ANAHEIM, Calif. -- He opened the season with three-fifths of his rotation on the disabled list. Little did Mike Scioscia know at the time that that would be the easy part.
Four days later, young starting pitcher Nick Adenhart was horrifically killed in an automobile accident. And the most wrenching challenge of Scioscia's career was in full motion.
"I think what's been punctuated is that what we've always known about Mike, as we've gotten to know him over the years, is his tremendous leadership," said Tim Mead, the Angels' vice-president for communications. "The situation with Nick, more as a person and as a father, what Mike did to keep everything focused on the family, and what he did to put it into perspective differentiating baseball from life. ...
"Mike was very instrumental in us moving forward after April 9, making sure we had, as an organization, a memorial service for the front office and for the players on the field, early in the afternoon, where it was just us and everything was quiet, for some sort of closure. Mike pushed that along."
The fact that the Angels are hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers in an interleague series beginning Friday night in Anaheim only serves as a reminder: But for the strange way the baseball sometimes bounces, Scioscia, essentially a lifelong Dodger as a player who then got his managerial start in the Los Angeles system, could be deploying strategy from the other dugout this weekend.
The Angels could not be more pleased that he isn't.
• • •
He is the dean of American League managers, and being that he's signed through 2018 -- 2018! -- he's also the envy of many of them. In a job that eventually grinds even the best and the brightest into bonemeal, Scioscia has both the security and the authority that most of the 29 other managers only dream of as he completes his first decade as Angels manager.
"I can tell you, Mike Scioscia is as good of a manager as I've ever managed against in the  years I've managed," veteran Detroit skipper Jim Leyland said during an April stop here. "He's as good of a manager as I've managed against, and I mean that sincerely.
"I think he's tremendous. I really do. He's got a good handle on his players. He's got a great feel for the game. You can tell who's in charge. You can tell he's respected.
"Obviously, the Angels' management feels that way, too, or they wouldn't have done what they did [in rewarding him with the long-term extension]. I think it's a hell of a move."
Ever so slowly, the Angels continue to put the pieces back together of what largely, so far, has been a broken season. The Adenhart tragedy was -- and is -- numbing. Two of the three starting pitchers are back, John Lackey (after missing 34 games) and Ervin Santana (32). Kelvim Escobar returned but was disabled again and has missed 54 games. Slugger Vladimir Guerrero suffered a torn muscle in his chest, was sidelined for 35 games and still cannot play the outfield. Reliever Scot Shields, one of the league's most dependable set-up men over the past five seasons, is on the 60-day disabled list with a bum knee.
"I think when you're in baseball as a player, coach or manager, and on that schedule, you deal with stuff in a different way every day," Scioscia says during a wide-ranging conversation in his office one recent afternoon. "I think you train yourself to deal with the evaluation process. What's going to make the team better, not only on that given day, but in the long term. You train yourself to make the hard decisions of what direction the team should go.
"But you don't train yourself for what happened with Nick."
|Mike Scioscia is well-respected by other major league managers. (Getty Images)|
They've created a fund in his memory and an award in his honor. Beginning with the end of this season, the Angels will give an annual award in Adenhart's name to the team's best pitcher, as voted by his peers. An empty locker with Adenhart's belongings remains intact in the clubhouse, and a place for Adenhart's memory remains intact in the organization's heart.
"I tell you, when that happens, we all thought the same thing," Scioscia says. "Guys whose mom and dad are alive, guys who have kids, we made sure to say call your mom and dad, go home and hug your kids.
"There are things that obviously transcend this game, and you have to stay in touch with them."
As ever, Scioscia remains outwardly stoic. It is the way he prefers it. Whatever is happening, it is not about him. It is about the game. It is about the team. It is about the organization. And, in the wake of the tragedy, it was about Adenhart's family. As outfielder Torii Hunter says, "You can't read him sometimes. You don't know if he's happy, or if he's upset."
It is inherent in his personality. It also is a trait shared by some of the most successful leaders in any profession. Those under you take their cues from your mood. Be careful not to give too much away. Especially if you're worried or upset.
