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COVER STORY

Nice Guys Finish First

Mike Scioscia Begins a New Season Managing the World Champion Angels With His Simple Philosophy Intact: Respect Others. Know What You Want. Work Hard. Do the Little Things Right. Now, Tell Us Again, Why Didn't That Play in L.A.?

April 06, 2003|Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin is a Times staff writer.

Few dream of growing up to be manager of the Anaheim Angels. Certainly not Mike Scioscia, a Philadelphia kid who became a fierce, formidable catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not the man who learned his craft at the knee of Roy Campanella, who learned about baseball strategy and managing men from Tommy Lasorda, who learned how to love a team from Peter O'Malley.

But four years ago, after having spent 23 years in the Dodger organization, Scioscia was told he was welcome to leave. He learned that his willingness to bleed Dodger blue wasn't so prized by the new corporate ownership. So now Scioscia is manager of the Angels--the World Champion Anaheim Angels. He got there not only by knowing what he wants, but who he is. "One thing I'll always believe," he says, "is that I have to do the things I believe in, and do them my way. It's the only way I can be. If I'm going to be fired or if I have to quit a job, I can accept it only if I know I behaved the way I believe was right."

Scioscia believes, above all else, in family. And so, on President's Day Monday, a February school holiday for 14-year-old Matthew Scioscia and 11-year-old Taylor Scioscia, their father has grabbed a bat, a glove and four balls and ducked out of his small office at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Arizona, where the Angels conduct spring training. His kids and wife, Anne, have come to spend a three-day weekend. This might be the fourth day of spring training and there might be a dozen messages on his voice mail and an insistent list of requests and obligations, photos to be taken, interviews to be conducted. But the Angels manager is hustling his son and daughter out onto the field.

It's a perfect day in the desert. The sky is blue, the temperature is 72 degrees. The field is bright green and not yet trampled by the games to come. The only sound is that of Scioscia's voice and his bat striking the ball. He is hitting pop-ups to his son, who is nursing a broken wrist, while his daughter chases the uncatchable balls. It's a simple half hour of play. It's one of the little things Scioscia believes a father should do with his children, because it's what his father, Fred, did with young Mike. There are other things that Scioscia believes. He believes that baseball is a game, not life, and that life is not complicated: have some values, have a plan, live. He believes, too, that little things--whether a stolen half hour with his kids or a well-executed squeeze play--can add up in the end.

As Scioscia's team moved from laughingstock to oddity to lovable world champions last season, what was said most often about them was that the Angels played as a team. The players were applauded for setting aside their egos. Fans saw their work ethic unfold each time home-run hitter Troy Glaus sacrificed an at-bat to move a runner, or outfielder Darin Erstad hurled his body to make a catch. They saw it whenever David Eckstein or Tim Salmon or Scott Spiezio played hit-and-run, knew when to take an extra base, considered a run-scoring infield hit as important as a spectacular home run. It became known as small ball, or little ball.

"There's no secret," Scioscia has said, in various ways, again and again. "It's fundamental baseball. It's understanding that you need an entire team doing things the right way."

To Scioscia, the rules are never difficult. Life is simple. Not easy, but simple. Study hard, get good grades. Make your bed, clean your room. Understand the rules, don't be late. Respect your parents, aunts and uncles, teachers and coaches. Treat people as you expect to be treated. Make good choices. So instead of joining other Angels coaches for a golf outing, Scioscia spends an afternoon with his kids. Nothing dramatic; it's just what a good father does.

"It's how Mike operates," says Mickey Hatcher, the Angels hitting coach and one of Scioscia's former Dodger teammates. "Mike does things the right way in every part of his life."

Can that really be true? Let's check the box score to see how Scioscia's simple ethic played out in nine of his life's most important innings.

*

Anne

Anne Mcilqueham was living in Inglewood in may of 1981, going to school, learning to become an X-ray technician. She was living a student life, short on money and always looking for fun things to do on the weekend. She and a friend made plans every Saturday and Sunday to see a movie, to have brunch. Nothing fancy, always cheap. On a particular summer weekend 21 years ago, Anne's friend had good news.

"Her family had Dodger season tickets and they weren't using them," Anne recalls. "We could have the tickets for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. For free."

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