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BILL PLASCHKE

Dodgers should emulate Angels

July 04, 2008|Bill Plaschke

In one dugout, they were fuming.

"Our club is not where we were projected to be. . . . We are not firing on all cylinders," said Manager Mike Scioscia.

At that moment, his Angels had the fourth-best winning percentage in baseball.

In the other dugout, they were thankful.

"It's amazing, I agree," said Manager Joe Torre. "We're very fortunate to be where we are."

At that moment, his Dodgers had the 22nd-best winning percentage in baseball.

The Angels consistently win, but it's not enough.

The Dodgers lose but, hey, well, everybody else in the division stinks, so whoopee!

Those quotes given last weekend are symbolic of the last eight years.

Like the city whose name they share, the Angels and Dodgers are a clash of cultures.

The Angels expect to win.

The Dodgers don't know what to expect.

The Angels live by a standard of excellence.

The Dodgers live by the seat of their pants.

Scioscia speaks from the strongest seat of any major league manager -- unchallenged, unquestioned, and undeniably the boss.

"Winning the World Series certainly puts your organization at a different level, but it has to be more than that," Scioscia said.

Torre sits on a throne of cardboard, deserving of instant respect but admittedly receiving little from a crowd much more amateur than those professional New York Yankees.

His young players still don't listen. When they should be looking at the scoreboard, they are looking in the mirror. When they should be moving the runner from first, they are often only interested in advancing themselves.

The Angels are all about winning in October.

The Dodgers are all about surviving tonight.

"It's frustrating at times," Torre said. "My job is not clear cut as far as how much time it will take."

When Frank McCourt examines the admirable amounts of money he has spent to revive the Dodgers franchise, he needs to look at those two dugouts, and ask himself two questions:

Is all this money changing the culture?

Is he rebuilding the championship belief system that Scioscia took with him to the Angels?

So far, no good.

McCourt finally has the right manager, but all the losing is turning Torre into just another museum piece. Hired for his gravity, Torre's surroundings have rendered him weightless.

McCourt may have some of the right kids but not all of the right kids. They all might eventually be All-Stars, but it's clearly not going to happen for all of them here.

While waiting for some of these players to figure it out, McCourt needs to figure them out.

Who is a ballplayer? Who is not? Who can continue to grow here? Who will not?

Blake DeWitt, he's a ballplayer.

How do they find a bunch of other guys who play the game the right way like he does?

Some of their other youngsters have much more talent, but, having been coddled since double A, they might never become ballplayers here.

It may be time to trade some of that flashy talent for somebody who understands the fundamentals. And, yes, once again, Matt Kemp's name is being whispered through Dodgers offices.

Players such as Kemp and Andre Ethier and James Loney have been more highly touted than guys such as Casey Kotchman, Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar.

But it is those Angels who have a better understanding of winning.

Before Thursday, the Dodgers had a better team batting average and on-base percentage than the Angels, while scoring only 10 fewer runs.

Yet the Angels had won 11 more games.

Why?

The Angels have a culture that believes in winning over statistics, winning over awards, winning over everything.

It's a culture where the Angels have committed seven fewer errors, grounded into eight fewer double plays, and do all the little things that are hidden beneath the numbers.

Then there's the statistic that shows a team's ability to win close games while manufacturing runs.

The Dodgers are 1-31 when they score two runs or fewer, while the Angels are 8-13.

The Angels lose John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, and they just get better.

The Dodgers lose Andrew Jones and Rafael Furcal, and they fall apart.

Scioscia's current team isn't as glitzy as his former team. But on a daily basis, they make a far stronger commitment to obtain the only piece of baseball jewelry that matters.

"What the Angels have, they've got ballplayers," said Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti. "They refuse to have anything else. That was the Dodgers three decades ago. That's where we're trying to go now."

And so this discussion leads to the same place it leads seemingly every night in the bleachers and on Dodger Talk.

What about Ned?

He has had the flexibility. He has had the money. He has had his chance.

But some nights, it seems as if every Dodger he acquired in his three years here is either too old, too bruised or too boneheaded to figure out how to win.

Some nights, many nights, the Dodgers are the worst possible embodiment in a town that understands baseball.

They are the anti-Angels.

Part of the reason that Paul DePodesta was fired from his job as the previous Dodgers general manager was because, during his final aborted managerial search, he did not even inquire about the availability of Scioscia.

If the same fate befalls Colletti this winter, it will be because he could not create the sort of culture embraced by the likes of Scioscia.

Colletti will be fired for not imitating the Angels way.

Because, doggone it, it used to be the Dodgers way.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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