free in the days he used to block the plate like a bull with the crosstown Dodgers from 1980 to '92.
Scioscia's ironclad status with his new organization should come as no revelation to a manager who is memorialized on a bright big red painted mural that fronts beautiful Angels Stadium. He's side by side with standout players Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson, John Lackey, Torii Hunter and Chone Figgins. (Although, he said he didn't know his 30-foot likeness adorns the front of the pristine edifice, explaining that employee parking is on the other side of the stadium).
Not too many folks wind up starring on both sides of this sprawling metropolis, but Scioscia, 49, is one great home-grown Dodger who got away, 45 miles down I-5. Scioscia is, undeniably, both the face of and the force behind the franchise, though he modestly brushes aside the notion that he's the star as well. "No, no, not at all, he says."
Regarding player-personnel moves, Moreno regularly consults not only general manager Tony Reagins and tops scouts like Gary Sutherland, but also Scioscia, who has a say-so in every transaction that's made. One person familiar with the Angels' inner workings, in fact, opines, "Scioscia's the guy who really runs that [organization].''
And why shouldn't he have power? Scioscia, who may be baseball's best manager, was the main man in the team's quick turnaround at the turn of the century. His first Angels team rebounded in 2000 from a dreary 1999 season that resulted in a house-cleaning (manager Terry Collins, GM Bill Bavasi and scouting director Bob Fontaine all were let go).
In 2002, Scioscia's Angels broke a 41-year jinx by winning the World Series. Since then, the Angels have made the playoffs in '04, '05 and '07 and opened this season 17-11, tied for the best record in the American League.
While the Angels' jinx wasn't as long lasting or as highly publicized as those of the Cubs or Red Sox, it was famous in these parts and noteworthy for last-minute collapses like blowing the 1986 ALCS against the Red Sox. Yet, the team truly learned how to turn the page after the arrival of Scioscia, the first to successfully preach the one-day-at-a-time cliché here. The greatest example came after the Angels followed a 16-4 Game 5 defeat in the 2002 World Series by coming back from a 5-0 seventh-inning deficit to win Game 6. They won the title the next day, and have remained a consistent winner since.
Scioscia won't accept credit, saying, "We have a lot of talent in the organization. We're deep in several areas, especially in pitching.''
He adds, "We're not reinventing the wheel here. We don't do anything that's extraordinary.''
Scouts who regularly follow the team say that's false modesty, that Scioscia employs any strategy at his disposal to give the Angels an edge. Scioscia brought a National League style with him, and it's to the point where the Angels often have been more aggressive than most NL clubs. This year, he's finally cut the running game back some because, as he notes, "We have as deep a lineup as we've had in five years.'' In the top three in steals the past five seasons, the Angels and are currently running fifth in that category.
He is no Moneyball player, and scouts applaud that the Angels championship was won on speed and strategy, not waiting for the walk. A below-average runner himself, though the Dodgers' defensively strong backstop (he averaged fewer than three stolen bases a season), Scioscia puts a greater emphasis on baserunning than just about any other manager. "I think good baserunning has to be part of any team's approach,'' Scioscia says. Observers note he will hit-and-run with anyone other then Guerrero or Anderson batting.
Scioscia also pays extremely close attention to the other team's base runners, too close some will complain. They note that no other manager seems to order as many pickoff throws to first base, throws that appear designed only to tire opposing base runners. He also is known for tracking which late-night lovers among opposing players are prone to the hangover, and he takes advantage of that, too. He is a glutton for information, but great instincts are really his key, according to Angels followers.
He can be fiery but appears to have calmed some since his early years, when his arguments with umpires were fire-breathing incidents. Now he won't even reveal the slightest bit of upset over the Dodgers for passing him over before the 1999 season, when, as the team's bench coach for two years, he appeared to be an obvious managerial choice. They went with Davey Johnson, who was fired after the 2000 season and hasn't managed in the majors since.
"I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the Dodgers. They gave me my start,'' Scioscia says, graciously, about the Triple A managerial job he held with them in 1999.
Besides, he says, "I couldn't be happier with my situation. I think it's an incredible place to manage.''
One of the reasons it works so well for Scioscia is Moreno, who says he instructed workers not to even install a phone in his box, just to make clear that Scioscia was on his own. "I learned early on you let baseball people make the baseball decisions. What am going to tell him anyway?'' Moreno says.
Just as Moreno lets Scioscia do his job, word is Scioscia lets the coaches do theirs. Which may be why hardly anything ever changes on his staff of extreme stability. In Scioscia's regime, there have been only three defections off his coaching staff, and two of them got managerial jobs elsewhere (Bud Black, Padres; Joe Maddon, Rays).
Scioscia sees no negatives here. Even his 75-mile daily drive, from Westlake Village, north and west of the Los Angeles Valley, which can take him right past Dodger Stadium, is seen as a plus. While he keeps an apartment in nearby Newport Beach, he doesn't mind the long trip, which he makes practically every game. giving him a chance to decompress and review the events of the day that have been, more often than not, a happy one.
2. Terry Francona, Red Sox. You can't argue with two World Series titles in four years after none in 85. Gets along splendidly with both players and front-office folks alike.
3. Tony La Russa, Cardinals. May seem arrogant, even to folks in his own organization. But he's earned that right, with innovations and great in-game strategies.
4. Jim Leyland, Tigers. Players love him. And writers love his old-school emotion. Not the strategist good friend La Russa is, though.
5. Lou Piniella, Cubs. Just as Leyland had his Colorado, Piniella had his Tampa. But when he has the right team, he knows how and when to go for the jugular.
"He's the real deal. He has a plus fastball, a plus change up and plus poise. The only knock is he has a mediocre breaking ball.''
• Barry Zito may be in the bullpen for now, but people familiar with that situation say the plan is to let Zito clear his head for a start or two, then rejoin the rotation. He may need it, too. He is said to be "in denial,'' about what's going on, which includes an 0-6 record and 7.53 ERA.
• Jorge Posada became extremely worried when he continued to experience weakness in his throwing arm, and that is what led Posada to request three doctors examinations. Early indications seem to suggest he may not need season-ending surgery, but still will need to regain his usual zip on his throws to catch. But the final two doctors have yet to weigh in.
• Yankees people believe Alex Rodriguez rushed back, and that's what caused him to go on the disabled list. A-Rod and Derek Jeter are very much alike in not wanting to take a day off.
• The Rockies have pitching problems. But their offense should get better with Jeff Baker getting starts at second base now instead of Jayson Nix, who was designated for assignment.
• The Phillies are winning admirers. "They have incredible energy,'' one scout says. 'It's a real tribute to them that they've hung in there with Jimmy Rollins out.''
• Sorry, I don't blame Carlos Delgado for not responding to their cheers with a curtain call on Sunday. Mets fans can't expect him to accept their rare bouquets when they're consistently booing him.
• If publicity is what she wants, Mindy McCready is doing OK. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens might want to re-evaluate his legal strategy. The truth can be a worthwhile route on occasion, Rog.
• The Yankees reclaimed Chad Moeller after he went unclaimed on waivers and he is expected to be in the lineup tonight