Scioscia’s steady hand leads Angels

Mike Scioscia was all about Dodger Blue in his younger days. The team’s first-round draft pick in 1976, he was in the big leagues four years later. He was the homegrown anchor to the Dodgers of the ’80s, a member of the last Los Angeles Dodgers world championship team, in 1988.

And when he called it quits in the mid-1990s, he began his non-playing career in the Dodgers farm system. Then came a slap in the face by the rogue regime of general manager Kevin Malone. Scioscia was fired as the manager of the Dodgers’ Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate after the 1999 season, a move many felt stemmed from an uneasiness Malone had with the organizational folks tied too strongly to Dodgers history.

That’s when the strange turn of events occurred.

Scioscia was ready to take a job in the Colorado Rockies farm system, as either the manager of Triple-A Colorado Springs or as the roving catching instructor, when in November 1999, the Angels came knocking.

The Angels, a franchise that has lived in the shadows of the Dodgers since their creation in the original major-league expansion in 1961, wanted Scioscia, a poster boy of Tommy Lasorda’s Bleeding Dodger Blue, to manage — at the big-league level.

Thirteen years later?

Well, it was a bit curious that the Dodgers’ — that’s right the Dodgers’ — promotion Tuesday night for their interleague game against the Angels was a Mike Scioscia bobblehead giveaway.

Funny, managing a team just down Interstate 5 from Dodger Stadium, Scioscia has even given his former franchise reason to be proud of him.

Scioscia is the dean of big-league managers in the wake of the retirement of Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox, having recently become only the ninth manager in American League history to manage 2,000 games with one club. Seven of the other nine — Connie Mack, Sparky Anderson, Earl Weaver, Bucky Harris, Joe McCarthy, Joe Cronin and Hughie Jennings — are in the Hall of Fame. The eighth, Tom Kelly, figures to be enshrined eventually.

High cotton, admits Scioscia, who sees the accomplishment as an organizational achievement, not an individual one.

“I think it reflects on the organization and the stability we have had,” Scioscia said. “It’s a product of the success of our organization that lets one guy manage for this amount of time.”

Since Opening Day in 2000, teams have employed 141 managers. Only the Angels have had only one man in the job in that time.

By contrast, Ozzie Guillen, in Miami, and Eric Wedge, in Seattle, are their franchise’s ninth and eighth managers in this century, respectively. Twelve franchises have had at least six managers in the time Scioscia has held forth with the Angels.

And Scioscia isn’t giving up his job anytime soon.

Before the 2009 season he was given a contract extension that could tie him to the Angels through the 2018 season, although Scioscia does have an opt-out clause after 2015, and the final three years are mutual options.

“It’s still fresh, I love it,” Scioscia said. “I’m going to keep working toward that second championship; that’s our goal. There’s still a passion in all of us, and that makes time go by quickly, I guess.”

Scioscia, after all, did take the Angels to a world championship in 2002, in what was the first World Series appearance in the then-42-year existence of the Angels. Before Scioscia’s arrival, the Angels had been to the postseason only three times, and were eliminated in the ALCS each time.

After third-place finishes in his first two years and then a 6-14 start to the 2002 season that had rumblings about a possible firing, Scioscia rallied the Angels.

They won the World Series in 2002, and Scioscia took the team to the playoffs six times in his first 10 years on the job. Now, after a two-year postseason absence, the Angels are back in the American League West race despite stumbling to open the season.

Twenty-two games into the season, the Angels not only were 7-15, but were nine games back of the first-place Texas Rangers. By May 22, little had changed. The Angels were still in last place, were six games below .500 at 19-25 and eight games behind the Rangers.

They, however, have won 15 of 20 since, and went into the series finale Wednesday night against the Dodgers in second place, 3-1/2 games back of the Rangers.

The turnaround has been built on the field by the emergence of Albert Pujols from a season-opening slump and the arrival of 20-year-old wunderkind Mike Trout to patrol center field and hit leadoff.

Struggling with a .190 average slightly a month into the season, Pujols has hit .377 during the team’s 20-game surge with six home runs and 19 RBI. He went into Wednesday with a streak of seven consecutive multi-hit games.

Trout opened the season in the minor leagues and then started 1 for 11 after he arrived in the big leagues on April 28. But, entering Wednesday, he had hit .364 since May 1 with 35 runs scored, 26 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 18 attempts in 38 games. He also has drawn 16 walks in those 38 games and been hit by a pitch twice for a .423 on-base percentage.

As much as anything, though, the Angels have flourished from the steadiness of Scioscia.

He stayed steady not only while the team struggled on the field, but also when upper management forced the mid-May dismissal of coach Mickey Hatcher, who not only had been the Angels hitting coach since Scioscia’s hiring, but was on Scioscia’s coaching staff at Albuquerque, and was a teammate of Scioscia with the Dodgers. The manager refused to be distracted, by achievements or struggles.

“We’ve got a lot on our plate to be talking about this,” he said of the 2,000th-game milestone. “It’s not time to reminisce.”

As Scioscia learned back in the fall of 1999, it’s what happens next that matters.

And sometimes the unexpected, like becoming manager of the Angels instead of the Dodgers, turns into the most rewarding of experiences.