Mike Scioscia, if not the last of the old-time managers then in the same carpool, has lost 1,430 games and not a single battle.
He’s on his second team owner. His fourth general manager. By appearances, they’ll be his last. An entire generation of folks who began sentences with, “Well, I didn’t play the game, but …” or “I’ve never managed a game, but …”, the problem being the “but” part, came and mostly went. Some hung around. Not as long as Scioscia has. And not with the same purpose. Not with the same certainty.
If you’re hoping now to fancy him up for his first managerial decade or, as likely, run him down for the second, you’d be trying too hard. Same guy. Same priorities. (Different bosses, different players.) But for the usual curvatures allowed for age and miles, this is the same man who on the afternoon of April 3, 2000 topped a lineup card with “ERSTAD, LF”, the first of a million decisions he’d defend, if required, to the bloody nubs.
There are people who choose their life’s companion with less conviction than Scioscia will send a runner on a 3-and-2 count. It’s what made him perfect for the Los Angeles Angels then, the Angels for their first four decades being one of those occasionally relevant franchises that rather lacked a sustained intention. It is perhaps what exhausts him after 19 years. He is coming up on 60 years old, which isn’t so old unless it happens to you. Also, he’s logged about 5,000 baseball games, playing and managing. Those would be the miles, many at a slog’s pace.
So the notion Scioscia is managing his final weeks for the Angels is not a revelation as much as it is the long sigh of inevitability. The Athletic on Saturday night reported Scioscia intended to step away at the end of the season, following those 19 seasons and the expiration of his 10-year contract. A man who “steps away” at the end of his contractual commitment may indeed be endeavoring to turn the mob into a parade, but that wouldn’t seem to be Scioscia’s style. He’d more likely turn and take on the mob. At minimum flash that, “Holy crap, Angel, that’s not a strike, jesus you’re killing me” face at it.
No, what made sense at the end of last season, made sense in spring training and made sense in the heart of summer — that Scioscia probably will have had enough, and if not then the Angels might be ready to try something new. Either way, the franchise and its loyal employee seemed to be inching toward a commonly-held, some-time-coming resolution. The Angels are mediocre again. They have burned another season of Mike Trout’s prime. The regime of Arte Moreno, once celebrated as the everyman’s way of franchise running, slips further into thin-skinned defensiveness and grudge holding. If only anyone cared about that, though.
So why not a new manager too? Why not Josh Paul or Brad Ausmus or someone else, see if that unsticks a team that hardly ever gets it right in the AL West anymore, that since five division titles in six years will have one in nine seasons by the time this one is done. They call it a results business. They say it as if there are businesses that aren’t. One might argue that if the last three general managers couldn’t get it quite right, maybe it’s not the general managers. I wouldn’t. But one might.
According to those who should know, Scioscia, Moreno and general manager Billy Eppler have not yet had the conversation that settles the future, the one that continues without Scioscia on their top step. (Eppler is finishing the third year in his four-year contract and while there are signs of growth beneath the major league level, there is still the major league level and a third losing season.)
In Cleveland on Sunday morning, Scioscia was predictably defiant. It’s who he is. What he does. He hates to be labeled controlling, but he is. I’d argue that managers have to be. Good ones, anyway. Maybe some are better at disguising it, allowing players and other personnel to believe they’re in some way in charge. When they’re not.
“Nothing has changed since we talked in October,” Scioscia told reporters. “That’s how I can put it. Nothing has changed. Sometimes there’s always chatter out there, and the only word I have for it is ‘poppycock.’ That’s what it is – ‘poppycock.’”
They’ll be a time to go gracefully. This is not the time, not with a game to play, a schedule to finish, ballplayers to flesh out. What made Mike Scioscia good at this, and sometimes even great at it, was his attention to the day. To all the battles. But, then, the key to winning those is knowing which ones to pick.
And which ones not to.
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