November 22, 2009
On the Beat
Mike Scioscia is a testament to stability in an era when managers and coaches are being fired at a rapid rate in the major professional sports leagues. Scioscia has managed the Angels for the last 10 seasons, giving him the third-longest tenure among current major-league skippers. The Braves' Bobby Cox moved down for the general manager's office to replace manager Russ Nixon on June 22, 1990, and now has 19 full seasons of service with Atlanta. Tony La Russa completed his 14th season with the Cardinals this season.
So what is secret for Scioscia's staying power? "Winning helps, it always helps," Scioscia said this past week after winning the American League Manager of the Year award for the second time in his career. Scioscia has won a lot in his decade at the helm, compiling a 900-720 record while capturing five AL West titles-all within the last six seasons-and the franchise's only World Series championship in 2002.
However, as anyone who wins a Manager of the Year Award will attest, it is impossible to be successful in the job alone. No manager influences enough games to stand far and above everyone else in his profession. Instead, it takes the backing of a good organization, and the Angels have built one of the best, even if they sometimes seem forgotten while playing in Orange County. "The key for us has been stability," Scioscia said. "When you look at our organization, there really hasn't been a lot of turnover during the past 10 years. Bill Stoneman retired as general manager and Tony Reagins was promoted (from assistant GM). Most of the people in our scouting and player development departments have been here a long time, and they consistently sign and draft good players then develop them so they're ready to go when they reach the major leagues.
"A big thing, too, has been that we haven't had much turnover in the coaching staff over the years. It's enabled us to really stay consistent and keep doing the things we feel are necessary to be successful on a regular basis."
When John Madden stepped away from coaching in the NFL at age 42 in 1978, leaving the Raiders after the 10 season to move onto broadcasting stardom, he said a head coach or manager should never stay in the same job for more than a decade because he risks getting stale. Scioscia just completed a decade on the job, and he disagrees with Madden's premise, saying managing is as much fun now as it was when the Angels hired him away from the Dodgers following the 1999 season,, where he was the manager of their Triple-A affiliate.
"Every day is a challenge in this job and that's what keeps it interesting," Scioscia said. "Right now, for example, we have a lot of key players who have filed for free agency. It's going to be challenge to see who we are able to keep and how we will replace the guys we don't re-sign. You spend the winter building your team, and then you get to spring training, the fun time of the year, and have the challenge of getting a team ready for a 162-game regular season. Then when the regular season starts, there is the day-to-day challenge of competing at the highest level. Then, if you're fortunate enough to get to the postseason, you have the ultimate challenge, which is trying to win a World Series. It's baseball and it's fun. The game never gets old for me."
The 2009 season was not always fun for the Angels, though they wound up winning the AL West. Rookie right-hander Nick Adenhart was killed in an automobile accident on April 9, four days into the season. "Some things happened this season that aren't covered in any coaching manual," Scioscia said. The Angels spent most of the first two months of the season in a fog. They were 29-29 on June 11 and 4˝ games behind the Rangers in the division race. However, they went 68-36 the rest of the way, then swept the Red Sox in the American League Division Series before falling to the Yankees in six games in the American League Championship Series.
To a man, the Angels' players credited Scioscia for keeping things stable in a trying situation until they could get past Adenhart's death. Scioscia, like every good manager, deflected the credit to his players. "The tragedy obviously hit very deep with our guys, but very quickly, everyone in the clubhouse realized it wasn't about us, it was about the Adenhart family and supporting them," Scioscia said. "It gave them a deeper appreciation of playing baseball every day. It took a little time, but once they realized they were a good team, that they could keep moving forward with Nick's memory, they relaxed and played baseball. There was no one golden moment when the switch went on and guys picked up the pieces and started playing baseball. For a long time, it wasn't easy, but as we started to play the game, they realized there was a purpose to playing this year and they played terrific baseball."
While Scioscia held things together, Jim Tracy won the National League Manager of the Year because he sparked the Rockies to a playoff berth. Tracy was elevated from bench coach to interim manager May 29, when skipper Clint Hurdle was fired. The Rockies were 18-28 and 14 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. The Rockies then went 74-42 the rest of the way, finishing three games behind the Dodgers and winning the wild card.
"Certainly, I never saw 74-42 coming," Tracy said. "I just felt that our club, after watching it every day throughout spring training and the first two months of the season, was capable of playing better. All I was hoping for was the team to perform better than it had been."
The Rockies did that and more as they got to the postseason for the second time in three seasons before losing to the Phillies in four games in the National League Division Series. They played at a .638 clip under Tracy after playing .391 ball under Hurdle.
