The respect isn’t imagined. The aura isn’t embellished.
The impact Mike Scioscia has had upon the Angels’ organization for 19 years is as real as a threatened punch to the face.
It was the fall of 2004, and mercurial Angels outfielder Jose Guillen had just lost his mind. He was removed for a pinch-runner and came storming back to the dugout, slamming his helmet, throwing his glove, and charging at Scioscia with the clear intent to sock him.
But he never got there. A group of veterans led by Troy Percival jumped in his way. If Guillen wanted to get to Scioscia, he was told, he would have to go through them first.
“We were having none of it,’’ Percival recalled Tuesday. “We lived and died by our manager.’’
More than the 2002 World Series championship, more than six division titles, more than two manager of the year awards, this passion will be Scioscia’s lasting legacy.
The Angels fought everywhere for him, played beyond their limits for him, and were forever changed by him.
Soon, they will be saying goodbye to him, as the man with the second-most wins by any manager of one team in baseball history is expected to retire when the season ends.
Only, Scioscia is not acknowledging it. Not yet. The Athletic broke the news last weekend and he hilariously brushed it off as “poppycock.’’ A person with knowledge of Scioscia’s thinking has since confirmed that he could publicly announce his departure as soon as the middle of September, but he’s still not talking about it.
All of which is perfectly, delightfully Scioscia. He will finish his managerial career the way he’s lived it. He’ll end it his way. He’ll finish it on his time. And he’ll try to do it on a day when nobody is looking.
Sorry, Sosh. Not possible. Not fair. The Angels are going to want to throw a party for the most influential person to ever wear an Angels uniform, and you’re going to have to let them.
The number will be retired. The push for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame will begin. And there might even be the creation of statue, adorned with quotes like this from another Scioscia creation named David Eckstein.
“When you break down how he won all those games, all those years, with all those lineups … it’s amazing,” Eckstein said Tuesday.
Scioscia hasn’t won as much lately. This likely will be the eighth time in nine seasons the Angels have missed the playoffs. They are on pace to finish with a third consecutive losing record, the worst stretch of his career.
Fans are ready for a change. The organization is ready for a change. Even Scioscia, 59, surely will acknowledge that after nearly two decades in the same clubhouse — the longest current tenure in baseball by seven years — one’s voice loses its strength.
Scioscia is still a vibrant manager who has slowly but smartly adapted to the changing sport. But his time in Anaheim is finished, and he’s also smart enough to see that, and the expiration of his contract gives him the perfect opportunity to experience that blessed rarity of walking out of a major league dugout on his own.
This is not a plea for Scioscia to stay. It’s a plea for everyone to remember and recognize the depth of his footprints before he is gone.
“The Angels have always been more than Mike’s team,’’ Percival said. “They’ve been Mike’s toughness.”
Scioscia ranks 18th among managers with 1,625 victories, the key number being his 26 more wins than mentor Tommy Lasorda.
Yet neither statistic tells the true story of Scioscia’s enduring effect on an Angels organization that he transformed from a sleepy Orange County attraction into a national player.
“The Angels were always viewed as just another small-market club,’’ Eckstein said. “Mike Scioscia changed everything.”
He was a Dodgers legend who became a Dodgers cast-off who joined a franchise that reflected the fun and easygoing manner of its Disney owners.
He brought the Dodgers with him in a coaching staff that included Mickey Hatcher, Alfredo Griffin and Ron Roenicke. He brought the National League with him in a hustling, bunting, running, small-ball style of play that made the rest of the American League weak at the knees.
”He always knew how to get the best out of whatever he had,” Eckstein said, and he’s talking about himself.
Scioscia led the Angels to their only World Series championship with Eckstein playing shortstop for the first time as a pro — “Nobody thought I could do it; it was a crazy idea, yet Mike knew.”
The Angels won that championship behind a giant home run by journeyman Scott Spiezio and a Game 7 start by a rookie named John Lackey, with role players and rug-burners everywhere.
“I don’t think anybody would ever rate our 2002 team as having the most talent,” Eckstein said. “But if you go on a tough scale, we were right up there.”
Scioscia made the Angels a marquee team with five playoff appearances in the next seven years, while giving a player like Vladimir Guerrero the freedom to propel his career into the Hall of Fame, where he became the first player enshrined in an Angels cap. More recently, the great Mike Trout has flourished in a similar environment, a fun Scioscia clubhouse that follows a path to a fierce Scioscia dugout.
“”He had innate ability to keep things light in the clubhouse, but always let you know what was expected on the field,” said Percival, the baseball coach at UC Riverside. “And he’s so smart. I’ve never seen anyone manipulate the roster like him. A lot of times, he would just out-think the other guys.’’
In the end, though, he couldn’t out-think giant, suffocating contracts, a bevy of injuries, disappointing signings. As Scioscia aged, the Angels roster seemed to slowly disintegrate, and when last winter’s celebrated acquisitions of Shohei Ohtani, Zack Cozart, Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton couldn’t make a difference this summer, it was clear his time was done.
“Maybe he just needs to have his voice be somewhere else,” Percival said. “I know this. He’s a guy who can still go out and manage and win more World Series.”
Who knows how long Scioscia will stay retired? For now, it is enough to spend his final Angels weeks in thanks, and with memories of that proposed punch to the face.
Jose Guillen? Almost as soon as the veterans could shove him away from Scioscia, he was suspended from the team, in the final days of the season, in the middle of a pennant race, even though he was one of the team’s top hitters, and traded that winter.
“You didn’t mess with Mike’s way,” Percival said.