Few believed prior to the 2002 season that the Anaheim Angels had any shot at a World Series. With the likes of David Eckstein, Scott Spiezio and Adam Kennedy rounding out their lineup, the Halos were bereft of superstars and relied on their grit to see them through to a championship.
Manager Mike Scioscia was widely credited with fostering the proper clubhouse ethic that brought the best out in his squad, and Anaheim’s World Series title seemed to reinforce the notion that teamwork and cohesion would always prevail over teams that were built on stardom rather than character.
Fast forward 11 years, and how the tables have turned. Owner Arte Marino has broken the bank on major contracts to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, two sluggers whose best days are probably behind them. Yet the most significant contract on the franchise’s books is arguably not that of Pujols or Hamilton, but rather the $25 million that is still owed to Scioscia over the next five years.
On paper, the Angels ought to be one of the best teams in baseball. With Hamilton, Pujols and young star Mike Trout in the starting lineup, the Halos should have been able to overcome an injury to former American League Cy Young runner-up Jered Weaver.
Their 23-29 record nearly a third of the way through the season begs to differ, however.
So the question is, who’s to blame? On the one hand, Pujols’ numbers have been declining consistently over the past three seasons after he turned in one of the greatest 10-year stretches in the history of baseball, in which he averaged .331, 41 home runs and 123 RBIs per season.
In the three years since then (prorated for the 2013 season), his average has dipped to just .286, while he has averaged 30 home runs and 101 RBIs. In this case, I think it’s fair to say that father time might be a force that is well outside of Scioscia’s control.
As Hamilton has also turned in a massively disappointing season (.222, 8 HR, 18 RBIs), it is fair to wonder whether Scioscia is no longer able to bring out the best in his players.
I don’t think it is very reasonable to assume that the longest tenured manager in baseball has somehow magically lost his ability to manage a clubhouse in the past two seasons alone. After all, it is the players in uniform taking the field every night, not Mike Scioscia. In other words, players, not plays, make the team.
That said, sometimes hearing the same voice over and over can wear on players, through no fault of either the manager or the men who play for him.
Baseball is a game of cycles, and though Scioscia has led the Halos to six playoff appearances over the past 14 seasons, his time may well have come. There is a reason why managers in this league tend to come and go: the character of teams change, management has different goals, and new players fill the clubhouse every season.
Though Scioscia may have been the perfect man to lead the then-unsung 2002 Angel squad, perhaps his presence is no longer appropriate on a roster that boasts larger-than-life sluggers such as Pujols and Hamilton.
Moreno said just two weeks ago that there is zero chance Scioscia will be fired this season. If the Angels’ continue to lurk near the bottom of the American League standings, however, he might have to eat his words.
Tony Baker is a Los Angeles Angels writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter at @tonloc_baker