During their struggles early last year, before the Los Angeles Angels turned into a 98-win juggernaut, the best player in the world wanted something to loosen up the team a bit. So Mike Trout hung one of those Nerf mini-basketball hoops in the Angels’ clubhouse. One day, according to league sources, the hoop came down. Trout hung it back up. Down it went again.
Mike Scioscia, the sources said, did not like the idea of a foam ball being tossed around in his domain. He didn’t like loud music, either, so he turned the volume knob to a level he deemed appropriate. Never has there been any doubt: Scioscia is the king of Anaheim. Anybody who offends his sensibilities, even with something as benign as a plastic toy, risks his wrath.
When Jerry Dipoto challenged Scioscia’s authority in meetings with his coaching staff and Angels players over the weekend, it was far from benign. In the meetings, first reported by Fox’s Ken Rosenthal, Dipoto insisted the underachieving Angels start using more of the scouting data curated by the front office he ran as general manager. Scioscia turned into a shrug emoticon come to life. Less than 48 hours after Rosenthal’s story ran, Dipoto was gone, resigning as another victim of Scioscia’s game of thrones.
For 16 seasons, Anaheim has been Scioscia’s fiefdom in which he consolidated power to the point of intractability. Enabling and ennobling him the whole way has been Arte Moreno, the Angels’ owner and chief imbiber of the formula Scioscia has sold for so many years. Scioscia thrived during the days of Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson, and his desire to recreate that culture, to make things like they were during the halcyon days in which the Angels won the 2002 World Series, is the most troublesome part of his reign.
Luddism in 2015 isn’t a quirk. It’s practically a sin, the open defiance of knowledge, which is the most powerful entity in baseball today. For Scioscia to create a culture in which his players live in fear of him – inside his clubhouse, he is considered the antithesis of a players’ manager, according to multiple sources – and his supposed boss wields no authority over him epitomizes the backwardness of an Angels organization in flux.
By choosing Scioscia over Dipoto, Moreno emboldened the Angels’ place as the last manager-centric organization in baseball. The shift to teams in which the front office’s philosophy influences the manager’s became not just the norm but the expectation. The best front offices establish a synergy with their manager that allows the analytical information that pervades the game to inform the tactics used during it. This is not an attack on how the game was. It shows how the game can be.
The relationship doesn’t work when it goes in the other direction – when the field manager, who should be a subordinate to the GM, acts instead like his commanding officer. That was the dynamic in Anaheim, and that it took Dipoto this long to grow frustrated enough to step away was the most shocking part of the story.
Keeping Scioscia around was classic Arte Moreno: buying into an asset with questionable future value. Moreno, remember, did his best to neuter the GM role with his team when he went out and signed Albert Pujols for $240 million and Josh Hamilton for $125 million. After a Hamilton drug relapse earlier this year, Moreno publicly shamed him, then traded him to Texas and ate a potential $83 million just so Hamilton wouldn’t sully the Angels’ name any further.
Moreno, of course, had it backward: It’s the organization’s actions that continue to make it look bad. Someone will fill Dipoto’s vacancy because it’s a GM job, it pays well and there are only 30 of them. Scioscia, meanwhile, will continue on as the highest-paid manager in baseball, with three years and $18 million on his contract left after this season.
And that’s one of the most shocking parts of this: Moreno had leverage with Scioscia. If he wanted, he could have empowered Dipoto, and Scioscia wouldn’t have gone anywhere, not with that sort of money still on the table. By most measures, Dipoto is a strong GM – successful in the moves he was allowed to execute, well-respected by his peers, with the knowledge of a former major league player and the analytical bend of someone willing to educate himself on subjects unfamiliar.
Instead, Moreno let Dipoto walk, and as one rival executive said: “Angels got worse today.” More texted their support for Dipoto, amazed that the deeds of his past – Dipoto fired Scioscia confidant Mickey Hatcher in 2012 – caught up all these years later.
Left in a stronger position than ever is Scioscia, the last true manager. He doesn’t just manage his players but the entire organization, top to bottom, even the man who’s his ultimate boss. Scioscia believed he was the right person to lead the Angels going forward, and he convinced Moreno of that, too, which takes a tremendous amount of political acumen in a time when the maneuvers felt like speed chess.
Jerry Dipoto is gone, his three and a half years spent trying to reshape the organization over in one fell swoop. His miscalculation was taking on Mike Scioscia. Whatever his faults as manager, Scioscia is the king of his domain. He didn’t like what he saw. And just like that, it was gone.
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