|With his Angels underachieving, Mike Scioscia doesn't seem so untouchable all of a sudden. (US Presswire)|
I never would have imagined Angels manager Mike Scioscia would need anyone to stand up for him.
But it appears to be getting to that point in Los Angeles or Anaheim, or wherever it is that team from Orange County, Calif., plays.
Scioscia, heretofore the king of the Angels, suddenly doesn't seem so indestructible. In fact, he looks more than a little forlorn, leaning up against the railing at the Big A these days.
Scioscia for the first time has a team in the top five in payroll, and practically for the first time in his 13-year Angels tenure looks like he has a team that is wildly underachieving. Scioscia's good friend and constant companion Mickey Hatcher, the only coach who's served in all 13 of Scioscia's successful seasons in Anaheim, has been fired by the new sheriff in town, general manager Jerry Dipoto.
Firing Scioscia seemed unimaginable for his first 12 years, which were spent winning a lot of games and capturing the franchise's only World Series championship. The team accepted a heck of a lot of plaudits for stealing a Dodgers staple and being smart enough to make him their manager. Now it seems the idea of letting him go is moving closer to the table, if it's not on it already. "It feels the wind is blowing that way," one competitor said.
This may only be a feeling, and it may only be temporary in the wake of the Hatcher ouster. But Hatcher's firing says a lot about what's going on there.
It did not come with Scioscia's approval, judging by the comments or the next-day reactions. As Scott Miller of CBSSports.com pointed out, the old sheriff (Scioscia) and new sheriff (Dipoto) met separately with the press, with Dipoto explaining on the field why the team's obvious offensive woes resulted in his call -- and only his call -- to fire Hatcher, and Scioscia saying in the dugout he didn't agree with the move.
As competitors pointed out later, the respective quotes of the two men suggested they are not on the same page. Furthermore, executives with other teams suggested it is unwise and/or unhealthy to show cracks in the hierarchy.
But sometimes the cracks are so deep, it's hard to hide them.
If you're scoring at home, Scioscia isn't having his best year. Far from it. Wise veteran Torii Hunter was probably right when he implied Scioscia would have been better off letting Maicer Izturis bunt following two inning-opening hits in a game a few weeks back. And while no one in the clubhouse would say it, everyday use of Vernon Wells, especially at the expense of Mark Trumbo, doesn't look like the wisest choice now. Wells' falloff has been so steep, I've heard of competing execs cheering him on so he'll remain in Scioscia's lineups.
Scioscia's crown began to slip a bit with all the publicity surrounding the team's trade of Mike Napoli for Wells two winters ago, as Napoli, whose pedestrian defense never pleased the ex-catcher Scioscia, became a big star last season with the rival Rangers following his quick second trade from Toronto. Then-GM Tony Reagins, whom Miller often referred to as the Executive Secretary, lost his job in part over that trade-gone-awry. So now there's a new GM; and the new TV contract helped owner Arte Moreno bring in a new face of the franchise, superstar first baseman Albert Pujols.
Scioscia, who once basically filled both those roles while generally having his run of the place, isn't even in the top three on an updated list of Angels power brokers. Now, it goes like this: 1. Moreno. 2. Pujols. 3. Dipoto.
The whole Hatcher episode was very telling. When Pujols criticized Hatcher for something so minor and predictable as telling the press that Pujols predicted a quick turnaround in the team meeting, no one stood up for Hatcher like they should have. Scioscia just blew off the public disagreement as if it were nothing.
Well, as it turned out, that was no time to pass on a chance to stick up for Hatcher.
That was just another missed chance by Scioscia in a weeks-long run of them. But the idea that his time is up seems pretty absurd. Yes, the Rangers are on top now, but the new power brokers in Los Angeles/Anaheim can't forget the Angels won five of six division crowns at one point, more than doubling their franchise total. Or that Scioscia has averaged 89.4 wins a year. Or especially that he set a tone and a style that has worked forever.
Sure, it's been a rough patch. But 40 or so games do not erase more than a decade of fine work. Assume there's a learning curve to a team built around an imported all-time great (with a bit of an ego), a couple of mismatched pieces and an undermanned bullpen. Give him time.
That Scioscia has nearly $30 million to go on his contract -- he's signed through 2018 at a reported $5 mil per -- should sufficiently discourage them from firing Scioscia. Of course, they have released Scott Kazmir, Bobby Abreu and others and eaten millions, and there's a better than even chance they'll do that eventually with Wells. But it shouldn't even be something in the realm of the possible for someone as successful as Scioscia.
Someone does not go from being one of the handful of best managers in the game to a dunce overnight. The Angels might need to remind themselves of that now, before any more damage is done.