09/29/08 5:30 PM ET
Scioscia's handprints are everywhere
Manager quick to credit others, not bask in own achievements
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- In his role as Mike Scioscia's bench coach, Ron Roenicke is the Angels manager's right-hand man, a quiet force behind the scenes. They came up together with the Dodgers three decades ago and have been friends seemingly all their lives.
Few people know Scioscia the way Roenicke does.
"He's got great intelligence -- for the game and other things," Roenicke said. "Along with that he's got common sense. They don't always go together.
"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."
That security is evident in the responsibility and influence Scioscia delegates. Pitching coach Mike Butcher and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher meet with the manager every day for updates and suggestions. Third-base coach Dino Ebel and first-base and infielders coach Alfredo Griffin are lords of their realms. Bullpen coaches Orlando Mercado and Steve Soliz offer daily insights.
The manager weighs all the material and input before having the final word -- on everything.
"He always has a reason for everything he does," Roenicke said. "You may not agree with it, and I may not agree with it. But he knows why he is doing everything he does. He has thought it out thoroughly."
With John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar starting the season on the disabled list and the Mariners seemingly loaded, the Angels were not expected by many experts to defend their American League West title. They took off around midseason and won in a cool breeze, clinching 18 days before the season was over, claiming a franchise-record 100 wins.
Scioscia's handprints were everywhere, as always. He somehow transformed Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders from back-of-the-rotation guys into twin aces in the absence of Lackey and Escobar. Scioscia incorporated new blood -- free-agent center fielder Torii Hunter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, acquired in a July 29 deal with the Braves -- and allowed it to blend naturally, seamlessly.
Scioscia's reputation precedes him. The word has been out for years: he's a players' manager.
"He called me in as soon as I got here [in Boston] and told me what was expected," Teixeira said. "I was excited to hear what he had to say. I can see why this is such a great place to play."
In the dugout during games, Scioscia and Roenicke observe, share, discuss and debate. Their sense of anticipation and timing, in tandem, amazes players on the bench. They marvel at how often the manager and bench coach are correct when they reposition a fielder, call for a hit-and-run, signal for a pitchout or go for the squeeze bunt.
"Mike's got a great game sense," Roenicke said. "He always knows what can happen in a given situation. When he was catching, he controlled the game -- the pitcher, the infield, everything. He was preparing for this all along. That's why he stresses the pitcher-catcher relationship. It's his background, his history. He knows how important it is."
Scioscia's catchers -- Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis -- are totally versed in all of his philosophies and attitudes. They call all the pitches at his insistence, largely because he knows how critical it is for the catchers to have the pitchers' respect -- and vice versa.
Scioscia values experience but loves talent. When he threw untested but gifted pitcher Jose Arredondo into the bullpen mix, there was precedent.
Scioscia trusts young athletes to an uncommon degree. Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez hadn't even been through a full Major League season -- Lackey had three months of time with the Angels, K-Rod one month -- when they played pivotal roles in the 2002 World Series championship run.
Lackey was given the ball for World Series Game 7 and held the Giants to one run across five innings, becoming the first rookie to win a seventh Fall Classic game since 1909. He'd blanked the Twins across seven innings in the AL Championship Series.
These are memories he'll carry in the back of his mind when he goes out to face the Red Sox on Wednesday in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
When your manager gives you that kind of trust, and you've prevailed in the final game of the season with the whole world watching, you know you have the capacity to handle anything thrown your way.
"He's confident in his players and loyal to guys who've done well here," Lackey said. "We have guys coming from other places, and even if they struggle, he sticks with them, lets them know he believes in them.
"His confidence in me has been a big factor in me being a successful pitcher at this level. He put me in some big situations that year and I did well. The next few years were up and down for me, but he stuck with me. That meant a lot."
Rodriguez points to Game 2 of the ALDS in '02 as a turning point in his career. Scioscia sent him back out after he'd yielded a go-ahead homer to Alfonso Soriano at Yankee Stadium, and after working a scoreless inning, the Angels rallied to win the game and hand Rodriguez his first victory in the big time.
K-Rod has been rolling since, all the way this season to a single-season record 62 saves.
"If he'd buried me that day," Rodriguez said, "who knows what would have happened? But he had confidence in my ability, and that meant everything to me."
To Lackey, "consistency is probably the big thing. He hasn't changed much over the years I've been here. He definitely has a way he wants the game to be played. He's always even-keel in the clubhouse and wants us to have a good time. But on the field, he's serious about the game."
Scioscia will let a player know -- immediately -- if they aren't doing it the Angels way. That often means not taking the extra base on a single.
"When I came up in ['02] as a pinch-runner and he turned me loose," said Chone Figgins, just as untested as K-Rod that fall, "I knew I was in the right place. This is the way the game should be played -- all out."
Hatcher, the hitting coach since general manager Bill Stoneman's vision led to the dawn of the Scioscia era in 2000, was Scioscia's teammate with the Dodgers, celebrating the 1988 championship with him. Hatcher recalls how and when the running game was implemented in Anaheim.
"In 2002, when he sat down with the coaching staff [before Spring Training], he said, 'This is what to expect with Angels baseball,'" Hatcher said. "He laid it all out. That's when he came up with the philosophy you see in action today. We had a corps of guys that he thought we could win with playing a different style. Roenicke was the third-base coach, and Mike stressed to Ron that we were going to run the bases aggressively, go first to third, pressure the other team.
"I remember Troy Glaus and Tim Salmon saying, 'We can't hit a ground ball to second base.' I told them, 'That's not what we're asking. Hit a deep fly ball to right field, and that'll move a guy over.' It was a more aggressive way to play baseball, a whole mind-set. Mike believed in it and didn't go away from it."
Garret Anderson, as consistent on the field as Scioscia has been in the dugout, recalls the manager's address to the team on the first day of Spring Training in 2002 -- "how we were going to play aggressively, run the bases hard, try to put pressure on the other team."
"It's been a successful approach," Anderson added. "We've enjoyed it, and I think the fans have too."
The Angels started 6-14, yet Scioscia persisted. That's another of his qualities. He's like the character in the early Marvin Gaye classic -- a stubborn kind of fellow.
"Mike would pull a guy over if he didn't go first to third," Hatcher said, "and he'd say, `If you get thrown out, it's on me. I want you taking that base. Don't worry about making mistakes.' He was willing to take the heat, and that took some of the pressure off guys."
Applying constant pressure on the opposition while relieving it internally -- that the kind of intuitive thinking that led one of Scioscia's players the other day to call him a "genius" in the dugout.
What's interesting is the player is a reserve, the kind you normally find grumbling behind a manager's back.
Scioscia is without argument the most successful manager in franchise history. He owns the most career wins, the only World Series title, the highest this and most that in pretty much everything that matters.
But one thing you won't hear is Scioscia calling attention to his achievements. On that topic he applies an automatic mute button.
Credit is always funneled over to his players and coaches. He is selfless -- and smart -- that way. It is how he was raised by his parents in his Philly youth, and it seems to be working just fine.
"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."
He'll talk about how enjoyable the ride has been, from that first staff in 2000 to today, and how everything is somehow connected to 2002, the great transforming season. But if you're looking for an assessment of his own work, you won't get much help. He'll leave that to others. He's a pretty busy guy, you know.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.