Mike Scioscia is now among the rarest of the rare, an otherwise endangered animal in the modern world of Major League Baseball. Scioscia is an old school manager with considerable weight, literally and figuratively. And as we are now learning again, he is not afraid to use it.
According to a report today that originated with Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has been forced out of Los Angeles thanks to an ongoing tussle with Scioscia, and we all knew who was going to win that tug-o-war: the beefy man in the catcher’s equipment, with a big resume and ego to match.
Does that necessarily mean Scioscia is the villain here? Well, no. But what it does mean is that there is still at least one place where the manager carries the clout, which makes Scioscia an increasingly endangered breed in a world of smarty-pants general managers, analytics and subcultures of Moneyball.
In case you’ve missed it, baseball has been at WAR for a while now.
Amid all of this stands Scioscia, whose approach to the game has generally been steeped in fundamentals: pitching, speed and defense, not necessarily in that order, and certainly not always. The Angels spent their fair share of money in recent years on sluggers like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, players perhaps now more suited to line up behind the great Eddie Feigner. But at his core, Scioscia is a baseball guy through and through, the kind of skipper who likes to bunt and hit-and-run, to put pressure on the defense, to force the issue.
In 2002, after all, that is how Scioscia won his only World Series, leading a relentless Angels team that was short in the starting rotation, deep in the bullpen and stocked with multitalented players who rarely struck out and always took the extra base. Scioscia did not merely stamp his personality and philosophies on that team; he forged an identity for the entire Angels organization and thumbed his nose at the pure power game that thrived in baseball’s steroids era.
Now, 13 years later, the Angels are still looking for their next world title and Scioscia is still thundering his way to and from the pitcher’s mound, the general manager be damned. The stories leading up to Dipoto’s reported resignation said Scioscia and his GM most recently clashed over the implementation of scouting material, which certainly sounds like a classic case of baseball’s New School and Old School digging in their heels. The openly truly stunning part of the story is that Scioscia won the battle, which speaks to the game’s politics or direction – or both.
Think about it: how many times does the manager or coach win a power struggle with the GM? Almost never, especially in this Billy Beane-bred age of roto-executives. Once upon a time, a general manager’s job was to get the players, the manager’s job was to use them. Now, the GM not only gets the players, but also tells the manager when to sit him, when to play him, where to bat him and on what count he should swing.
Except, clearly, in Anaheim, where Scioscia rules with an iron fist and shin guards.
Make no mistake, Scioscia played this masterfully, making it clear to reporters (through whatever channels) that he could opt out of his insane 10-year contract with the Angels, which is set to expire in 2018. (How many managers or coaches get 10-year deals?) Such a threat could have created quite a scenario in Southern California during the offseason, particularly if Don Mattingly and the Dodgers were to fall on their faces in October yet again.
Translation: before he was an Angel, Scioscia was a true-blue Los Angeles Dodger. That is a big reason he has the leverage he possesses with the Angels. Scioscia gives owner Arte Morneo star power and market share because he puts the Los Angeles in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
So now here’s the question: even with Dipoto gone, if the Dodgers job is to open up, will Scioscia flirt with LA? (Here’s a guess: unequivocally, yes.)
All of that said, Scioscia’s stranglehold on the Angels organization raises an interesting question about the direction of baseball: in many ways, the Kansas City Royals of today are built in the image of Scioscia’s 2002 Angels with a deep, powerful bullpen and versatile, athletic lineup. It all makes you wonder whether the game has gone retro. Scioscia’s style and his philosophies might now be more valuable than ever before, because the game certainly seems to be coming back to him.
And so on and on it goes in Southern California, where the Angels try to find their way in the mediocre American League, and the last lion roars.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.