The Rockies players felt the biggest change Tracy brought was stability, particularly with the way he handled the bullpen and put each reliever in a specific role. "It was awesome," Rockies first baseman Todd Helton told the Denver Post's Troy E. Renck. "As a position player, you want to feel every game is the most important game of the season. The way he handled the bullpen showed me that. He would go with a double barrel, lefty/righty, when he needed to."
Tracy learned he had been selected as Manager of the Year on Wednesday just hours after he finalized a three-year contract with the Rockies. Helton believes the Rockies will continue to grow under Tracy's stewardship. "Tracy definitely showed a lot of faith in guys and with guys who needed it," Helton said. "He handled each individual as an individual, in their own way. That was important to this team. He allowed this team to have its own identity. He let us become our own team. In a way, that's a pretty gutsy move, because when you do that, it can go either way. It worked out for us."
The Cy Young awards were about more than just rewarding two of the finest young pitchers in the game in the Royals' Zack Greinke and the Giants' Tim Lincecum. It was about the voters looking at metrics beyond wins and that notion was validated when Greinke and Lincecum both mentioned measures that can't be found in Major League Baseball's official statistics.
Greinke talked about FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching) giving him the edge over the Mariners' Felix Hernandez, and Lincecum said felt the biggest improvement he made between his Cy Young seasons on 2008 and 2009 was improving his WHIP (Walks and Hits Per Innings Pitched), lowering it from 1.17 to 1.05.
"There are so many new statistics that can tell you more about a pitcher's performance," Lincecum said. "I'm glad the voters took them into account. To me, WHIP is very important. Your goal as a pitcher is to not allow the other team to score runs and you do that by not letting people on base."
Lincecum's 15 victories were the fewest ever by a Cy Young winner in a full season. He finished in an eight-way tied for fourth in the NL in victories behind the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright (19) and Chris Carpenter (17) and the Rockies' Jorge De La Rosa (16). Greinke tied for seventh in the AL in wins.
A surprising development occurred in the sale of the Rangers this past week. The current owner of the franchise, Tom Hicks, became a bidder. Hicks had been hoping to retain a minority share of the Rangers, but said he has found enough investors that he may be able to hold on to a majority stake. Among those Hicks has in his group are two Dallas-area sporting legends, Hall of Fame pitcher and Rangers president Nolan Ryan and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach.
"This would allow us to have continuity on the plan that we started five years ago," Hicks told the Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant. "This process has never been about wanting to sell the Rangers. It has been about finding a way to monetize our assets to retire most, if not all, of the debt. There hasn't been a week go by that I haven't worked on this issue. The world has too much debt. Just like other companies around the globe, we've been trying to de-leverage ourselves."
Four other groups have submitted proposals to buy the Rangers, including those led by Pittsburgh sports attorney and minor-league baseball operator Chuck Greenberg, White Sox special assistant and former player agent Dennis Gilbert, and Houston businessman Jim Crane. The fourth group has yet to be identified. Greenberg's group appeared to be the favorite, as Ryan had been lobbying on its behalf until joining Hicks' group.
Hicks said he will still listen to the other four groups' proposals. "I've committed to (MLB) and a lot of people to put their best foot forward," Hicks said. "A lot of people have put a lot of work into this. I want to honor the process and see what the best proposals are."
However, it seems very likely Hicks will pick himself now that he has more financing. His Hicks Sports Group, which also owns the NHL's Dallas Stars, defaulted on a loan for $525 million during spring training, and was forced to borrow a reported $8-10 million from MLB to meet operating costs. However, Hicks said HSG's finances have stabilized and it's now "business as usual."
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Red Sox still plan to be major players for left fielder Jason Bay, even though he has hit the open market as a free agent, but they will get competition from the Mariners, Angels, Mets, and Blue Jays, who would love to have a star Canadian player. The Red Sox also have significant interest in free-agent left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez. … The Angels have interest in re-signing both right-hander John Lackey and third baseman Chone Figgins as free agents, but feel they only have the finances to sign one or the other, making Figgins the more likely to return. … The Orioles have money to spend and they are eying a number of free agents, including left-handers Erik Bedard and Randy Wolf, right-hander Rich Harden, closer Billy Wagner, and first baseman Nick Johnson. … Left-hander Mark Mulder, who missed all last season because of injury, is expected to sign with the Brewers as a free agent. … Catcher Paul Lo Duca, who sat out last season after spending 2008 with the Nationals and Marlins, wants to try a comeback in spring training.