A sucker for alternative history? You know, what if the Allies had lost World War II? What if Steve Jobs had hated computers? What if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four?
What if Mike Scioscia had been named manager of the Dodgers?
Now there’s a sports what-if to get the mind racing.
How dramatically different would both the Dodgers and Angels be if the Dodgers had named Scioscia as their manager and he never joined the Angels?
Since Scioscia resigned as the Dodgers’ triple-A manager in September 1999, the Dodgers have had five managers, five general managers, three owners and zero world championships.
Scioscia, who played 13 seasons for the Dodgers before becoming a minor league manager, is currently in his 13th season managing the Angels — the longest-tenured manager in baseball.
If Scioscia had been named the Dodgers’ manager, would they have had the same level of success he has enjoyed with the Angels? Would Kevin Malone still be the Dodgers’ GM? Would there ever have been a Mannywood?
Would the Angels have advanced to the postseason six times in the last 12 years without Scioscia? Won a World Series? Enjoyed a smooth transition of ownership? Made Mickey Hatcher a scapegoat? Would there never have been a Rally Monkey?
“It’s hard to project all of the what-ifs, but there’s one definite part of that,” said ex-Dodgers GM Fred Claire. “And that is that Mike Scioscia should never, ever have left — or been able to leave — the Dodger organization.”
Scioscia always has been reluctant to discuss his departure from the organization, though it’s clear he left feeling he would not be named the Dodgers’ next manager and was unhappy about it. Davey Johnson was hired by Malone to manage the Dodgers prior to the 1999 season.
Malone said the consensus at the time was that the Dodgers needed an experienced manager and not another first-timer, as had been the case with Bill Russell, retired Tom Lasorda’s first designated replacement.
“In retrospect, I wish I’d named Mike Scioscia,” Malone said. “I’d like the chance to do it again and see if Mike could do for the Dodgers what he did for the Angels. I think he possibly could or would. I’m a fan of his. We’ve seen each other since. I don’t think there are any grudges. It was just a timing thing.
“It wasn’t personal, it wasn’t about his ability, it was just where the team was and the consensus and where Mike was. Should I have been able to project? Yes. I should have recognized it and I didn’t. I guess I’ll have to take that responsibility.”
Meanwhile, in 1999 Angels general manager Bill Stoneman was in need of a new manager. He called Claire for his take on Scioscia.
“I said, ‘I can give you the short answer or the long answer,’” Claire recalled. “‘The short answer is, hire him and you’ll never regret it.’”
Stoneman had never met Scioscia until their first interview.
“I interviewed some really good guys who were qualified to be managers but felt the best I interviewed was Mike,” Stoneman said. “It was his passion, his knowledge of the game. We saw eye to eye on the way we wanted to see the club play. Mike made it clear he came from a background where he played the game aggressively. I thought he’d have a presence that I was looking for in the clubhouse. He was kind of the whole package.”
Scioscia not only came, he brought a hunk of Dodgers tradition with him — coaches Ron Roenicke, Alfredo Griffin, Dino Ebel and Hatcher.
One of the others interviewed by Stoneman was Angels bench coach Joe Maddon, later named manager of the Tampa Bay Rays and twice selected as American League manager of the year. Just like Scioscia.
So what would have happened to the Angels if Stoneman had not chosen Scioscia?
“I have no idea. I’ve never given it any thought,” Stoneman said.
Scioscia seems to be at peace with the way things ultimately unfolded and wouldn’t play the alternate universe game.
“I believe things happen for a reason,” he said. “This has been a great experience for me. And to be honest, sometimes home is not the best place to be. This has been an incredible ride for me to do this and I don’t even think about anything else.”
Claire and Lasorda believe that if Scioscia had been given the chance to manage the Dodgers, despite all the ensuing organizational turmoil, he would still be managing the team today.
“Oh, sure,” Lasorda said. “You’re damn right.”
Claire and Lasorda, however, were reluctant to discuss Scioscia as the Dodgers’ manager at length for fear of offending current Manager Don Mattingly, whom they’re both very high on.
And what of Mattingly? If Scioscia had been the Dodgers’ manager all these years, then there’s no Johnson, no Jim Tracy, no Grady Little, no Joe Torre and no Mattingly.
“If it wouldn’t have been here, I would have tried somewhere else, picked another road until I kind of got where I wanted,” Mattingly said.
One point of divergence on a road can affect several lives, and organizations. If Malone had given Scioscia his chance, despite Fox and Frank McCourt, maybe Scioscia would have given stability and tradition to the Dodgers. Heck, maybe there never would have been a McCourt.
“I wish,” Malone said, “I could turn back the clock.”