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WINNING, INC.

Special to The Times

The meeting that helped produce a franchise renaissance was conducted behind the scenes at Angel Stadium shortly after the Walt Disney Co. had hired Bill Stoneman as the club’s general manager following a tumultuous 1999 season and shortly after Stoneman had hired Mike Scioscia as the manager.

The meeting was designed to introduce the two to the administrative staff.

It became more than that -- Stoneman and Scioscia heatedly and pointedly declaring the need for an overhaul of focus and direction in an organization that had known mostly failure, frustration and frequent fluctuations in personnel and philosophy during the 45 years Gene Autry owned the team and the four that Disney had.

“What happened,” said a person who was in the meeting, “is that Bill and Mike kept getting peppered by questions from the marketing staff as to which of the players they would build an advertising campaign around since, as one of the marketers said, they were not going to win a World Series and it would be foolish to build a campaign around the team.

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“Bill and Mike looked at each other incredulously. I thought they were going to come out of their chairs. They’d been on the job for only two weeks and they were being told that the organization’s expectations didn’t include a World Series. Well, both of them laid it out right there, saying that every day they came to work the goal from top to bottom should be and would be to reach the postseason and to win the Series.”

Now, preparing for another playoff shot at the Series, again on top of a division in which they were so often an also-ran, Scioscia refuses to discuss that meeting in depth, saying in general terms that the expectations that were clearly defined during his time with the Dodgers under Peter O’Malley’s ownership were not as clearly defined when he and Stoneman joined the corporate Angels.

“I hadn’t kept tabs, I didn’t know the organization’s whole history,” he said. “I knew there was a nucleus of young players that you could get excited about, so it wasn’t like we were coming into a totally bad situation. It was strictly a matter of getting it together, defining an approach, and that meeting proved to be a real eye-opener. After it, I think, everyone knew what the goals and expectations were.”

The red tide that has swept into and over Orange County in each summer of the new millennium has made it almost difficult to remember those summers, seasons and even decades devoid of the stability, continuity and success that the Angels create automatically now.

“The bar has definitely been raised here,” Joe Maddon, the Tampa Bay manager and former Angels coach and instructor, was saying in Anaheim last week. “All you have to do is walk into this stadium now and you can sense the winning vibes and home-field advantage.”

Beginning with the hiring of Stoneman and Scioscia, ignited by the 2002 World Series breakthrough and title under Disney and elevated to new baseball and business heights since Arte Moreno bought the team in 2003 (revenue has about doubled in that time, according to two people familiar with the figures), those once-elusive expectations are now accepted -- and achieved -- on an almost annual basis.

There have been three division titles in the last four years, four playoff appearances in the last six and five straight seasons of more than 3 million in red-clad attendance. All that has helped turn the Angels into a revenue-sharing donor -- they gave $11 million to the industry pool in 2005 -- rather than many years as an under-marketed and underachieving recipient.

It is an unprecedented chapter in the history of a franchise that often featured a revolving door to the offices of the general manager and manager, an often shortsighted attempt in misappropriated dollars and talent to win one for the Cowboy during the Autry ownership, and an often miscalculated drive to compete with the Dodgers on the marquee.

“Ultimately,” said Tim Mead, the longtime vice president of communications, “we had to find an identity from within. We had spent too many years worrying about the Dodgers.”

If it is the Angels who now own the marquee, pushed beyond the Orange curtain in name and deed by Stoneman, Scioscia and billboard magnate Moreno, consider this synopsis of those three full and troubled decades in Anaheim before Stoneman and Scioscia arrived and Moreno took over in ’03:

The ‘70s

Three general managers, seven full-time managers, one division title, three seasons of less than 1 million in attendance and only one of more than 2 million, and a decade probably best remembered for Nolan Ryan’s four no-hitters and the failure to re-sign him as a free agent after the 1979 season.

The ‘80s

Two general managers, five full-time managers, two division titles, still no season of 3 million in attendance, and a decade probably best remembered for the 1982 loss to Milwaukee in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series after winning the first two games and Donnie Moore’s forkball to Dave Henderson in the ’86 ALCS with Boston when the Cowboy needed only one more strike to reach the World Series.

The ‘90s

Three general managers, five full-time managers, no division title, four seasons of less than 2 million in attendance and still none of 3 million, and a decade probably best remembered for the late-season collapse of 1995 and the mutinous clubhouse of ’99 -- ultimately leading to the resignations of manager Terry Collins and GM Bill Bavasi.

Said Maddon, who on three occasions was forced to become the club’s interim manager in the ‘90s: “When you’re changing managers and philosophy every two years, it negatively affects the entire system. When you have the stability that Mike has brought to the manager’s chair, it creates stability throughout the organization.”

