Do you happen to remember the catchy tune "Maria Maria" by Santana and the Product G? Not a bad blast from the past, at least not in my mind. The song was the top dog on Billboard’s Hot 100 the very week Mike Scioscia started his managerial career in April of 2000. Doesn’t quite give you perspective on Scioscia’s tenure? Fair enough…a gallon of gas would have run you about $1.50 based on the national average when the new skipper took the helm (about $0.50 more in California). This past Thursday morning, in the back hallways of the Angels clubhouse, just hours before he won his 1,277th game as a skipper, Mike remembered that 41-year-old rookie manager and compared him to the 55-year-old seated behind his desk today.
“You can’t help but change, I think,” Scioscia said. “It’s easy to say that everything’s the same and that your thought process is the same. I do think the process stays the same, but certainly I think the way information’s gathered has changed. I think the nuts and bolts of this game, as far as I’m concerned, haven’t changed, and haven’t changed in a century as far as the fundamentals and what you need to do. The way players are evaluated keeps evolving daily, and I think to be in tune with that helps you to make some cleaner decisions. So yeah, I would say that there’s been some growth in myself as a manager over that time and I think you’d expect that.”
As a rookie radio announcer, I had the good fortune of calling that Halos season back in 2000. The team boasted unique faux sleeveless uniforms, periwinkle blue in their color scheme, a ton of offense (.825 ops and 236 homers) and not nearly as much pitching (5.00 team ERA). Back in those days, the intense 41-year-old skipper would use a 70-mile drive home to Westlake Village to unwind as he battled through the day- to-day learning curve of managing. As it turned out, some days the commute was used to grind as much as it was to unwind. Even today, when the drive is much shorter in-season to the O.C. coast, the mental workout behind the wheel remains the same.
“There’s only 24 hours in the day, so you can’t start grinding 25 hours,” Scioscia said. “But the game stays with me as much as it did then, and I think the process through as much as I did from the first day in this position until the last day that you have the opportunity to do this. That has not changed one bit. But I think the passion that I have for the game, and talking to other managers, if that starts to waver and maybe you start to take some things in stride, I think that’s going to be disturbing. You really have to pay attention to that. Every day I wake up, I’m always in tune with the feeling, ‘Is this what you want to do? Is this where you want to be?’ It’s always a resounding ‘Yes.’ After every season I kind of sit back and I’ll go, ‘Is this, you know, where you want to be? Do you want to keep going? Do you want to have another opportunity with this?’ So I think over the course of time that is something you have to be mindful of. I still love it.”
And if you’ve paid close attention (many have learned that Mike does), you can not only love the game, but be wiser because of your experiences within it. At 55, he serves as the leader of his squad in a more paternal role than that of an older brother, at least with regard to age. But does it go beyond that?
“I think the core of what our value system is about in this country is really the structure of a family,” Scioscia said. You’re not going to be able to replace that as a manager. But I do think that you can impart some things on players from time to time. And there’s times when you feel like, that when you’re bringing a player in here and talking to him, and sometimes you sound like a parent. But I think the thing with trying to connect a manager with being a parent, I don’t know if that really works for me. I think it’s really just the common sense you have to impart, sometimes you’re bringing a guy in because they’re just not applying themselves and you have to kind of tighten some things up. But also, on the other end if it, the patience you need is important in this position. So you can probably make that correlation, but I don’t know if it’s as strong to say, 'Hey, you’re a parent if you’re in this position.'”
Understandable certainly, especially when speaking of a workplace situation, albeit a workplace involving grown men playing a kid’s game. So after 2,345 regular season games managed, it would be safe to assume that Scioscia has evolved in how he handles the locker room environment. Especially when it comes to a concept that can be both overblown and undervalued in baseball—leadership.
“There has to be a peer group of leadership in every clubhouse,” Scioscia said. “I think if there’s not, it’s not that you can’t absorb it, but it makes things much more difficult for a manager and a major league staff. Every year that we’ve been here, you’ve always had that core group of peers out there that understand the game, that are really the mentors of a lot of the younger players. I think we oversee that and you have to be part of that. I think the leadership aspect of the whole organization is on many fronts. It’s not just one manager, one general manager, or one owner. I think the whole fabric of our organization has to be woven with leadership.
“I do think the person in the manager’s position obviously has a lot of responsibility, but there are some things that a manager or a coach is not going to be able to put into a team. You can try your best to input some things. You can try your best to input the understanding of a play. The experience of this game is going to do much more to teach players how to play the game than anything a manager or coach could do. I think connected with that experience is the peer group and the peer leadership in that clubhouse, because those guys have already been through it and learned it the same way. There are going to be things that they are going to be able to relate to a younger player. I think it’s going to resonate much more than if we tell them.”
But the guidance that may resonate coming from the leader himself is advice given to his colleagues on how to handle the media-generated “hot seat” that all long-tenured managers inevitably sit on from time to time.
“I think you just be yourself and stay true to your philosophy,” Scioscia advises. “That gets me through every rough patch. You know I’m not one that’s going to pay a lot of attention to what opinions are out there from the media. There are some guys in the media I think you respect a lot and there are some guys you know that are giving opinions for alternative reasons or concepts. So I’m not going to pay a lot of attention to that. But I think what you’re going to listen to is the team, your players, your organization, and you need to have a philosophy that you are committed to. That doesn’t mean that you’re not going to tweak some things in the periphery, whether it’s something in spring training that may help the team, or things like that. But the philosophy of how you want to teach the game and how you want to go about competing should never waver, and I think you have to be true to that. So through any tough times, I’ve just come out here every day with an understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish, how we’re going to compete, getting the players ready to go and hopefully winning a game. I think that process keeps you away from a lot of the distractions that are out there of people who are starting to talk about if you’re going to lose your position or not.”
A cup of coffee and a conversation with a driven leader in this game is an uplifting way to start a day. You can hear the entire conversation this Sunday night on MLB Roundtrip with Baseball Prospectus presented by Perfect Game on Sirius 209, XM 89 following the evening matchup of the Yankees and Red Sox.