In the clubhouse, Mike Scioscia went about his business last week with not even the slightest trepidation about his future. To him, the biggest issue surrounding the Angels was a non-issue. He would be back as the manager, and the decision already had been made.
In the front office, no one would say that. Not for weeks. Not until late Saturday, when Angels owner Arte Moreno abruptly yielded to the outside pressure to which he and his lieutenants had vowed not to yield.
Scioscia is indeed coming back. Yet, for a management team whose big decisions in recent years at times have appeared impulsive, the management of the Scioscia issue came straight from the “what not to do” page of the public relations handbook — let an issue smolder when you could stamp it out, then react to douse the flames you could have prevented in the first place.
The Angels, a tight-lipped outfit under normal circumstances, outdid themselves on this one.
Moreno declined an interview request last week through a team spokesman. No surprise there, as Moreno has all but stopped talking to reporters not employed by Major League Baseball.
John Carpino, the team president, agreed to an interview last week, then canceled it.
Jerry Dipoto, the general manager, granted an interview. Tim Mead, the vice president of communications, accompanied Dipoto and said questions about Scioscia’s status would not be allowed.
For all the distractions Dipoto said he did not want to create, for all the speculation he said he does not wish to fuel, he was too smart not to know the truth. He knew he could have ended this story weeks ago, with one simple quote: “Yes, Mike will be back. He is under contract, and he is our manager.”
The Dodgers have gotten worse as their talent has gotten better, and yet they’ve already said Manager Don Mattingly is coming back. The Pittsburgh Pirates have gone from contention to extinction remarkably fast, and yet they already said Manager Clint Hurdle is coming back.
The Angels had offered no public assurance to Scioscia, the foundation of the team for the most successful decade in franchise history, until after a week in which local and national reporters peppered the organization with questions. Moreno took a look at stories on the CBS Sports and Fox Sports websites Saturday, and all of a sudden an organization that had pledged not to respond to what it called speculative stories decided to respond.
“I’ve known all along that I am not changing my manager,” Moreno told the team website.
Why would the Angels not have said that when the issue arose weeks ago? If Moreno knew all along, why let Scioscia dangle publicly? Did Moreno need time to persuade Dipoto that a managerial change was not going to happen?
Moreno would not be available for additional interviews, Mead said.
To a fan concerned primarily about whether the team wins, the Angels’ internal decision-making process might not be relevant. But, in the summers when the Angels do not win, the winter decisions can backfire.
Say what you will about Moreno, but he is not an owner satisfied with fielding a contender, or turning a profit. The man burns to win the World Series, and he does not sit still when the Angels go backward.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been exposed to an owner that cares more than Arte,” Dipoto said.
The Angels won the AL West five times in his first six full seasons of ownership. They did not win in 2006, and then they spent $50 million on Gary Matthews Jr., then essentially admitted their mistake the next year by spending another $90 million on Torii Hunter.
They did not win in 2010, and then they botched the courtship of Carl Crawford, decided Adrian Beltre was too expensive and made the disastrous trade of Mike Napoli for Vernon Wells. They did not win in 2011, and Moreno fired general manager Tony Reagins and threw a quarter-billion dollars at Albert Pujols.
They will need a miracle to win in 2012. The Dodgers just signed on with Magic Johnson, and they’re about to sign the mother of all television contracts. The Angels sold more than 3 million tickets — for the 10th consecutive season — but attendance has dropped for the third consecutive season, with the Houston Astros on deck to join the AL West and further deflate the crowds next year.
Moreno cleaned out the front office last winter. The Angels have chipped away at Scioscia since then — challenging his dominant voice over player personnel, reducing his role in organizational meetings from leader to participant, removing his larger-than-life picture from the stadium entrance, dismissing his handpicked hitting coach.
Yet Moreno signed Scioscia to a contract through 2018. No player besides Pujols is under contract that long.
If Vladimir Guerrero goes into the Hall of Fame wearing a Montreal Expos cap — he played more years and had better statistics in Montreal, but he won the most-valuable-player award in Anaheim — then Scioscia might well become the first person to wear an Angels cap on a Cooperstown plaque.
Dipoto would not discuss his relationship with Scioscia, but he glared at the question. The tension between the men is evident to all in the clubhouse, one player said.
How that is resolved — or if it is — becomes the story to watch for 2013. There might be a tipoff before then, in how the Angels shake up a coaching staff whose composition previously had been up to Scioscia to determine.
When a general manager inherits a manager rather than hires his own, clashes are not unexpected.
In Anaheim, they are not unprecedented. In 1994, the Angels’ new general manager went to ownership and asked permission to fire the popular veteran manager he had inherited. The two could not work well together, the GM said.
Ownership said no. Bill Bavasi was told to work things out with Buck Rodgers.
The parallel is not exact. Rodgers was delightfully blunt, whereas Scioscia is politically savvy. Scioscia also wears a championship ring.
So Moreno has ordered Dipoto and Scioscia back to work, and back together.
“There’s no problem between the two,” Moreno told the team website.
That might work, or it might not.
Two months after Bavasi was denied permission to fire Rodgers, he said the relationship had gotten no better. Bavasi asked again for permission to dismiss Rodgers.
He got it.