"Mike shares so little, he so much tries to shoulder so many things for this organization," Mead says. "We know it's affected him. But the depths, I don't think he'll ever fully share that."
• • •
It is an 80-minute drive for Scioscia from home to the ballpark. After a game, on the way home, sometimes that's the biggest stress-reliever of all. Sometimes he uses the time to think, or to catch up on telephone calls. Often, he listens to music. He is a radio guy, not a compact disc guy, in the car.
Scioscia has been married to Anne for 24 years (Yes, he seriously proposed to her over a drive-thru dinner at an In-N-Out Burger), and they have one son, Matt (20), and one daughter, Taylor (17). His favorite family activity? Cooking on the backyard grill. That, or firing up the pizza oven in his kitchen (Yes, he most definitely is all Italian). The Scioscias will make homemade pizzas and sit out back by the pool and relax.
"I think that classifies me as a homebody," he says.
He came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s, so the classic rock radio stations get a workout. David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles. He also grew up in Philadelphia, so that, too, tends to sway his playlist.
"The sounds of Philadelphia," he says. "I love the Spinners, the O'Jays ... Three Degrees."
Three ("When Will I See You Again?") Degrees?
"I've got a whole mix," he says, grinning. "When we're barbecuing, the kids want to strangle me because it's all that '70s stuff."
He is charmingly self-deprecating. Earlier this season, when the Angels were facing Kansas City's Zack Greinke and Toronto's Roy Halladay within a four-day span, I couldn't resist asking why, if he's so smart, he couldn't have figured out a way around that.
"I know," he moaned on that sunny Southern California afternoon. "And I can't even get us a rainout."
He seems to manage the stress of the job about as well as he does a game. Where does it all go?
"I eat a lot," he says, but, while a good line, that's not true anymore.
So far this season, it is a noticeably slimmer Scioscia who is directing things from the dugout. He's lost 28 pounds so far and says he's not finished yet.
|Scioscia was instrumental in the Angels players coping with the sudden death of Nick Adenhart. (Getty Images)|
Turning serious, the weight loss, he says, was overdue.
"I was just too fat, plain and simple," Scioscia says. "I just turned 50. My wife's in great shape, and my kids work out. They want to live long, and I want to be around to see it.
"Not that I have any health issues, but I think my weight was getting to where it could have led to some things. I've got another 20 to go, but I'm going to do it."
It is also important because, no matter how much time is spent turning the chicken on the grill or listening to the Eagles harmonize on Desperado, no matter how many minutes he can steal away by his backyard pool, the nature of the job keeps reeling him back in.
"The thing about this position is, you need to do other things, but you've always drawn back to, 'OK, how's our rotation? How's our bullpen?'" he says. "I always feel that when I go to bed at night the last thing I think of before I go to sleep is our starting rotation. And the first thing when I wake up, I'm thinking, 'OK, how's our starting rotation?'
"It just gets to you."
The way Scioscia sees it, each season a team is going to have 10 "exhilarating" wins and 10 "gut-wrenching" losses.
"So I think if you bundle up that one that's a gut-wrencher and say, 'That's one that we know we were going to have,'" he says. "Last year we won 100 games, and you can go and pick 10 games where you were saying, 'Oh my gosh, what a tough loss, what an excruciating loss.' And we won more games than anybody in baseball.
"There are a lot of things that aren't going to go your way, even in a championship season. I think you have to be able to absorb that and move on. We try and keep that in perspective.
"That being said, yeah, there are days when you're ready to explode."
• • •
Since the start of the 2000 season, Scioscia's first as Angels skipper, the other 13 American League clubs have combined to make 36 managerial changes.
He assumed control following a 1999 season during which then-manager Terry Collins was fired and the clubhouse practically had broken out into full-fledged Civil War. Scioscia, at the time, was serving his managerial apprenticeship in Albuquerque, then the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate.
But his style didn't mesh with those who were running the Dodgers at the time -- Kevin Malone was the GM and Davey Johnson the field manager -- there was dysfunction in Los Angeles and, essentially, Scioscia was sent packing.
