Scioscia needs to turn things around

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The tributes have been rolling in all week to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Angels’ World Series win in 2002.

Several players looking slightly different than they did during that magical run 10 years ago have been throwing out the first pitch before each game during this 10-game homestand, culminating in a team reunion on Saturday night.

The one constant over the past 10 years has been Mike Scioscia’s presence in the Angels’ dugout.

“I’m probably 40 pounds heavier,” Scioscia said Friday night. “With a little less hair.”

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was Scioscia’s bench coach with the Angels from 2000-2005 and was the team’s interim manager in 1996 and 1999, laughed when he heard Sciosca’s line.

“I thought he lost a couple pounds,” Maddon said. “Either that or he’s wearing bigger shirts, one of the two.”

This 10-game homestand was supposed to be a celebration of the Angels’ past and perhaps a turning point for the current team. Instead, after Maddon's Rays beat the Angels on Friday, 12-3, they have gone 3-5 (and 5-11 in August) and have slowly faded in their playoff race. As they show highlights of the Angels’ World Series run in between innings night after night, the difference between the clubs then and now couldn’t be any more noticeable.

The Cinderella story on the video board is a stark contrast to the highly-paid underachievers currently on the field.

“Expectations change everything,” said Tim Salmon, one of the heroes of the Angels' World Series team in 2002. “You look at us when we won it. There were no expectations. Look at us against the Yankees. The Yankees were the ones with the high payroll and high profile players. All the pressure was on them and we had nothing to lose. We went out there and played loose and won. They were the ones who were playing with all the pressure. I think there’s a big difference between the team I played on and the teams here the past few years. There’s pressure because they’re supposed to have the team to win it all. They’re not settling for anything less than a championship now.”

It’s an expectation that Scioscia helped build in 2002 and one that he must now live up to 10 years later.

The Angels were in the midst of a 15-year playoff drought when Scioscia led them to their first World Series title in 2002. Since then he has led them to five division titles, but if the Angels fail to make the playoff this season it will mark the third consecutive year the Angels missed the postseason, the longest drought since Scioscia took over the team.

“Nobody has higher expectations, fans, media or anyone, than I personally do or our organization does for our team,” Scioscia said. “Our expectations have always been off the charts and at a very, very high level here for what we feel we can do. Even in our first year here we felt we had a championship caliber club. We didn’t get there, it took us awhile. But I think you have to carry that attitude forward.

“There’s no doubt high expectations are at times going to lead to frustrations and we’ve been trying to swim through that at times this year but our ability as staff to get these guys to play the game free and to the level they can is critical when you have high expectations and hopefully we’re going to see it on a more consistent basis.”

Three years ago Scioscia signed a 10-year contract extension with the Angels that should keep him with the franchise through the 2018 season. It was a decision that made sense at the time. Scioscia is the Angels' all-time managerial leader in wins, games managed, and division titles and is the only manager to lead his team to the postseason in six of his first ten seasons.

The economics of the Angels, however, have changed since then. After inking a reported 20-year, $3 billion television contract with Fox Sports last year and signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to deals this offseason worth over $330 million over 10 years, the Angels can no longer live on the past.

This isn’t to say Scioscia is necessarily the problem, but that he should be held to the same standard other big market teams with big payrolls are held to. If the Yankees or Red Sox go three seasons without a trip to the postseason, chances are the previous accomplishments of the manager during that drought will not be enough to save his job.

Scioscia is currently the longest tenured manager in baseball, an honor he doesn’t really think too much about as he sees the constant turnover with other teams.

“We’re not looking back 10 years or eight years or seven years and saying what a team and what a job we did,” Scioscia said. “This is the here and now and we’re moving forward. That’s at all times with this job. Every day you come to the park there’s a whole new set of challenges. It’s all about where you are now and where you are moving forward.”

It’s a philosophy the Angels might have to adopt themselves in the offseason if they fail to make the playoffs. They were able to pass off the hitting woes by firing hitting coach Mickey Hatcher and could pass the buck on the pitching problems by parting ways with pitching coach Mike Butcher in the offseason.

But like a struggling football coach firing his offensive and defensive coordinators after a bad season, at some point the man in charge has to take the blame.

There’s no doubt, regardless of how this season ends for the Angels, Scioscia will be back. But there’s also no doubt this franchise has drastically changed from the one that gave Scioscia a 10-year contract three years ago.