Scioscia tops in AL for remarkable year
Leads Angels beyond tragedy to record-setting season
ANAHEIM -- There are ordinary challenges, ones met every day, and there are extraordinary ones -- thunderbolts that strike out of nowhere.
The Angels were leveled by a thunderbolt in the wee hours of April 9, when Nick Adenhart, a valuable young pitcher and valued young person of 22, was killed alongside friends Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson in what became a case of triple-murder charges filed against an alleged intoxicated driver.
"There are things that happen that you can prepare for," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "and there are things that happen that you have no manual for."
Moving forward, step by step, in the most emotionally challenging of his 10 seasons as leader of the Angels, Scioscia's steady hand and soothing presence created an atmosphere that enabled his team eventually to flourish under unimagined duress.
Scioscia, whose steely eyes turned misty at moments this season, was rewarded on Wednesday with his selection as 2009 American League Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"I don't look at it as a one-guy award, a manager award," Scioscia said, his Angels having won their third consecutive AL West title before falling two wins short of a World Series date with his hometown Phillies. "It's about a great effort by a whole organization. It's great for our organization to be acknowledged for this award this year. I think our organization is proud of that."
It is Scioscia's second Manager of the Year Award. He was named by the BBWAA in 2002, the Angels having claimed the franchise's first World Series title under his direction after entering the postseason as a Wild Card.
Scioscia was placed first on 15 of 28 ballots cast by two writers from each AL city. He was second on 10 and third on one for 106 points, based on the 5-3-1 tabulation system. No manager was named on every ballot.
The Twins' Ron Gardenhire collected six first-place votes and was the runner-up for the second straight year, and fifth time overall, with a total of 72 points. The Yankees' Joe Girardi, the 2006 National League Manager of the Year with the Marlins, was first on four ballots and placed third. The Mariners' Don Wakamatsu got two first-place votes and the Texas Rangers' Ron Washington received one.
Scioscia became the first manager in Major League history to pilot six postseason teams in his first 10 seasons.
In the AL Division Series, the Angels swept their October nemesis, Boston, in three games before falling in six games in the AL Championship Series to the Yankees, who went on to subdue the Phillies in the World Series.
With 97 wins, the Angels continued a run of excellence under Scioscia, whose teams have won 900 games in 10 seasons. His 567 victories over the past six seasons represent a Major League best -- one more than Joe Torre has achieved with the Yankees and Dodgers, and two more than Terry Francona with the Red Sox.
Crediting owner Arte Moreno, general manager Tony Reagins and the club's scouting and development departments, along with his enduring coaching staff, Scioscia also praised the leadership from within the clubhouse. He pointed to veterans such as Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, John Lackey, Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli for helping keep the club centered and focused on the challenge at hand in the wake of Adenhart's tragic death.
"That was obviously something -- that tragedy -- that hit very deeply with our guys," Scioscia said. "It was about the Adenhart family and supporting them. I think it gave us a deeper appreciation of playing baseball -- but that took time. Once we were able to move forward, they relaxed and played baseball.
"I don't think there was a moment that the light went on. A lot of veterans understood there was some patience involved with this ballclub after Nick's tragedy. For a lot of guys, it wasn't easy. There was a purpose this year, and they played terrific baseball."
They carried it to the ALCS, where they were unable to match the Yankees' precision, making an uncharacteristic eight errors in the six games.
"At times we played well in that series, but at times we opened the door for a team that wasn't going to let up," Scioscia said. "You have to match that level, and at times we didn't do that. The Yankees played great baseball and beat us. I don't think it's a frustration as much as they played better than us. We made some mistakes we weren't able to absorb. They played better baseball than us and are World [Series] champions."
Scioscia, who turns 51 on Nov. 27, owns the security of a 10-year contract but retains a hands-on, dedicated style and grinding nature. He traces his commitment to his early days in the Dodgers' organization as a teenage catcher, and the profound influences surrounding him, such as Roy Campanella, John Roseboro, Del Crandall, Preston Gomez, Monte Basgall, Joey Amalfitano and, of course, Tommy Lasorda.
"[Scioscia is] the same guy he's always been," Ron Roenicke, his bench coach, said. "He's got great intelligence -- for the game and other things. Along with that, he's got common sense. They don't always go together.
|"[Mike Scioscia] trusts you and lets you play the game. I love playing for him."|
|-- Bobby Abreu|
"He's very secure, very confident in his abilities. When he asked me to be his bench coach [after Joe Maddon left for Tampa Bay in 2006], I told him I was bringing my own opinions. He said he didn't want a `yes' man."
With Adenhart's stunning death and the late starts of Lackey and Ervin Santana -- each missing six weeks with arm ailments, Scioscia was forced to draw on the Angels' system and improvise with his starting rotation for much of the season.
When it came together after the Aug. 28 acquisition of Scott Kazmir from Tampa Bay, Scioscia proclaimed it the "best and deepest rotation since I've been here."
The offense also flourished, peaking around midseason and going on to score a franchise-record 883 runs while setting club marks for batting average (.285), average with runners in scoring position (.297), most players with at least 100 hits (10) and most players with at least 50 RBIs (a Major League record 11).
Drawing from his roots in the Dodgers organization, Scioscia stresses an aggressive approach on the basepaths that has led to the Angels manufacturing more runs over the past four seasons than any team in the Majors, according to the 2010 Bill James Handbook.
In 2009, the Angels manufactured 221 of their 883 runs. Next on the MLB list were the Twins, with 189 manufactured runs. The Angels allowed 171 manufactured runs, giving them a plus-50 in the category that best defines aggression on the basepaths.
"When I came up in '02 strictly as a pinch-runner and he turned me loose," said free-agent third baseman Chone Figgins, who finished second in the AL with 114 runs, "I knew I was in the right place. This is the way the game should be played -- all out."
As a leadoff catalyst and Gold Glove candidate at third base, Figgins rose from role player to All-Star, taking full advantage of the free rein and freedom afforded by Scioscia.
"He lets you play," Abreu said. "That's the best thing about Scioscia. He trusts you and lets you play the game. I love playing for him."
His affinity for Scioscia's style is one of the main reasons Abreu signed quickly this winter for two years and an option for a third season, removing himself from the free-agent pool.
"There's a respect there you feel playing for him," Abreu said. "He wants you to be a winner and play the game with heart, play smart."
Scisocia attaches primary importance to pitching and defense, the foundation of his club's success. But it's his offense that has captured the imagination of fans.
Scioscia's dynamic formula was not an immediate hit after he instituted it in the spring of 2002. The '02 Angels started 6-14, yet Scioscia persisted in stressing this new style, convinced it was the way to go. It took that team to a World Series crown, and the Angels have been riding a wave of excellence ever since.
Scioscia never has been one to accept credit for the Angels' success, preferring to credit everyone from Moreno to the clubhouse attendants. It reflects how he was raised by parents in his eastern Pennsylvania youth to be selfless.
"The decision-making process gets much cleaner with experience," Scioscia said of his evolution as a manager. "You get more input from your staff, and options become much more defined. That helps you to hopefully make cleaner decisions."
Big decisions await in the days and weeks ahead with such high-profile free agents as Lackey, Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero on the open market, along with Darren Oliver, Robb Quinlan and Kelvim Escobar. Scioscia and Reagins are in daily contact.
"I don't think anything's changed from our perspective," Scioscia said. "Those guys are all priorities for us. Tony's trying to keep the club together as much as possible. Players earn the right to test the market and see what their value is, and that process has to evolve."
All things in time, as the 2009 Angels learned after getting struck by a thunderbolt.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.