Mike Scioscia, as usual, is holding his ground at Dodger Stadium. Bullpen coach Mark Cresse is teasing Scioscia as he poses for pictures, but the accommodating Dodger catcher is not taking the bait.
"Are they taking pictures for the cover of the menu at Sir George's?" yells Cresse, mentioning a chain of buffet-style restaurants. Scioscia doesn't flinch. Cresse then begins a takeoff on what he sees as an appropriate endorsement for Scioscia.
"When I'm not blocking the plate at Dodger Stadium, I'm filling my plate at Sir George's," mocks Cresse.
By his own admission. Scioscia bats left, throws right and eats both. He met his future wife three years ago after she baked chocolate chip cookies for him. His teammates call him Lumpy, after the chubby character in Leave It to Beaver.
But Scioscia, 26, knows his way around the plate on the field, too. His .409 on-base average is second in the National League to teammate Pedro Guerrero's .429, and he's batting .297, giving him a chance to become the first Dodger catcher in 30 years to hit .300. He has a career-high seven homers and 49 RBIs. As well, he handles a pitching staff that leads the league with a 2.93 ERA.
Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully calls Scioscia "the quiet hero." Even at 6'2", 220 pounds, he doesn't hit a lot of homers. He doesn't stretch doubles into triples. He doesn't testify in Pittsburgh. But every once in a while, maybe 10 or 12 times a season, he plays a starring role for the first-place Dodgers in that most exciting of baseball moments: the play at the plate.
"You have to decide if you're willing to stay in and block the plate or not," Scioscia says. "There is no in-between. You have to stay square with the runner so you're not exposing any of yourself to injury. Then you have to concentrate on catching the throw. On a high throw, you're like a wide receiver going over the middle to catch a pass. On a low throw, you have to stay low and protect yourself a little better."
Mechanics aside, a catcher also needs courage, and courage isn't easily taught. But Scioscia showed as early as high school that he could take a licking and keep on ticking. He was an all-area offensive guard for Springfield (Pa.) High and, naturally, he excelled at blocking.
The tag play became a high-price-tag play during Scioscia's arbitration hearing last winter. His attorney, Richie Phillips, called Dodger scouting director Ben Wade as a witness. Wade testified that Scioscia was better at policing the plate than anyone else he had seen in 30 years of baseball. Scioscia won a $435,000 arbitration decision. No wonder he's called The Human Dead End.
In May 1980, in his second week in the major leagues, Scioscia nailed Pete Rose, who practically decapitated catcher Ray Fosse on a play at the plate in the 1970 All-Star Game. He has had many collisions since, but his reputation was etched in stone—some would say Mike is, too—in a game with the Cardinals last July 21. " Willie McGee was hitting," Scioscia says. "I think it was McGee. [It was.] That whole day is foggy. Jack Clark was on first. McGee hit the ball to centerfield. Mariano Duncan was the relay. As I caught the ball and turned to make the tag, Jack was right there. That's the last thing I remember for a while."