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BILL DWYRE

Christmas comes early -- Pujols and Wilson -- for Scioscia

Mike Scioscia got the news on an airplane, waiting to fly home from the baseball meetings. Hearing that slugger Albert Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson would be coming to Anaheim, the Angels manager could have winged his way home unaided.

December 09, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia gets an early gift from Santa.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia gets an early gift from Santa. (Matthew Emmons / U.S. Presswire )

The news arrived like most these days, in our fast-moving, wired-to-know-immediately culture.

Mike Scioscia's cellphone rang.

"I was on the plane Wednesday night, coming home from the baseball meetings in Dallas," Scioscia said. "We were about to take off, my phone rang, and it was Arte."

The owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Arte Moreno, was calling his manager.

"He asked if I was sitting down," Scioscia said. "I told him I even had my seat belt fastened.

"Then he told me about Albert."

Photos: Albert Pujols through the years

And so, Christmas came early for the man many consider Major League Baseball's best manager. Moreno followed his gift of the slugger Scioscia calls "the best player of our generation" with a much-coveted left-handed pitcher, C.J. Wilson.

It took $254 million to coax Pujols away from the world champion St. Louis Cardinals and $77.5 million more to steal Wilson away from the American League champion Texas Rangers.

Yes, crazy money, irrational expenditures, risky business.

One Los Angeles sports columnist raised the question just hours before the Pujols announcement as to whether anybody willing to spend that sort of money for a baseball player was just nuts.

As it turned out, the question needed to be directed at Moreno. Still does.

Scioscia, who doesn't have to meet payroll, saw things this way.

"My owner stepped up," he said. "He took the best player of our generation and put him in an Angels uniform."

Scioscia said that the only thing in his 12 years with the Angels "that comes even close" to the signing of an Albert Pujols is "when we got Vladdy [Guerrero] in 2004."

He also said that once he got the news, he really didn't need the airplane he was sitting in to fly home. "It was a great several hours, just playing around with possible lineups."

Notable in the description of how Scioscia received the big news was that he wasn't in the middle of it. He had told one reporter earlier Wednesday that he knew little about any pursuit of Pujols and said Thursday that he had merely given his input in earlier meetings.

"We talked about Jose Reyes, Pujols, lots of people," Scioscia said. "And the probability of getting somebody the caliber of Albert seemed slim. That was in meetings after the season, even before Jerry [Dipoto, the new general manager] came on board. I give my input, and they take it from there."

That would come as a surprise to another Los Angeles sports columnist who has written often that nothing of import happens without Scioscia being in the middle of it. Certainly not on an airplane, heading home, while papers were being signed.

"That's silly," Scioscia said. "I give my opinion, and that's it. If there is a major league manager out there who doesn't give input, who doesn't express his opinion, then I have yet to meet him."

Scioscia said he had already talked to Mark Trumbo, who starred as a rookie first baseman last season for the Angels. First base is Pujols' position.

"Mark is on board," Scioscia said. "He is willing to try third base, and he can play some in the outfield, as well as fill in as our designated hitter. He can also play first base when Albert needs some time off."

Scioscia was also asked about yet another Angels first baseman with star quality, the power-hitting Kendrys Morales, who missed all of last season when a broken leg suffered in 2010 didn't heal properly.

"Before we do much planning about Kendrys," Scioscia said, "we have to make sure he is healthy and able to play."

Ever hear the term "trade bait?"

Between now and the Angels' opener in early April, much will be written about the Pujols signing. Will it be a turning point in the battle for marketplace dominance with the bankrupt, flailing Dodgers, who countered Thursday by signing career 95-94 pitcher Aaron Harang? (Get out the party hats.)

Will the presence of Albert Pujols finally make trips down the 405 and 5 freeways palatable? Will the prices of peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jack rise dramatically at the Big A?

Will the Big A now stand for Albert, instead of Angels?

And will there be a revised rallying cry for C.J. Wilson, who seemed to trigger a new attitude among his Texas Rangers a few years ago when he said, in reference to an Angels team that had previously dominated the Rangers in the American League West, "We are better than they are."

Based on Thursday's events, it should be easy for Wilson. He can just say, "The Rangers used to be better."

Paying this amount of money for baseball players is outrageous.

Giving some hope and excitement to loyal fans who have watched the recent Angels kill more rallies than an army of riot police is commendable.

Thinking of Scioscia, excited as a little kid, sitting on an airplane in December and drawing up lineup cards with the name "Pujols" placed in the Nos. 3 or 4 hitting spots.

Priceless.

Full coverage: Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson sign with Angels

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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