Shades of 2002: Can coaches with championship rings and gray hair return Angels to glory?
Jose Molina keeps his ring at home in Puerto Rico. Matt Wise keeps his in a safe at his home in Arizona. Mickey Callaway keeps his in a safety deposit box in Florida.
Joe Maddon gave his championship ring to his mother.
“If I would bet, it’s underneath her mattress,” Maddon said.
The Dodgers have come agonizingly close in recent years, but the Angels remain the only team in Southern California to win the World Series in this century. With Maddon as their new manager and Molina, Wise and Callaway on the coaching staff, the Angels have four men in uniform from the 2002 championship team.
For a franchise that has endured a decade without winning a postseason game, the 2002 Angels are a reminder that the team stands for more than futility, heartbreak and Mike Trout. There are four men in the clubhouse every day who can testify to that.
“I don’t know that guys are really connected to ’02,” Maddon said. “I’m working on it.”
Maddon, the bench coach for that 2002 team, called it a “coincidence” that the championship alumni are so prevalent on the coaching staff.
Molina already was here, as the catching coach. Wise already was coaching in the Angels’ minor league system and was promoted to fill the vacancy for a bullpen coach. Callaway, hired as pitching coach, would not have been available had the New York Mets not fired him as their manager.
The men would not have occasion to discuss their personal heroics from 2002: Molina was the backup catcher; Callaway and Wise were depth pitchers who did not make the postseason roster.
But Callaway said he talks about the 2002 season “all the time,” because of the tone that manager Mike Scioscia and his coaches set that year in spring training. These Angels have not made a postseason appearance in six years; those Angels had not made a postseason appearance in 16 years.
“I remember Mike Scioscia, the first day, talking about the playoffs,” Callaway said. “And I was kinda like, ‘What’s going on here? They weren’t outstanding the year before, or on the cusp of winning a World Series.’
“We are old men, but they’re open and willing to listen and respect what the organization has done in the past.”
Angels bullpen coach Matt Wise
“But that’s all we talked about. They set the expectations from the beginning. And that’s always stood out to me, from then on. You have to set those expectations and talk about them often. And we’ve been doing that here.”
The tolerance for players listening to guys with gray in their hair talk about glory days is not unlimited.
“We are old men,” Wise said, “but they’re open and willing to listen and respect what the organization has done in the past. It’s a good group.”
When Maddon managed the Chicago Cubs, he and his players constantly were reminded that the team had not won since 1908. He is not sure the Angels have enough of a championship drought to register in the clubhouse.
“I don’t know that it resonates,” Maddon said. “Even 1908, I don’t know how much it resonated, except that they heard all the time that’s it been 108 years. It’s only been 18 years here. It’s not as bad. It’s not as dramatic.
“In general terms, today’s baseball player is not as much of a historian, even to the point that baseball cards are not as prominent. We used to just study those. So you knew what a guy did, and where he came from.”
So Maddon is importing as many alumni as he can as guest instructors this spring: Frank Tanana, Wally Joyner, Bobby Grich, J.T. Snow, Bobby Knoop and Shigetoshi Hasegawa already have visited, with Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera, Clyde Wright and Maicer Izturis still to come.
It is not that Maddon wants to wave a 2002 pennant in the faces of the current players. It is that he wants to reinforce the notion that success can happen here, because it has, and not just in that one championship season.
“It’s so easy to go to Negative Town,” Maddon said. “Most people do. It’s a real easy trip to make, and a lot of times, you’re going to be right. It’s difficult to retrain your mind to think in a way you’re not used to.
“Sometimes, people believe they don’t deserve a good conclusion. Where I come from, in a small town, that permeates thinking sometimes. That gets in the way. Some people are just purely afraid of success and what that means, the expectations and pressure attached to that.
The Angels are running often this spring, with 10 stolen bases in their first 12 Cactus League games.
“They don’t need to hear from me any kind of doubt or ambiguity. They need to hear direct and positive. And that’s what they’re going to get.”
That said, he does not believe in trying to motivate players by showing them his championship ring. If anything, he said, he would show them a Gold Glove award.
“I want to motivate our guys to win a Gold Glove,” Maddon said. “If that were to occur, the rest of our game would be in order.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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