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BILL PLASCHKE

For Angels' Mike Scioscia, the halo definitely fits

The Angels manager doesn't just know the game, he lives it. The Dodgers apparently didn't see that, but their loss has been the Angels' gain.

March 11, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

from tempe, ariz.

The spring-training office of the most secure leader in professional sports looks like the bedroom of a 12-year-old boy.

Flung across the desk is a bat. Looped on the end of that bat is a catcher's mitt. Sitting next to that bat is a crumpled baseball cap.

Hanging in a locker are baggy baseball sweats surrounding a pair of blue jeans.

Above that locker hangs the perfect explanation.

Scioscia, 14.

"Heck, I don't know what my philosophy is, I don't know what my style is," says Mike Scioscia, spraying on sunscreen, applying lip balm, heading out to play on a bright Tuesday morning. "It's all just baseball."

Just baseball. Just Scioscia.

Who could have dreamed that the common combination would eventually turn the quiet little Anaheim team into its own magic kingdom?

When he was stunningly hired to manage the Angels 10 years ago, who would have dreamed that he would last? When statistics showed he had managed only one team, in one season, at triple-A Albuquerque, a losing team?

Not the Dodgers, who couldn't see beyond that season and promptly kicked him to the curb.

Score it E-51, the team's biggest mistake since it came to Los Angeles in 1958.

Score it the Angels' biggest acquisition since the halo.

Under Scioscia, they have made five playoff appearances in the last seven seasons, the same amount the Dodgers have made in the last 20 years.

Under Scioscia, the Angels have won four American League West titles in the last five years, more than the franchise won in its previous 42 seasons.

Then, of course, there's that World Series championship in 2002, a moment that could have been repeated a couple of times since if not for the Boston Red Sox.

It was a loss to the Red Sox in last fall's division series that sent Scioscia reeling into what could have been the worst winter of his life.

Yet, in a demonstration of his immense popularity and influence, it turned out to be the best.

Scioscia was widely criticized for ordering a suicide squeeze bunt in the ninth inning of a must-win game in Boston, the play's failure leading directly to the Angels' defeat and elimination.

He was roasted by fans, ripped by reporters, even publicly questioned by one of his players.

Then he was rewarded by owner Arte Moreno with a contract extension that could take him through 2018, essentially making him an Angel for the rest of his professional life.

Scioscia shrugs.

"Nothing around here has changed, not one thing," he says. "We just go about our business, we just play baseball."

That is truly all they do here. Play baseball. That is why it works. That is why Scioscia works.

"The man is a machine," says outfielder Torii Hunter.

There are no clubhouse distractions here, no drama. It's the quietest loud team in the league.

There are no prima donnas here, no posing or strutting. It's the most unselfish collection of stars in the league.

"Players can say anything they want to the media," Scioscia says. "But if they have a problem with something, I'd just like for them to talk to me first."

Nothing in Scioscia's career, playing or otherwise, has been challenged like last fall's squeeze call.

The stir even reached Hunter, who told The Times he would not have called the play.

Guess who called Hunter the next day for a chat?

Says Hunter: "He gave his opinion. I gave my opinion, we totally understood each other."

Says Scioscia: "I just wanted to make sure he knew why I did it, because I'm going to be doing it again."

I think the do-or-die setting, plus the relative inexperience of batter Erick Aybar, made it a questionable call at best. I think the Angels' style that works during the regular-season marathon should be tweaked for the playoff sprints, particularly the first round's five-game run for your life.

But the call was typical Scioscia, exactly what has made him successful.

"Would I make that call again? I would absolutely make it again," he says. "We do it in spring training, we're not going to do it then? You don't change your style."

Hang around him long enough and you realize, Mike Scioscia is not a control freak, he's a baseball freak. A freak for the fundamentals of both play and behavior that have been lost in modern sport.

"There's no secret where we learned what we do," Scioscia says. "It came from growing up in the Dodger organization."

Where, as of this winter, he will probably never work again, their eternal loss being the Angels' everlasting gain.

Squeeze or not, he's still a good fit.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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Follow Plaschke at Twitter at twitter.com/latbillplaschke.

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