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Angels are a reflection of Mike Scioscia

Manager enhances his credibility with players through an approach that runs the gamut from relaxed to serious.

October 07, 2009|Kevin Baxter

The typical baseball locker room has the subtle charm of a fraternity house. The music is loud, the jokes are lewd and the reading material . . . well, let's just say most of it was once wrapped in brown paper.

The Angels' clubhouse, however, is more like the waiting room at your dentist's office: quiet, polite, with nothing more provocative lying around than a newspaper.

"If anything, if you walk into the clubhouse there's definitely a relaxed feel," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "But there is a focus that these guys bring. As that clock starts to get closer to game time, you start to see that focus come into play."

That's the way Scioscia approached games during his playing career as a two-time All-Star catcher with the Dodgers. And the foundation he has built here as a manager may go further in explaining his success than anything that happens on the field.

"He tells the guys right off, 'I don't have a lot of rules, but these are the things you just don't mess with,' " bench coach Ron Roenicke said.

Said reliever Darren Oliver: "He's kind of like that dad, you know when you're playing around too much, he kind of like rattles the newspaper? That's the only way I can kind of put it."

However it is described, it has put Scioscia among the elite managers in the game.

When the Angels open the American League playoffs with Boston on Thursday, Scioscia will become the first manager to reach the postseason six times in his first 10 seasons. And the Angels, who won as many as 90 games in a season only four times in their first 38 years, have averaged that many in their decade under Scioscia.

"It's definitely not an accident," Texas Rangers Manager Ron Washington said. "Because his players believe in him, they go out there and they play the game the way it's supposed to be played. He's relayed the message. And I just hope one day I can get to the point where I can relay the messages that he's relayed to his team."

Never was Scioscia's approach more important in keeping the Angels upright than this summer, when injuries took out two-thirds of the outfield and fourth-fifths of the pitching rotation.

But those were baseball problems, the kind every team deals with. The big test came within hours of the third game of the season when rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart and two friends were killed when the car they were in was struck by an alleged drunk driver a few miles from the ballpark.

"There's no managing manual on how you deal with anything like what happened with Nick," Scioscia said. "There's no parenting manual. That's still something you wake up and see his locker and you kind of shake your head. We're still trying to come to grips with it."

The reeling Angels remained stuck at .500 in early June. But then the players closed ranks behind their manager and were 69-36 the rest of the way, winning their third consecutive division title and fourth in five seasons.

"He has respect from them so when he asks them to do something, there's not really grumbling," Roenicke said. "If he asks them to do something, it's for a reason, he'll explain it and if it makes sense they'll go 'OK.' "

While Scioscia's approach appears no-nonsense, it isn't no-fun, especially in spring training, where the laughter from the manager's morning meetings can be heard through the clubhouse walls.

"Spring training with Scioscia," said Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Chris Bootcheck, a former Angel, "was the most fun I've had in baseball."

Most days begin with a report from a player assigned by Scioscia to complete some inane task. Reggie Willits and Bobby Wilson were part of a group once sent to the store to buy toys, which they had to assemble and play with in front of their teammates.

Another time a young player who attended the same Texas community college as John Lackey was told to get a copy of Lackey's transcripts. When the transcripts showed Lackey received an incomplete grade in a math class, Scioscia talked a math professor into visiting the clubhouse to give Lackey a test.

Lackey also once had to draw a map of Texas and mark all the locations of Scioscia's favorite Mexican restaurants.

It's madness, sure. But there's a method to it.

"It's not just the sense of humor," one Angels executive said. "It's the breaking down of barriers with 65 guys, showing them they're all the same."

Like the time he ordered Texas native Brandon Wood out to dinner with Dominican Erick Aybar and Cuban Kendry Morales, forbidding Wood to speak to his teammates in English and banning the Latins from speaking Spanish.

"He's got a great feeling for the players. And he really cares about them," Roenicke said. "That goes a long way because these guys, they all know he cares about them."

Let other clubhouses revel in the raunchy, then. Scioscia's revels in respect.

Predictably, the manager deflects any credit to his coaches, being sure to recognize each one by name, down to bullpen catcher Steve Soliz.

The biggest part of leading, after all, is knowing when to get out of the way.

"A manager is not really about one person," Scioscia said. "It's about a whole staff. It helps to keep your philosophy in place. There's a lot of things that are important when you're running a club but none more important than setting the environment. Those guys created a stability around here that the players have responded to.

"[But] the only time you're really satisfied when you're part of a club that has high expectations is when you get to the World Series and win."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

SCIOSCIA AS MANAGER

Mike Scioscia's managerial record, all with the Angels, and American League West Division finish. Scioscia has won one World Series title and was AL manager of the year in 2002:

*--* YEAR WIN LOSS PCT. FINISH YEAR WIN LOSS PCT. FINISH 2000 82 80 506 3 2005 95 67 586 1 2001 75 87 463 3 2006 89 73 549 2 2002 99 63 611 2 2007 94 68 580 1 2003 77 85 475 3 2008 100 62 617 1 2004 92 70 568 1 2009 97 65 599 1 *--*

Source: baseballreference.com

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