Said Richard Brown, a club president under Autry and now counsel to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power: “Under Arte Moreno, and particularly with Scioscia’s influence, the Angels have been determined to build a team the right way, and that’s through the farm system, adding free agents when needed and never throwing the future away. When you build from within, and they’ve done a terrific job at it, you create a feeling of continuity, communality and tradition in the clubhouse and among your fans.

“Under Gene, and the irony is that it was never something he directly verbalized, there was always a feeling among his executives, both while I was there and before I was there, of trying to win now and worry about the future later. We were basically trying to win the lottery for the Cowboy, and the result, of course, was that there were mistakes in trades and signings, too many young players given away, too many turnovers over too many years in philosophy and the people responsible for the philosophy.”

Having recently surpassed Bill Rigney at the top of the club’s managerial win list, Scioscia has proven to be the same stabilizing force that Rigney was in the difficult expansion years. And if 2007 hasn’t represented Scioscia’s best performance of his eight at the helm, it is difficult to discern how much better he could be.

As the Angels continue to vie for the best record in the AL he has continually had the right player in the right spot while employing 126 lineups and using the disabled list 19 times for 13 players. The one-game-at-a-time cliché that falls on deaf ears in other clubhouses might as well now be stitched onto the uniform, as big a part of the Scioscia playbook as first to third.

“I don’t know how the Dodgers could ever have let him go,” said Brown, an oft-repeated theme in Southern California as Grady Little attempts to survive as the fifth Dodgers manager since Tom Lasorda retired in 1996 and third since Scioscia, the onetime Lasorda heir, departed for Anaheim rather than continue as the Dodgers’ triple-A manager and be dictated to and second-guessed by general manager Kevin Malone.

What Scioscia and Stoneman found in Anaheim was a rich nucleus of players scouted and developed, some in later stages than others, by Bavasi and scouting director Bob Fontaine Jr. Among them: Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Francisco Rodriguez, Jarrod Washburn, Troy Percival and John Lackey, a large piece of the World Series foundation and, in several cases, continuing contributors.

“It’s a team effort, and scouting and development are, perhaps, the most critical aspect,” said Scioscia, citing the contributions of Fontaine’s successors, Donny Rowland and Eddie Bane, to a pipeline that keeps pumping out impressive prospects and replacements.

“We had interesting and competitive teams in the ‘90s,” said Salmon, who arrived in 1992 and retired at the end of last season, “but we weren’t always able to call up players to fill a sudden need with the regularity that the Angels have been able to do during the last few years, and particularly this year.

“Bill Stoneman has taken a lot of criticism for not making trades at the midseason deadline, but you pay dearly for those moves, and he hasn’t had to,” with the farm system producing as it has.

Speaking from his Arizona home, Salmon also credited Stoneman’s patient and deliberate approach for avoiding “knee jerk-type moves” that “from what I understand may have got the Angels in trouble in the past.

“Bill isn’t going to make a move for personal or emotional reasons,” Salmon said. “The emotional card isn’t in his deck, but he’s not afraid to make the tough decision. All you have to do is look at the decisions to let guys like [David] Eckstein, [Troy] Glaus, Erstad and [Bengie] Molina go. As much as I loved playing with Eckstein, you have to admit that Orlando Cabrera has elevated the defense a notch.”

Supported by Moreno’s acumen in separating a valid capital investment from a foolish one, Stoneman also has been adept at recognizing a window of opportunity, acting quickly with Moreno’s endorsement, for example, in the expensive signings of Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar.

“Those are moves of the type that we wouldn’t have been able to react quickly enough to if still in a corporate environment,” said Scioscia, an opinion endorsed by a club executive who pointed out that Stoneman had to wait six days for Disney to approve the midseason acquisition of outfielder Alex Ochoa in 2002, although it elevated the payroll by only $600,000.

The bottom line is that it has all come together in the most stable and successful decade in club history, the drumbeat of new and higher expectations spelled out by the new general manager and manager in that meeting in late 1999, a drumbeat that never fades.

“The philosophy is clear, the message is clear, and we’ve been given the tools with which to play well at the major league level, but nothing matters if we don’t continue to win at that level,” Scioscia said. “It’s all about winning, continuing to move in the right direction. Short of winning, there’s only one other direction.”

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Begin text of infobox

2000 - 3rd in AL West 82-80

2001 - 3rd in AL West 75-87

2002 - 2nd in AL West 99-63, Won World Series

2003 - 3rd in AL West 77-85

2004 - 1st in AL West 92-70

2005 - 1st in AL West 95-67

2006 - 2nd in AL West 89-73

2007 - 1st in AL West 92-65


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