Scioscia among game's best leaders

Scioscia among game's best

Mike Scioscia is the most underrated manager in the Majors.

That might sound ridiculous, but there's no better way to describe the Los Angeles Angels skipper.

He shocked the establishment when he won the 2002 World Series with a Wild Card team in just his third year at the helm, ending 41 years of disappointment in Anaheim. Add to that three American League West Division titles and it doesn't ring true to say he's underrated.

To suggest Mike Scioscia is baseball's best-kept secret is even more absurd.

As I travel around the Majors it's seldom Mike Scioscia's name doesn't come up. He gets high marks from scouts, players and managers.

"He's one of the best in the business," says the Phillies' Charlie Manuel. "I've talked to him a lot. I'm very impressed with his approach to the game."

As we near the midpoint of this season, the Angels are firmly in control of their division. I might get an argument from the Red Sox, but I think they're the best team in the AL right now.

And name a club with a better starting rotation.

I spent some time with Scioscia last week and he told me he thinks this team could be better than his 2002 champions.

"We haven't even reached our peak yet," he says. "Our lineup is as deep as it's been in the last five years."

Only Connie Mack and John McGraw have won more games as managers than Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox. Joe Torre, Lou Piniella and Jim Leyland are also members of that elite group.

When I say Scioscia, 49, is underrated, it's because people often forget him when they discuss today's best managers.

That is wrong.

Former Major Leaguer Harold Reynolds, my MLB.com "teammate," agrees. Reynolds has never been known to offer false praise.

"Mike Scioscia does a great job of teaching and guiding guys," says Reynolds. "Now, their performance levels are starting to show up."

The rotation is awesome.

Last week, as the Angels swept the Phillies, their pitching completely shut down one of the most potent offenses in the Majors. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell, who entered the series with a collective 59 homers, had the same number when the Angels left town. The Phillies were outhit 33-13.

John Lackey, who opened the season on the disabled list because of a right triceps strain, didn't make his first start until May 14. Since then, he's shown no signs of a falloff from 2007, when he was 19-9 and had the best earned run average (3.01) in the AL. In eight starts, he's 5-2 with an uncanny 1.65 ERA.

"He's their No. 1 guy, the stabilizing force in their rotation," says Reynolds. "I like the fact Scioscia took time with him while he got healthy."

Following Lackey in the rotation is Jered Weaver (7-7, 4.56), Jon Garland (7-4, 4.05), Joe Saunders (11-3, 3.03) and Ervin Santana (9-3, 3.32).

The bullpen is just as strong. It's no surprise closer Francisco Rodriguez leads the Majors with 31 saves. His ERA is 2.06.

It's only fitting to talk about Scioscia this weekend because he takes his Angels to Dodger Stadium for three games against the team he played with for so many years.

I'm sure he'll run into his mentor, Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda. What also makes this Interleague series so enticing is that when Scioscia became a manager, he brought along his National League style of play. The Angels have won 33 of 59 games against the Dodgers.

Scioscia, who spent his entire 13-season career with the Dodgers, confesses that even though the AL uses the designated hitter, "I still prefer the NL where the pitcher bats. There's a kind of baseball education I received with the Dodgers I've carried forward."

Lasorda, now a special advisor to Dodgers chairman Frank McCourt, always predicted his protégé would be a great manager.

"I told him, 'You will be a Major League manager some day,' " remembers Lasorda. "I said, 'You have the ability, you have the knowledge and you certainly have the correct attitude.'"

Every time Mike and I talk he keeps emphasizing on-base percentage and having his runners go from first to third. "I always look at how many guys we get in scoring position," he says. "I've never felt we can let on-base percentage die on the vine."

The Angels are still a running team, but probably not quite as much as in the past. That's because they have more firepower, more offense.

Scioscia, signed through 2009 at more than $2 million a year -- the Angels have an option for 2010 -- is about as secure as any manager can be.

Several years ago, team owner Arte Moreno told me, "Mike's family. One of the first things I did when I walked in the door was commit to signing him long term."

Earlier this year Moreno told a reporter, "Mike was here when I arrived and will be here when I leave."

Scioscia, who grew up near Philadelphia and was a diehard Phillies fan, had never before managed against them in their ballpark. It was a reunion of sorts as Mike showed his friends and relatives what they already knew -- that he's a top-notch manager.

"It still seems sort of strange whenever I see somebody wearing a red cap with a 'P' on it," he says. This weekend there'll be another homecoming, but he's no stranger in Dodger Stadium. In Chavez Ravine, he's now the enemy in the hotly contested rivalry.

I'm convinced it won't be too long before Scioscia is mentioned in the same breath with La Russa, Cox, Torre, et al.

That is if he isn't already.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.