On the baseball calendar, winter has dawned. Three months await before spring training, but we already have a winner for the most curious statistic of the offseason.
Although the managerial pendulum has swung gently back toward candidates with experience, Mike Scioscia got zero interviews for eight openings.
He appeared relaxed Monday, mingling comfortably among the baseball luminaries gathered for a charity golf tournament to benefit Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton.
The summer that passed was his first without baseball since he was 16. He and his wife, Anne, spent two weeks in Hawaii. The couple traveled to Florida and made three trips to his family home in Pennsylvania. He said he lost 40 pounds.
“I’m kind of liking this hiatus,” Scioscia said.
A hiatus is a pause, a break, a gap. A hiatus is not a retirement.
Scioscia played 13 years for the Dodgers, winning the World Series twice. He managed 19 years for the Angels, from 2000 to 2018, winning the only World Series in the history of a franchise that celebrates its 60th season next year. Of their 10 postseason appearances, he was in charge for seven. The Angels lost 90 games the year before he got there and the year after he left, but they never lost 90 with him.
He never used an agent to negotiate his contracts with the Angels. But, with the novelty of the hiatus wearing off and an interest in getting back into managing, he retained an agent to help him navigate the hiring process.
The timing appeared fortuitous. Eight teams were hiring. In some cities, owners were getting involved in the process, not simply delegating to the new wave of general managers that appears to prioritize collaboration with a first-time manager over experience and independence in the dugout.
“I’m thrilled,” Scioscia said. “Just knowing Joe and the passion he brings, he’s perfect for the organization. I know that he will make a difference.”
Maddon is no kid. He is 65, five years older than Scioscia.
Joe Girardi was hired in Philadelphia. Mike Matheny was hired in Kansas City. Former managers getting interviews included Brad Ausmus, Dusty Baker, Jeff Banister, John Farrell, Bob Geren, Gabe Kapler, Buck Showalter and Ron Washington.
The agent Scioscia hired, Alan Nero, declined to discuss why he believed teams decided not to interview Scioscia.
Torii Hunter, a two-time All-Star outfielder under Scioscia, said the manager commanded respect for what he had accomplished as a player and as a manager.
“It was like he was the father figure: whatever he says goes,” Hunter said at the golf tournament. “Scioscia wants the best out of you. He needs you to go hard every day. He needs everybody on the same page. Today, that message could be different. It’s more that you have to baby some players sometimes. Not all, but some of them.
“Managers [today] are not like Scioscia or Tom Kelly or Jim Leyland, the guys who are hard-nosed and would get in your face. That’s no longer the thing you do.”
Is that approach better, worse, or just different?
“It’s just different,” Hunter said. “In the clubhouse, they’re different. People move in a different way. You have to find those ways. You have to have a growth mind-set and conform to where your clubhouse is.”
Girardi and Matheny were fired from their last managerial jobs in part for clubhouse communication issues beyond any reported for the Angels under Scioscia. In New York, general manager Brian Cashman said the Yankees had determined Girardi had not established “connectivity” with younger players. In St. Louis, Cardinals icon Yadier Molina ripped Matheny on Instagram.
Still, Girardi and Matheny have new jobs.
Scioscia would have loved to manage his hometown Phillies, but it probably did not help his cause that the general manager in Philadelphia is Matt Klentak, who was the assistant to Jerry Dipoto in Anaheim from 2012 to 2015. It is not unusual for there to be conflict between a manager and general manager, but it is unusual for the general manager to quit his job over it, as Dipoto did in Anaheim.
The trigger for his conflict with Scioscia was less the use of analytics and more about how a player could most effectively use them; whether players should get data directly from the front office or filtered through the coaching staff. That issue has largely resolved itself in the four years since Dipoto quit: Nearly every team, including the Angels, has added coaching positions devoted to distilling the flood of analytical data into nuggets players can remember and apply.
“The amount of information and data is huge,” Scioscia said. “You have to narrow it down to what’s applicable. A lot of the data is for player acquisition and projected performance. There is a piece of the pie that you’re going to be able to apply in the sixth inning of a game. Sorting that out, I think, is where this is going to go.”
It is fair to suggest that Scioscia’s time with the Angels simply had run its course when he resigned effective at the end of the 2018 season, but it is also fair to suggest that he might flourish elsewhere. Fresh starts do not solely apply to players. Scioscia might have been demanding, but he also inspired a generation of managers to use laughter and clubhouse stunts to bond teams during the drudgery of spring training.
“Mike Scioscia would definitely be an effective manager today,” Hunter said. “All he does is require you to play hard, go first to third, and be ready to play every day.”
It appears as if Scioscia will sit out the 2020 season — out of the dugout, at least. He said teams asked whether he might serve on a coaching staff next season, and he passed.
“I’m not really out there looking for anything,” he said. “I’m having a great time. I feel good.
“What will be, will be. I’m just living.”