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.