If the Angels fail to produce a winning season in 2013, he will probably need a “get out of jail free” card in order to keep playing the game. And as the team unexpectedly struggles heading into May (now at 8-13) depleted by injuries, the idea of a losing season is not that perplexing; it’s more like a possibility.
So, game over? That depends on the reason.
The problem is, for fans who want Scioscia canned and the general manager/owner combo that would do the canning, the reason is usually misdirected.
Unfortunately, in the world of over-hyped coverage and gigantic payrolls—with giant personnel paychecks—front office brass and disappointed fanbases are led to a pre-fixed panic when a season doesn’t go accordingly.
And for the sake of making those franchises and their community “feel better” about past failures, there has to be a precedent set with subsequent blame, regardless of any meaningful lengths of success for a manager.
Enter: Mike Scioscia.
Now, before we begin with the dissection and futuristic predictions, all leading to possible help-wanted ads for ole' No. 14, let’s make clear what Mike Scioscia is not—a terrible manager.
No question, with the performance over the past few seasons—the missed playoffs and the Angels' current standing—there is a case to fire Scioscia. And if there is a losing season this year, with $150-plus million tied up in the team, the dismissal would be almost expected.
However, unlike the false pedestals coaches in the NFL or in the NBA have enjoyed at the expense of fan's awestruck inability to decipher otherwise, there should be enough rational thinking among MLB followers to understand that big league managers get too much credit for winning, and they get too much credit for losing. (Yes, even Bobby Valentine.)
In fact, outside of hitting a solid fungo or throwing a nice, straight batting-practice fastball, it’s possibly one of the most overrated aspects in sports.
At the end of the day, inning or series, the players are—and always will be —the strength behind the wins, and the weakness behind the losses.
That’s not to say the importance of managers throughout history doesn’t exist. I look at a Jim Leyland differently than a Lloyd McClendon, just as I look at a Mike Scioscia differently than about 96 percent of the current managers in MLB.
Managers do have their place in the system, most notably the decision making in one-run and extra-inning games—where out-thinking the opposing team’s next move and understanding situational baseball separates the decent from the bad, the good from the great.
Scioscia, from the 2002 World Series season to the end of 2012, has gone 276-242 in one-run games, while posting a decent extra-inning record in that time (70-68).
To compare that to another long-lasting skipper from a similar stretch, Joe Torre, from 2002 to 2010 (New York Yankees and L.A. Dodgers), went 209-180 in one-run games, with a 59-58 mark in extra innings.
Again, they don’t deserve all the credit for each victory. However, both managers have (or had in Torre’s case) proven their worth when it comes to managing a game—they're not just scribes hired to pencil in high-priced talent on a lineup card.
And what about a possible Mike Scioscia successor in Anaheim, say…a coach like Tony La Russa?
From 2002 to 2011, La Russa went 218-230 in one-run games and struggled to get wins in extra innings (63-67). Though he had earned one more championship ring than Scioscia during that time, you have to wonder how well La Russa would have done had there not been a young, healthy Albert Pujols—something he wouldn’t have with the Halos.
That doesn’t mean, however, La Russa would make a terrible hire for the club; any hire would be acceptable, if getting rid of a solid coach like Scioscia is made for a change in Angels culture.
I’ll say it again—a change in culture.
Regardless of records, payroll and highly touted personnel, the only reason to get rid of an elite, successful coach like Mike Scioscia would be if general manager Jerry Dipoto and owner Arte Moreno wanted to change the way things were managed outside of the actual games—meetings, practices, other coaches.
Think of it, oddly enough, as the Joe Torre-type process the Yankees did following the 2007 season. And that may not be the worst thing in the world for the Angels.
A change of scenery can be a good thing.
However, if changing the potential for wins and losses is what solely makes sense for the organization, then restructuring the talent on the field would be required before any managerial changes were made.
That is, unless the managerial move would first entail firing the general manager.