Mike Scioscia has been the leader of the Angels over the most successful tenure in the team’s history. Since being hired in 2000, the Angels have never finished fourth in the AL West, have won the division five times, and won a World Series in 2002 as a wild card. Scioscia has compiled a .546 winning percentage with 1083 wins and is a two-time AL Manager of the Year (2002, 2009) and has finished in the top-5 for Manager of the Year voting seven times. He’s the longest tenured manager in all of baseball, but could be in the twilight of his time as skipper of the Halos.
Scioscia remains one of the few remnants of the last Angels regime that guided this team through the 2000′s. Last winter, owner Arte Moreno cleaned house in the Halos front office, brining in Jerry Dipoto to be the new GM. Dipoto immediately began filling the front office with “his” guys, people who followed in the same baseball philosophy as Dipoto, that on-base percentage and advanced metrics were the way to build a winner. This is not Mike Scioscia’s philosophy. Scioscia, and by extension Mickey Hatcher who was fired on Monday, believe that patience at the plate is merely a means to an end, namely getting a good pitch to hit. They preached an aggressiveness to their batters, wanting them to get the ball in play as much as possible. Dipoto sees patience at the plate a means of itself, as a way to get on base without hitting safely via walks. The philisophical differences have created a frosty working relationship between the manager and the GM.
Now, with the firing of Scioscia’s long-time teammate, bench coach, and friend Mickey Hatcher, it looks like the regime change is imminent. This is the first time that one of Scioscia’s coaches has been fired by the team. He lost Bud Black, Joe Maddon and Ron Roenicke to managerial jobs elsewhere, but this is the first time that Scioscia has one of his guys fired. He’s not taking it particularly well.
When Scioscia met with the media before Wednesday’s game, he held a red fungo bat so tightly he almost squeezed it into sawdust. He spoke tersely, letting everyone know that firing Hatcher was not his idea.
“We respect the job the general manager has to do,” Scioscia said.
He scoffed at the idea that a change in the identity of the hitting coach would solve the Angels’ offensive woes.
“We were not in an offensive funk because of Mickey,” Scioscia said.
After four questions about the coaching change, he had heard enough.
“Anything about the game?” Scioscia said.
Dipoto has publicly stated he doesn’t blame Hatcher for the Angels offensive struggles, saying that he felt it was time for a “different voice” to try and break this team out of its funk. If the struggles continue for the rest of the season, could the manager’s voice be the next one to change over?
While Scioscia has presided over the must successful run in Angels’ history, every great run has to come to an end eventually. Scioscia has seen his voice in player personnel decisions cut down dramatically since the leadership change and has seemed unwilling to change up his style or approach, even as the team’s payroll added higher expectations. Has Scioscia forgotten how to manage? Of course not. But this team has changed. Moreno has gone out and spent the big bucks to bring in a lot of superstar talent which has changed the level of expectations for this club…but it hasn’t changed Scioscia’s approach to the lineup.
If things were working out, then there wouldn’t be any story. Scioscia would be happily plugging along for the duration of his contract. But things aren’t going well. Torii Hunter came out publicly and questioned the effort level of the team and coaching staff. Albert Pujols started the season in the worst slump of his career and publicly spoke out against Hatcher, basically telling the world that he didn’t trust him. It’s the first time that Scioscia or his coaches have had to deal with backlash from the players, and it may be a sign that he’s losing this team.
Back in 1999, the Angels were in a similar situation as they are now. They went out and signed a superstar in Mo Vaughn, and immediately raised the expectation level of the club to World Series or bust. Vaughn’s debut season with the Angels was a disaster, much like Pujols has been this year, and by the end of the season, the players had staged a mutiny and ownership fired everybody. To rebuild from that trainwreck, the Angels hired Mike Scioscia, who may now fall victim to the same pitfalls his predecessor did.
Things aren’t looking good for Mike Scioscia. The offense is ranked near the bottom of the American League, the team is stuck behind Oakland in the standings, and the Rangers continue to be one of the best teams in baseball. Add in the fact that players are now voicing their displeasure and fans are coming out in smaller numbers (attendance is down 14% so far this season), and a the GM who he doesn’t work well with and who didn’t hire him will have no issues turning the page on Scioscia’s tenure as the manager of this club. It’s been a great run for Scioscia and the Halos, but is it time now for the ride to end?