Angels rule baseball in Southern California
Throughout their first 40 years of existence, the Angels lived in the shadow of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In the past decade, however, the Angels have become the pride of Southern California.
And it’s a Dodgers outcast, Mike Scioscia, who has led the Angels out of the darkness into the baseball spotlight.
"He has not only brought them success on the field, but he changed their image,’’ said Colorado Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor, the AL MVP in 1979, the year of the Angels’ first AL West title. "When you played for the Angels you hated everything about the Dodgers, the way they treated us like second-class citizens, the arrogance.
"It’s nice to know that Mike got rid of the Dodger blue and turned the Angels into what the Dodgers used to be."
The irony of it all is that Scioscia was the guy the "old Dodgers" were grooming for the managerial job at Dodger Stadium. He was paying his dues by managing in their minor-league system in the late ’90s, and then Dodger Blue hit on an era of the blues.
No longer the property of the O’Malley family, a team known for stability was rocked. During the 1998 season, Fred Claire, whose longtime service to the organization led to his eventual role as the general manager, was fired and Kevin Malone arrived on the scene late that season.
A year later, Scioscia was no longer welcomed. Officially, he resigned, and publicly he is diplomatic about his separation from the only organization he had had known in h is baseball career, but Mickey Hatcher, the Angels’ hitting coach now and Scioscia’s hitting coach in the minors at the time, has said "they didn’t want us back."
After 21 years with the Dodgers, 16 as a player and five as an instructor and minor-league manager, Scioscia was looking for work.
He talked with several teams about minor-league jobs, including the Rockies and Seattle Mariners, and was discussing the idea of being a roving catching instructor or the manager of Triple-A Colorado Springs when the Angels came calling with a big-league job to offer.
"Things worked out," Scioscia said.
Two years later, Malone was bounced as the general manager of the Dodgers. He’s now selling cars for a living, having an ownership interest in a Mercedes dealership in the Los Angeles area.
A decade later, Scioscia is still managing the Angels, third among major-league managers, behind only Bobby Cox in Atlanta and Tony La Russa in St. Louis, in continuous service in their current jobs. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have had four managers and four general managers in that stretch.
"I’ve never thought about it in those terms,’’ Scioscia said of the Angels-Dodgers rivalry.
But then he never had to. He has always been on the upside of the rivalry — as a player with the Dodgers and now as the manager with the Angels.
"We just need to worry about our own house," Scioscia said. "We feel like we are headed in the right direction."
And it has helped that the Angels have had Scioscia to show them the direction. He was, after all, Tommy Lasorda’s leader on the field during his playing career. The Dodgers won two world championships during his 13 big-league seasons, and Scioscia was twice an All-Star selection.
With the Angels, Scioscia, the AL Manager of the Year in 2002 and 2009, guided the franchise to its only world championship, in 2002. He has taken the Angels to five AL West titles and two ALCS appearances in the past six years.
He also has seen two of his coaches move into big-league managerial positions — Joe Maddon with Tampa Bay and Buddy Black in San Diego — a sign that others have taken notice of what the Angels have done.
"It takes more than one person for an organization to have success," Scioscia said. "The process takes time, and it takes stability."
And the approach reflects in the success of the team.
They Angels have had a payroll exceeding $100 million each of the past five years. They have surpassed 3 million in attendance the past seven years and sold 26,000 season tickets last year. Their revenue has jumped from $100 million in 2002 to $230 million last year.
That, Scioscia said, is a direct reflection on the commitment of owner Arte Moreno.
"Arte finds good people, and then he makes sure they stay in place," Scioscia said.
He finds good people like Mike Scioscia.
And old Angels, like Baylor, appreciate what all of that has meant.
"They have been able to do what the Cowboy wanted," Baylor said in reference to the late Gene Autry, the Angels’ original owner. "Gene was willing to do whatever it took to win a world championship and never got that privilege.
"Gene would be proud of what has happened with his team."