Longest-tenure skipper enters 17th season in Anaheim
By Hal Bodley
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mike Scioscia is Major League Baseball's longest-tenured manager and one of the highest paid. He's been in the dugout for the Angels since 2000 and has three more years to go on his contract.
In an era where the fate of MLB skippers hangs by a thread, to be around 16 years with the same team is unheard of.
To say Scioscia is a survivor is putting it mildly.
"I was hoping I'd be in my 17th year of something, but I never thought it was going to be as a manager," Scioscia said Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. "I've been given an incredible opportunity. You never know."
Scioscia is modest, but has no reason to be. He's produced six division champions, won a World Series, taken home two American League Manager of the Year Awards and won 1,416 games. To have been around that long, Scioscia has obviously had his ups and downs, but for him, it's steady as you go -- win or lose.
Scioscia guided the Angels to their first World Series title in 2002 over the Giants. In 2009, owner Arte Moreno awarded him with an almost unheard of 10-year contract extension through 2018 that pays about $5 million a season. Scioscia is destined for the Hall of Fame once his career ends.
Now, as Scioscia prepares for his 17th season in the demanding Los Angeles market, he's adjusting to a new general manager (Billy Eppler) and a completely recast coaching staff. And if that's not enough, the Halos are in desperate need of more offense.
They missed going to the postseason as a Wild Card in the last weekend of the season. The Astros beat the Angels out by one game.
Scioscia, 57, is all about the nuts and bolts of baseball because his active mind is trying to figure out how to give Mike Trout, arguably the sport's best player, more protection in the lineup. Or whether Albert Pujols, who underwent foot surgery in November, will open the season on the disabled list, and if the All-Star will eventually be healthy enough to play first base.
It's become very obvious there is an evolution now on the role of the manager. No longer is he the sole captain of the ship. The deck hands, so to speak, are taking a much more active role in running the games.
I suggested this evolution trend to Scioscia on Wednesday. His answer was quick: "I hope not. I think a manager is a manager."
Yet the day before, Joe Maddon, Scioscia's former lieutenant who's now manager of the Cubs, agreed the game is flooded with important, useful information, but that this is not fantasy baseball.
"It's real baseball, with real people," Maddon said.
"I've found that any people skills you have are more applicable and have to be applied on a daily basis, along with any data that you get," he said. "That has to be considered and almost translated into a format that players can actually apply and use."
Pausing a moment, Scioscia added: "Maybe 50 years ago, the manager just went and was never questioned. But [today] those people skills are critical to the job you have to do, because you're relating with people. You're not relating to data. You're relating to people."
Analytics have had a tremendous impact on baseball.
"I think we're all on board with the understanding of data that comes in that is going to make you better," Scioscia said. "It has to be applied and will be. ... It's made our decision-making process cleaner. It has to be applied in a format that players understand. You just have to make it functional."
What has made Scioscia so successful is his enduring philosophy. The many times I've talked to him about this, he insists, vehemently, that he has refused to change his approach.
"You have to be true to your philosophy the whole way," he said. "You can make adjustments along the way, but the one thing that is you is your philosophy -- teaching baseball and creating an environment for winning.
"When I first started, I wanted to peel the paint off things and see which direction to go. I created an environment on how I wanted to teach the game, how I was going to focus on winning and all the components that lead up to a win. That's never changed."
The Halos hired Eppler, who earned his stripes with the Yankees as an assistant to GM Brian Cashman. Having matured with the Yanks was a plus, because with Moreno and Scioscia, he must deal with two strong-willed personalities. Moreno is probably more hands on than most team owners.
"That was a non-issue for me," Eppler, 40, told reporters.
Scioscia insists the relationship is going smoothly and has been very productive.
"There is no adjustment," said Scioscia. "I think you have to be yourself. I think going into this, I'm very hard-headed, opinionated. I give my opinions. I think if you look at the other 29 managers, you could probably give the same profile.
"I don't think anybody is shy about giving their opinions, and I'm certainly not."
With a broad smile, Scioscia added: "But you're going to be told no more than yes. If you ask any manager about a team, what players he wants, you'd have a $400 million payroll and everybody would love it."
Except the owner.
Agreed, Scioscia has always stood his ground.
"On a personal level, I've given my opinion to whatever general manager I've worked for, and you have to leave it at that. I'm never shy about that," he said.
Scioscia is the first to agree Eppler is in a difficult situation.
"He's had a tall order since he came on board," said Scioscia. "Not only to kind of evaluate the wounds of us getting knocked out of the postseason or not getting to the postseason on the last day of the season, but to evaluating the team and evaluating the staff.
"He's asked for a lot of input, and it's been good."
Last summer, I asked the multitalented Trout what it's like to play for Scioscia.
"The biggest thing is he wants to win and does whatever it takes to reach that goal. That's what you want in a manager," said Trout, the 2014 AL MVP Award winner. "When we're down, he picks us up. When we're going well, he's there to support us.
"It's almost like you're here day to day, and it adds up to all these years. I never really think about the longevity or stuff like that."
Or as Scioscia says, we'll leave it at that.
Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.