Angels’ Scioscia earned his wings

(Chris Carlson/Associated Press)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 8, 2009

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - The main entrance to Angel Stadium is adorned with five photographs standing 33 feet high by 24 feet wide. Four of the red-tinged images pay tribute to All-Stars Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, and John Lackey.

The fifth is of manager Mike Scioscia, shown wearing sunglasses and a stern expression.

“I try not to walk in that way,’’ Scioscia said. “It’s kind of awkward to see my face that big. To be honest with you, I’ve only seen it twice and I’d rather it not be up there.’’

Scioscia ducked his head as he sat behind his desk in a surprisingly small and unadorned office that opens directly into the clubhouse. That he has become one of baseball’s most celebrated managers is not a subject he cares to discuss at length.

“I appreciate the gesture. But this game is about players,’’ he said. “When you’re a kid in the backyard and you’re 8 years old swinging that stickball bat, you’re not managing a team. You’re up at the plate in the World Series.’’

But Scioscia’s popularity eclipses that of even the Rally Monkey in Orange County. Now in his 10th season, the 50-year-old Pennsylvania native has led the Angels to the playoffs in six of the last eight seasons. The run started in 2002 when the Angels won the World Series.

No active American League manager has more tenure or a better contract. Scioscia is signed through 2018, having agreed last year to an extension believed to be worth $17.5 million.

“He was here before any of us got here and he’ll probably be here when we’re all gone,’’ said Hunter, the gregarious center fielder. “When you think about this franchise, you think about him and what he has done. He is the man here.’’

Since Scioscia was named manager before the 2000 season, the organization has changed around him. Outdoor advertising mogul Arte Moreno purchased the team from The Walt Disney Company in 2003. General manager Bill Stoneham retired in 2007, leaving baseball operations in the hands of player development director Tony Reagins.

None of the 45 players Scioscia managed in 2000, a group that included Mo Vaughn and current Lowell Spinners manager Gary DiSarcina, remain with the organization. Even the name of the team changed in 2005, when the Anaheim Angels became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The one constant has been Scioscia.

“I trust him implicitly,’’ Moreno said. “You look around the game and you see how fast managers come and go. But Mike has been at the base of our success. He ties it all together.’’

Moreno, Reagins, and others around the team say Scioscia has done his best work this season, navigating the team through problems that could have led to collapse.

The Angels were struck by tragedy on the evening of April 9, when promising young starter Nick Adenhart and two friends were killed in a car accident, victims of a drunk driver who now faces murder charges. The team lost five of six games during the road trip that followed.

Guerrero then landed on the disabled list, joining four starting pitchers. By April 25, the Angels were in fourth place in the American League West. “It was a hard time for all of us. But I told the players that we would move on,’’ Scioscia said. “What choice did we have?’’

Los Angeles climbed to first place by the end of June. When Guerrero returned to the disabled list July 10, this time with Hunter joining him, the Angels responded by winning 12 of the next 13 games.

With its bullpen rebuilt, the rotation back intact, and a lineup bolstered by the unexpected contributions of first baseman Kendry Morales, Los Angeles clinched its third consecutive division title Sept. 29. The players celebrated wildly, then gathered around a photograph of Adenhart on the center-field wall at Angel Stadium.

“Mike kept us together,’’ Figgins said. “There was no panic in the clubhouse. There was sadness over Nick and there still is. But we never lost our focus on the field. We kept doing what we do here.’’

The Angels believe their style of play helps avoid protracted slumps. Only five teams have a higher payroll than the approximately $113 million Moreno has committed this season. But Los Angeles plays with an attention to detail more commonly found in teams in smaller markets with a thinner margin for error.

“It’s retro. It goes back to the time when not everybody hit the ball out of the ballpark,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “They create runs a lot of different ways, they always have a good rotation, and they produce players from within. They do things the right way and Mike is a big reason for that.’’

Scioscia is a product of his environment, having spent 22 seasons as a player, instructor, coach, and minor league manager with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“You can’t deny your roots. I had an incredible education,’’ he said. “I was in the Dodgers organization when I was 17. My first three catching instructors were Roy Campanella, Johnny Roseboro, and Del Crandall. That’s where I’m coming from.’’

Scioscia sees it as more of a philosophy than a method.

“When you try and brand a style of baseball, I think you’re going in the wrong direction,’’ he said. “It’s baseball. If you have to steal a base or go first to third or play situational baseball, that’s what you do. You need to have all the parts on the offensive side. We’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re making sure that wheel runs smoothly.

“Look at what happened in the steroids era. It became more of a driving range instead of chip and putt and saving par. I think we all know why. For economic reasons and with the drug testing, you’re going to see baseball go back to basics. More teams are stealing bases, for instance. Teams have to be progressive and adapt to the talent. The talent is changing now. We’re not seeing the big bulky guys we used to.’’

As Scioscia imparts his beliefs, he is mindful of managing divergent personalities.

“He’s not the type of manager who delegates other people to check on his guys; he’s really hands on,’’ said lefthander Scott Kazmir, who was traded from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Angels in August. “He goes by his feel of talking to you, which is pretty cool. I’ve never had a manager like that.’’

Scioscia speaks often with Dodgers manager Joe Torre about the subtleties of the job and remains friendly with Tommy Lasorda, who managed him as a player.

Another mentor is former Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson, who retired to Thousand Oaks, Calif., only a few miles from Scioscia’s home in Westlake Village.

“There are guys who have done it longer and guys who have had more success. It’s still fresh for me,’’ Scioscia said. “That’s how I feel about it. We were fortunate enough to win that World Series in 2002. I’d like to do that again a few more times. It seems like it has been 10 days, not 10 years.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at

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