The Angels worked their way quickly through the unavoidable charade Friday and sent the loudest message possible to their fans.
Being a late-season contender isn’t enough. Sitting at home in October, watching pinstripes and Texans on TV, won’t cut it. Having the ever-present great fan experience and welcoming 40,000 to every home game is nice, but not the whole goal.
General Manager Tony Reagins resigned Friday. The announcement came at 2:18 p.m. PDT. The official face-the-music was handled in a hastily arranged conference call with Reagins and team President John Carpino at 3.
There was no face to face. No real startling answers. No real answers at all.
And no owner Arte Moreno, nor Manager Mike Scioscia anywhere around.
Nor was that necessary. The message was clear, the messengers less important.
Reagins was a loyal part of the organization for 20 years. He was on duty when the Angels traded away Mike Napoli and brought Vernon Wells on board for around $80 million. Whether he was the driving force in those decisions — the current biggest aggravations for Angels fans — is not clear and never will be. It happened on his watch and his watch needed to end to demonstrate to the people buying tickets and all those red jerseys that 2012 will not be more of the same.
Wells struggled all year to hit .220, but fans seem to have a sense that he is a decent guy whose 2011 may have been more aberration than trend. Napoli is a different story.
Reagins traded him away and all sorts of bad things happened. He got traded again, this time to the rival Texas Rangers. Then, he had a year with Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza-like numbers, a good portion of that against the Angels. He hit several homers at the Big A that seemed to descend into the distant bleachers from out of the clouds.
And of course, all this time, the Angels catching corps hit like Bench and Piazza — when Bench and Piazza were in grade school. That put Scioscia in a position of having to defend starter Jeff Mathis all season, by stressing his defensive skills while Mathis hit .174. Last Monday night, when the Angels played host to the Rangers and were still alive in the wild-card picture, the Rangers got their first run when Mathis had a passed ball and, moments later, a throwing error.
Every time Napoli came to the plate and they flashed his .315 average on the scoreboard, you could hear the grumbling in the stands. Or maybe that was the rumbling in Reagins’ stomach. From all accounts, Scioscia, who is untouchable and should be, was the one who forced the issue on Napoli because of perceived defensive shortcomings. But Reagins pulled the trigger and now has paid the price.
It is unfortunate that the same person who brought in Torii Hunter, the heart and soul of the Angels, sent Napoli away. Baseball excels in the practice of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. What Reagins did lately was clearly not enough for the Angels.
And so, the 2011 baseball season that ended so depressingly with the last day of the regular season Wednesday has begun anew. There is no rest for the wicked, or for a major league baseball team that underachieved. Just 48 hours later, the Angels stood up in public and said the game was on, that all eyes are already on 2012 and that there will be no resting on laurels, if any were perceived.
Major League Baseball teams always have an interesting challenge in the off-season. No matter what the success of the previous year, they must demonstrate to the people who buy tickets and call talk-radio shows that they are doing something to improve. Getting new good players is the usual way. Getting rid of the people who have failed to get new good players is another.
Presumably, the departure of Reagins will not be the only press alert from the Angels this winter.
Reagins was a good soldier right to the end. He thanked the organization and pointed to the need for “fresh perspective and different direction,” a clear admission of his own failure. He said he had been thinking about this decision for about 30 days and talked to his family about it. Carpino indicated that most of this came down Friday and that he “was surprised.”
All of that, of course, is a crock, a public relations smoothie. Moreno’s statement said that “We felt a change was needed.” No further statement was needed.
The Angels had a disappointing season. Their leaders are mad and they aren’t going to take it anymore.
The search for a new steward will be interesting. Scioscia always says that he manages the players given him, and little more. But Moreno doesn’t give the kind of long-term security he has to Scioscia without wanting some of his manager’s expertise in player assessment.
Getting somebody with a higher profile in baseball than Scioscia would be difficult, anyway, but also problematic.
The answer seems simple. Just hire somebody who can get a catcher.