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ANAHEIM, Calif. – The job is measured in spittle flung, in neck veins raised, in values perceived and real, in pounds of data and a moment or two of dumb luck. It’s a daily test of IQ, of patience, of emotional stability, of popularity, and of propensities for dumb luck. The job requires one to be underestimated if not – and possibly – despised, except in victory, and then the job is to be forgotten.
At the end, they add it all up. Sometimes it makes for a day. Sometimes, for a season. Sometimes, for a career. Even a good portion of a lifetime.
When he leaves, those are the numbers a manager takes with him. They are held overhead or dragged behind, the difference between intellectual brilliance and a squirrel caught under a bumper. That’s the job, leading a lot of good men and probably a few slugs. The players are responsible for their parts in it while the manager (with some help from his bosses) stands beside the numbers, because while pitching wins and losses are on the outs as they do not reflect the efforts of a single man, managers cannot escape outcomes settled by 30 or 40 of them, because that’s the job when he’s done flinging spittle and raising neck veins.
This is not to say they do not deserve to be fired and/or replaced, as plenty do, only that the job is hardly ever as easy as it looks, and the next guy probably will be only as qualified as his players are capable, and this is all a way of backing into the question of whether the Los Angeles Angels will be better without Mike Scioscia. Whether they can be relevant again, soon. Whether it will have any bearing on Mike Trout’s future or, for that matter, Shohei Ohtani’s. Whether, without Mike Scioscia, the Angels will discover a way to save pitchers’ elbows or find other pitchers. Whether the end of Albert Pujols’ days will be beneficial or detrimental. Whether chemistry changes or style does or outcomes do. Whether the fourth general manager of Scioscia’s tenure – Billy Eppler – will be better off with his own man or it will require a fifth general manager.
Scioscia, who had been evasive on the topic of his expiring contract and continuing employment for months, on Sunday after the Angels won 5-4 on a walk-off home run was, officially, no longer the manager in Anaheim. Speculation for about every day of those months has been exactly this, that Scioscia would not be asked back after his 19th season, that someone along the lines of Eric Chavez or Brad Ausmus or another of Eppler’s preferences would take over, that, after the better part of a decade of organizational insignificance, the Angels would require new leadership.
So, here we are, no more Scioscia, after more than 3,100 games managed (postseason included), after six division titles, after the only World Series championship for the Angels, after one soaring decade in which he was regarded as among the game’s best managers, and another in which the players weren’t as good.
Over the years, we’d do amateurish Mike Scioscia impersonations, stuff about “peeling the paint on that,” a young pitcher’s fastball that had “some fuzz” and how that pitcher could “spin it,” Scioscia’s lifelong battle with the word “comfortable,” which would start with “calm” and end however it wished to end that day, usually stuck somewhere between his windbreaker zipper and his clean-shaven – always — chin.
There was the mid-September evening, must’ve been 2014, when the pregame conversation turned to how he’d treat the rest of the month, given the current reality of the American League West, resting pitchers and all. Scioscia looked up confused and said, in another oft-repeated Sosh-ism, “What I know is we have a game tonight,” something along those lines, following that with an expression of deep belief, much like the one he’d shot a million times at plate umpires.
“Have you seen the standings?” he was asked.
He said he had no idea.
“You haven’t looked at the standings?”
Nope, he said.
“Well,” he was told, given the Angels were some 10 games ahead and had hardly lost for three weeks, “have I got good news for you.”
He flicked at his fungo bat and waited for the next question.
Mike Scioscia did not change, not really. From his first day, a loss to the New York Yankees in which Mo Vaughn was his first baseman, his color was periwinkle, his owner was Disney, to his last, 19 seasons later, Mike Scioscia was indisputably, relentlessly, perfectly, blindly, wholly, intentionally, beautifully Mike Scioscia. And all that comes with that.
Years ago, a Dodgers executive observed, “The two biggest mistakes this organization ever made was getting rid of catchers named Mike.”
The first was Piazza, the player. The second, Scioscia, the managerial candidate.
He raised three coaches into managers – Joe Maddon, Bud Black and Ron Roenicke.
“First of all, it’s pretty heavy,” Black said in the weeks before Scioscia would depart. “You know what I mean? Because he’s meant a lot to me. A lot to all of us. Just the companionship of being a friend in the very intense environment we work in.”
His friends believe Scioscia will seek to manage again and he confirmed so in an emotional news conference after the game. Scioscia will be 60 in November. He’s not won a postseason game in nine years. Those friends, however, sense the same competitive fire that drove Angels teams to success, those teams back then, the ones that terrorized the American League with their batter’s box and base-path assaults, with their bullpens, when the system – his system – needed those kinds of players, when those kinds of players often needed his system. The game’s not played that way anymore. Those players, with a few exceptions, don’t exist anymore, because they’re forbidden to play that way. Too risky. Too loose with the outcomes.
And so Mike Scioscia leaves behind another of the league’s plodding, stand-around, take-no-chances baseball teams. Another of the league’s ordinary teams, and Scioscia’s third losing season in a row. Maybe it was time, though Scioscia would almost certainly not agree. All time, he leaves 19th among managers’ in games, 18th in wins, (22nd in losses) and one of 73 to win a World Series. He never did become the 24th to win more than one. It’s probably why he’s looking for work today.
But, then, that’s the job.
Mike Scioscia was a good manager. The Angels were fortunate to have him. That hasn’t changed either.
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