ANAHEIM, Calif. – If he hasn't been already, Mickey Hatcher will be forgotten by tomorrow.
It's less the nature of the man than the nature of the job he held for going on 13 years, during which he was routinely hammered for failing to whip up chicken salad from the wheels of a pitching machine and just as routinely ignored when he did.
Believe me, the Seattle Mariners, who gave Chone Figgins $36 million 2½ years ago, think Mickey Hatcher is a genius.
No, the Los Angeles Angels stink, and have stunk for a quarter of a season, and will continue to stink (or not) based on the merits of their ballplayers – from the top of the order to the bottom of their bullpen.
Hatcher's crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, that being at the pointy end of miserable slumps from a career hitter such as Albert Pujols and a rising pest such as Erick Aybar and a drawn-out mystery such as Vernon Wells, among many others, and his own manager's inability to find a solution to any of it.
It's entirely possible there is no solution to be had, but no one believes in that sort of pessimism in May, which meant something had to change, because the Texas Rangers routinely have outplayed, outhit, outpitched and outdefended the Angels since opening day.
For an Angels organization that long prided itself on continuity, there have been now three distinct modifications in a half-year to the abided-by philosophies of Arte Moreno, Mike Scioscia and Co.
One, a general manager was fired mid-term and replaced by Jerry Dipoto.
Two, the owner, a year after stating he was appalled at the notion of spending more for a single player than he had (in 2003) for the entire organization, spent $240 million on one player. (And on the very day he spent $77.5 million on another.)
Three, the hitting coach was canned, and not just any hitting coach, but Scioscia's former teammate, a guy for whom he cared very deeply and believed in as a hitting coach.
All three, by the way, were sound, grown-up decisions.
The three converged Wednesday afternoon, however, in the awkward early stages of an owner burning off steam, a GM making his way in an organization and a manager being none-too-pleased that it all bled out on his beloved hitting coach.
Amid the appearance two dark Octobers and a near-disaster month-and-a-half had stripped a layer of authority from Scioscia (the idea that Tony Reagins might have fired Scioscia's hitting coach is near laughable), the Angels introduced career minor-league coach and former big leaguer Jim Eppard as Hatcher's replacement.
They're always crummy days, when a decent man wears the blame for whatever has failed – the organization, the players, weird convergences of luck and harmony, himself, whatever. But this seemed especially grim for Dipoto and Scioscia. Or, perhaps, between Dipoto and Scioscia.
While the Angels were becoming one of the worst offensive teams in the American League and staying one of the worst offensive teams in the American League and therefore falling well behind the Rangers again, Dipoto said he'd thought "long and hard" about firing Hatcher "for quite some time."
On Tuesday afternoon, presumably with the support of Moreno, Dipoto notified Scioscia of his decision. Maybe it works and maybe it doesn't. Eppard seems a nice enough guy who knows his way around a batting cage and a hitter's psyche. For the moment, however, he's the man in the icy area between Scioscia and Dipoto.
During a 10-minute press gathering Wednesday, Scioscia repeatedly referred to Dipoto as "the general manager" or "the GM."
"Obviously," he said, "the general manager's position is to try to make changes, whether it's personnel or staffing, he believes will make us better. And we'll respect that."
He did, however, refer to the former hitting coach by name, adding, "We were not in an offensive funk because of Mickey."
"We'll move on," Scioscia said. "I've said enough about it."
Dipoto did not fire Hatcher as a way to challenge Scioscia. He fired Hatcher in the hopes a new voice/methodology might ignite his offense. And he did not fire Hatcher because Hatcher had annoyed Pujols by revealing parts of a closed-door conversation Pujols had with other hitters. He fired Hatcher because Pujols, and a lot of other guys, weren't generating any runs.
In the process Dipoto irritated Scioscia and, yes, drew everyone in for another lingering glance at Pujols' batting average.
But the fact is, Hatcher could no more have turned Pujols into a great hitter than he could have transformed him into a terrible hitter. It was going to take time for Pujols to rediscover his lost swing, and would turn when it turned, whether Hatcher was throwing batting practice or Eppard was.
Meantime, for how long did Scioscia expect Moreno and Dipoto to stand back and watch the season burn?
"This," Dipoto said, "is the result of the result."
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Barely 24 hours after the Hatcher ax fell, in fact, Pujols homered. On Wednesday night against Chicago White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd, Pujols pumped a fastball over the center-field wall. The ballpark shook in appreciation as three runs scored, and Pujols smiled broadly when he reached the dugout to celebrate his second home run as an Angel.
Near the end of another painful day for the Angels, it was a start. If, however, Pujols' home run turns out to be just another interlude in a longer slump, well, that, too, will be forgotten by tomorrow.
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