In Anaheim, his coaching staff -- including ex-teammate and longtime friend Mickey Hatcher -- is his band of brothers. The rest of the organization has become an extension of his personality and mind.
"He changed the mindset of this organization," says Mead, who is in his 30th year with the Angels. "That's probably the biggest thing he's given the Angels. Not just on the field, but in the front office. He did something very, very important. He taught us the difference between competing and contending. He does not use the word 'compete.'"
|Scioscia was an All-Star with the Dodgers and was known for blocking the plate. (Getty Images)|
"I remember him saying, 'Tim, I understand what's going on, but 'compete' isn't the word to use. 'Contend' is,'" Mead says. "He wasn't being critical at all. But he differentiated between the two words: In 'compete,' there's a little bit of hope. 'Contend' is an expectation.
"Even though, in 2002, he was the manager of the year and we won the World Series, in my mind 2000 was still his greatest year of managing because he had to turn the direction of an organization."
"He doesn't miss anything," says White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who went head-to-head with Scioscia in the 2005 AL Championship Series and since has developed bond with the Angels skipper. "He gets everything he can out of his players, and that's all you can do.
"The philosophy of building a team, how he's going to use it, when he's going to use it ... that's not easy."
On the field, of course, the Angels are a reflection of Scioscia, too. Aggressive baserunning. Moving runners over. Fundamentals. Pitching and defense.
Scioscia learned from guys like Maury Wills, Lou Johnson and Jim LeFebvre while maturing in the Dodgers' organization. Donald LeJohn, his Double-A manager in 1978 at San Antonio. His big league manager, Tommy Lasorda. And a couple of other managers with whom he's spent time, the late Walter Alston and Sparky Anderson, who lives not far from Scioscia in Westlake Village, Calif. Behind the plate, he learned from guys like Del Crandell, Johnny Roseboro and Roy Campanella.
"I think you take little pieces from everybody," Scioscia says. "The most fun part of my day is when batting practice starts, working with the guys, getting on the field, game preparation, making sure we're ready to play a game, hitting fungoes, getting our strategy down. That's fun. I love to be on the field.
"Spring training is a beautiful time, pregame is a beautiful time and the game has a life of its own. I have as much fun working with my son's collegiate team [Matt plays for the University of Notre Dame, which made a spring visit to Arizona, where the Angels train], throwing BP and working on fundamentals, as anything I've ever done in this game."
Together with owner Arte Moreno and general manager Tony Reagins (and Bill Stoneman before him), Scioscia forms as strong and as focused a management structure as there is in the game. In many ways you get the feeling that, at 50, Scioscia is only getting started.
"Some days you feel like you've been around doing this for 50 years. You're almost numb," he says. "Some days you wake up and feel like it's your first day on the job. It's flown by. It seems like yesterday I had the opportunity to get this position, and it's going on 10 years now."
And yet, there are still so many unfinished lineup cards in front of him. He's got an organization to keep on its toes and the legacy of Nick Adenhart to wear on his heart. He's got starting pitchers to fret over as he's falling asleep and relievers to ponder when he awakens. He has a loving marriage, a couple of children making their way, a pizza oven in his very own kitchen and, oh yeah, a few more pounds to shed, too.
A decade down the road, in many ways the most difficult season of his life, the dean of AL managers has never been more impressive. No problem too big. No detail too small. Still energetically searching for edges.
Like a month or so ago, when the Angels were back in Dodger Stadium and Chone Figgins came to the plate with the bases loaded and Los Angeles manager Joe Torre visited the mound.
"I started looking and said, 'Let me see what he's doing,'" Scioscia says. "With one out, he brought the infield all the way in knowing Figgy would be tough to double up. That makes a lot of sense. Little things like that, I think you gain perspective.
"I don't know if you ever pattern yourself after anyone, but your life experience is certainly influenced, what your philosophy is and what perspective you have. I was very blessed. By no means am I any brighter than the next guy. But I had a lot of great mentors and tutors along the way who gave me a perspective of baseball that has been the foundation of being able to take all of this opportunity."