Scioscia's approach keys success
Small-ball style is root of Angels' perennial contention
ANAHEIM -- For a big man, Mike Scioscia has a deep, abiding belief in small ball.Mickey Hatcher, Scioscia's hitting coach for a decade, can pinpoint a turning point in the club's direction. It came in the planning stages of their third season, after the Angels had finished third in the American League West two years running, 10 games under .500.
"In 2002, when he sat down with the coaching staff [before Spring Training], he said, 'This is what to expect with Angels baseball,'" Hatcher said. "He laid it all out. That's when he came up with the philosophy you see in action today."We had a corps of guys that he thought we could win with playing a different style. [Ron] Roenicke was the third-base coach, and Mike stressed to Ron that we were going to run the bases aggressively, go first to third, pressure the other team." Hatcher, Scioscia's teammate with the Dodgers, was a driving force behind that franchise's memorable 1988 championship run. Hatcher played every inning of his career as if it could be his last, and his energy has served to drive and reinforce athletes under his watch. "I remember Troy Glaus and Tim Salmon saying, 'We can't hit a ground ball to second base,'" Hatcher said. "I told them, 'That's not what we're asking. Hit a deep fly ball to right field, and that'll move a guy over.' "It was a more aggressive way to play baseball, a whole mindset. Mike believed in it and didn't go away from it." Even with a club loaded with power, such as that 2002 outfit that went on to shock the baseball world with its run to a World Series title, Scioscia stressed first-to-third, move-the-runner-over, pressure baseball. "When I came up in '02 strictly as a pinch-runner and he turned me loose," said Chone Figgins, "I knew I was in the right place. This is the way the game should be played -- all out." As a leadoff catalyst and Gold Glove candidate at third base, Figgins has gone from role player to All-Star, taking full advantage of the freedom afforded by Scioscia. "He lets you play," Bobby Abreu said. "That's the best thing about Scioscia. He trusts you and lets you play the game." The new plan did not take flight quickly. The '02 Angels started 6-14, yet Scioscia persisted in stressing this new style, convinced it was the way to go. That's another of his qualities. He's like the character in the early Marvin Gaye classic -- a stubborn kind of fellow. "Mike would pull a guy over if he didn't go first to third," Hatcher said, "and he'd say, 'If you get thrown out, it's on me. I want you taking that base. Don't worry about making mistakes.'
"He was willing to take the heat, and that took some of the pressure off guys."Applying constant pressure on the opposition while relieving it internally -- that's the kind of intuitive thinking that has taken Scioscia's clubs to six division titles in his first 10 seasons, unprecedented in the history of managing. Scioscia is without argument the most successful manager in franchise history. He owns the most career wins, the only World Series title, the highest this and most that in pretty much everything that matters. He also has the security of a 10-year contract -- not that it impacts his hands-on, dedicated style and grinding nature. "He's the same guy he's always been," Roenicke, Scioscia's bench coach, said. "He's got great intelligence -- for the game and other things. Along with that, he's got common sense. They don't always go together. "He's very secure, very confident in his abilities. When he asked me to be his bench coach [after Joe Maddon left for Tampa Bay in 2006], I told him I was bringing my own opinions. He said he didn't want a yes-man." Yet ask him about himself, and that's the one time Scioscia will flip the "off" switch. "It's about the players and coaches, the organization, the scouting and development departments," he said. "It's not about me." He was raised by his parents in his eastern Pennsylvania youth to be selfless, and it seems to be working just fine. "The decision-making process gets much cleaner with experience," Scioscia said of his evolution as a manager. "You get more input from your staff, and options become much more defined. That helps you to hopefully make cleaner decisions." He'll talk about how enjoyable the ride has been, from that first staff in 2000 to today, and how everything is somehow connected to 2002, the great transforming season. Assessments of his worth and work will have to come from others. Fortunately, there are Mickey Hatchers around to crack open doors and offer glimpses into the back story of this remarkable run.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.