Scioscia teaches Angels basics while having fun

Angels manager Mike Scioscia of Springfield, Delaware County, holds the World Series trophy after his team beat the Giants in Game 7 of the 2002 championship.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia of Springfield, Delaware County, holds the World Series trophy after his team beat the Giants in Game 7 of the 2002 championship.
Posted: March 29, 2011

TEMPE, Ariz. - Torii Hunter considers the question, the one about the two different guys who dress up like Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, and he starts to laugh.

"Well," Hunter says, "there is The Manager, and then there is The Soche."

The manager is all business, and business has been mostly good in his 11 previous seasons with the Angels, a run that included a World Series win in 2002, and five division championships in the last seven years.

The manager is the same hard-nosed Springfield, Delaware County, catcher who lasted 13 seasons in the major leagues because he performed every defensive fundamental correctly, hit for a modest average but always for contact, and knew the game better than everyone else on the field. He won two World Series with the Dodgers and made the All-Star Game twice and if there ever was a player destined to manage, this was the guy.

And then there is The Soche, the favorite camp counselor who turns every morning meeting during spring training into what Hunter calls "the 9:30 comedy show."

"He takes the rookies and the young guys and makes them go shopping for toys and then bring them back and put them together," Hunter said. "He'll make them go to a Phoenix Suns game and interview the cheerleaders and come back with pictures and a report. He might bring Muhammad Ali in. He might bring an ostrich in. Bobby Abreu has a basketball team back home. So he brought in some Globetrotters to see if they could try out for Bobby's team. Every day, it's another show."

Scioscia has assigned players to look up the college transcripts of their teammates and, upon finding a flaw in, say, mathematics, will bring a math professor into the clubhouse to quiz the failed former student. Nothing is sacred, nothing is out of bounds, and everything is for fun. It doesn't take a psychologist to understand that Scioscia is fashioning a team-bonding process, or merely amusing himself before the team takes the field.

"They trust in you. They believe in you and they want to play for you because you're a good guy. That's how it starts. Then, there's the season," Hunter said.

The season is not for ostriches. The season is for baseball, and Scioscia really only has one rule: Play the game properly. By his standards, that isn't as easy as it sounds. The game must be played intelligently and fiercely aggressively. He was whelped in the professional game by the old-school Dodgers organization - his first three catching instructors were Roy Campanella, Del Crandall and John Roseboro - and that philosophy perfectly meshed with his own no-nonsense baseball personality.

"We're not reinventing baseball here," Scioscia said. "Baseball is making sure you get the secondary lead so you can take the extra base. Baseball is running through bases. Baseball isn't throwing to the cutoff man. Baseball is throwing the ball strong on one hop to the base, so it can be cut off if necessary, the way it was taught 100 years ago. Baseball is understanding defensive positioning and getting your bunts down; the hit-and-run, understanding what a pitcher is trying to do at all times. That's baseball and I think there's just one way to play this game."

Not surprisingly, the Angels under Scioscia have always been viewed as a meticulously schooled fundamental team, and one that always takes the extra base, always puts pressure on the other team to make the first or the worst mistake.

"I don't think there's any such thing as an aggressive mistake," Scioscia said.

Entering his 12th season with the Angels, Scioscia is the longest-tenured manager in the American League, and only Tony La Russa of the Cardinals has been with the same team longer in all of baseball. There is no secret to the formula, according to Scioscia, only the slow work of building a skyscraper using the brick of one perfect relay throw at a time.

"It's still day-to-day. You come in the first day and starting putting in your philosophy and work toward that," Scioscia said. "I'm not into self-analysis or saying whether I'm good or bad or whatever at the job. I'm just into understanding how the game should be played and taught."

After a downturn in 2010, when the Angels fell to third place in the AL West behind Texas and Oakland, there hasn't been a lot of roster improvement. The Angels added two relief pitchers through free agency, but the offensive power core, built around a couple of aging players in Abreu and Hunter, remains the same. The rotation is good, particularly if Scott Kazmir can shake off a down year, but jumping past the Rangers and Athletics doesn't seem likely.

From Scioscia's point of view, that's a prediction the Angels can change if they play well enough and work hard enough, and that's precisely how a manager must think.

"Really, your job is all about bringing a positive emotion to your team," he said.

In spring training, that includes a daily visit from The Soche. Not so much in the regular season, though. Then there is usually only room for The Manager. It is actually the same guy, but when the baseball really matters, that's hard to remember.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his recent columns at http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/bob_ford, and view his blog at http://www.philly.com/postpatterns

 

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