Scioscia eager to reclaim winning formula
Manager one of few remaining faces from Angels' last postseason trip
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Make your way in from the right-field parking lot of Tempe Diablo Stadium, walk through the dark green double-doors, hang a quick right, enter through the off-white double-doors that lead inside the Angels' clubhouse, stroll down the hall, and Mike Scioscia's office will be the third door on the left.
It's there this spring, just like it was in the 14 springs that came before it -- but everything else has continually changed around it.
A new front-office team is in charge, a coaching staff has been reassembled, players have come in and out, and somewhere along the way, Scioscia's Angels -- once a gold standard for success -- lost their identity.
"Hopefully the last four years have helped us to find our root," Scioscia said on a crisp Tuesday morning, hours before the grind of another day begins. "Even though we weren't productive then, I think if you learn from it and find your root, and eventually get to your goal, then it's just the journey of winning."
Winning used to come so easy for Scioscia, the hard-nosed ex-Dodgers catcher who values "the process" like few others. He led the franchise to its first World Series title in 2002, in only his third season on the job, captured five American League West titles from 2004-09 and attained a job security that's quite uncommon for a man in his position.
Now, Jered Weaver looks around and realizes, "There aren't too many guys in the clubhouse that were here when we were doing winning stuff." Since the last time the Angels made the playoffs -- now five years ago -- it's just Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Kevin Jepsen and the ace right-hander himself.
And Scioscia, just down the hall, trying to make things right again.
"Nobody feels the sting of non-performance more than I do," Scioscia said, "but I am totally committed to the philosophy that we've had here for 15 years, with the adaptation of some new statistical guidance that can help you make clearer decisions. That's all part of our program. So, I'm committed to it."
Scioscia used to be the most powerful manager in baseball, signed to an unprecedented 10-year extension and given a rare voice in front-office decisions. Over the past two years, though, the ground that he once stabilized has shifted beneath him, and the outside world has questioned his methods like never before.
"That comes with not reaching expectations," Scioscia said. "I expect that."
Jerry Dipoto was hired as the general manager shortly after the 2011 season and brought with him an assortment of new blood that saw the game a little differently. And now there's a whole new staff, complete with a hitting coach (Don Baylor), third-base coach (Gary DiSarcina) and player information coach (Rick Eckstein) that hope to provide something close to what Joe Maddon, Bud Black and Ron Roenicke once did.
"I don't think it's much different than what happens anywhere; it just hasn't happened here very often" Scioscia said. "Sometimes there are going to be changes made, whether it's with a manager or coaching staff. That happens over time. We're going on 15 years, and I've had probably the fewest changes to a staff in baseball."
Scioscia was publicly furious when his friend Mickey Hatcher was let go as the Angels' hitting coach in May 2012, but he insists he "didn't take it personal" and "just thought the timing wasn't right." The most recent changes, a product of Jim Eppard and Rob Picciolo being dismissed, were collaborative, Scioscia stresses.
"I know Jerry had input in that," Scioscia said, "but it really was a collaboration as far as who we were bringing in."
Dipoto and Scioscia have quarreled these last few years, which is no secret. That's what happens when the frustration of losing sets in, and the ideologies are so different, and the manager is so grounded in the methods that have worked so well before.
Last summer, as the Angels stumbled to an 84-loss season, the dominant storyline and prevailing sentiment was that either Dipoto or Scioscia would be gone by fall, until owner Arte Moreno brought them both back with the hope that they would find a chemistry that could get this organization back on track.
It's an ongoing process.
"I think we're not only finding solutions, but staying away from a path that we can see is taking us the wrong way," Scioscia said. "My relationship with Jerry -- we talk every day, we converse. We don't agree on everything, but we're not shouting at each other. I think it's a healthy relationship."
They're in this together now, united in the quest to make the Angels relevant again and, in some ways, prolong their own careers.
The list of reasons for the Angels' recent downfall is exhaustive. There has been tragedy (Nick Adenhart's sudden death in April 2009), injury (Kendrys Morales' broken leg in May 2010), crippling contracts (Vernon Wells), prospect-laden trades that hardly worked out (for Scott Kazmir, Dan Haren and Zack Greinke), high-dollar investments that have yet to bear fruit (for Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton) and a farm system that dried out.
It's tough to blame Scioscia for any of that -- but it's easy to wonder how many more chances he'll have to make things right again.
"Nobody has a crystal ball of what has to happen or where it has to happen," Scioscia said, "but our philosophy of how we're going to play a game and prepare a team is the same, and I'm very confident that we're going to have a team that's going to get out there and play to the level that it can. Realistically, if we pitch to our capabilities, I think that this team is going to show what it can do."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.