Angels Manager Mike Scioscia has overseen the most successful era in the… (Craig Lassig / EPA )
No one anticipated the Angels would coax the superstar first baseman away from the only team he had ever known, from the fans that had adored him. Yet the Angels swooped in, signed him to the richest contract in franchise history and set sail for October.
Then the season started. Soon after, so did the defeats, the dissension, and the dismissals.
Albert Pujols, meet Mo Vaughn.
This could be 1999 all over again. By the time the debacle of Vaughn's debut season was over, the players had staged a mutiny and the ownership had cleaned house.
The Angels hired Mike Scioscia the next year, the start of the most successful run in franchise history. However, after Tuesday's firing of his close friend and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, you wonder if that run might be coming to an end.
Angels owner Arte Moreno cleaned house in the front office last winter. Scioscia remained, but the big chill between him and new General Manager Jerry Dipoto might make coexistence a tenuous proposition.
When Scioscia met with the media before Wednesday's game, he held a red fungo bat so tightly he almost squeezed it into sawdust. He spoke tersely, letting everyone know that firing Hatcher was not his idea.
"We respect the job the general manager has to do," Scioscia said.
He scoffed at the idea that a change in the identity of the hitting coach would solve the Angels' offensive woes.
"We were not in an offensive funk because of Mickey," Scioscia said.
After four questions about the coaching change, he had heard enough.
"Anything about the game?" Scioscia said.
Dipoto did not claim that the Angels were in an offensive funk because of Hatcher.
"I think the world of Mickey Hatcher. I really do," Dipoto said. "Sometimes I do believe you need a different voice. This might be that time."
Scioscia's voice has been heard here as long as Hatcher's. Might it be time for a different voice in the manager's office?
"Mike has done a fabulous job," Dipoto said. "This is a reflection of where we are offensively. I'll leave it at that."
Scioscia has lost his predominant voice in player personnel decisions. He has lost three coaches — Bud Black, Joe Maddon and Ron Roenicke — to managerial jobs elsewhere. But, in Scioscia's 13 seasons, never had the Angels fired one of his coaches.
Never, too, had a respected clubhouse leader appeared to call him out publicly — until last month, when Torii Hunter said, "We're just going through the motions. We have to do what we're capable of doing. That's everybody, not just the players."
And never had an import publicly criticized Hatcher barely three weeks into a season — until Pujols ripped him for sharing innocuous details of a hitters' meeting.
Pujols essentially announced his distrust of Hatcher. Three weeks later, Hatcher was gone. Dipoto denied the Pujols incident influenced the decision to fire Hatcher.
Mark Trumbo expressed his regret that a man had lost his job. So did Peter Bourjos, and so did Mike Trout, and so did Vernon Wells.
Pujols offered no sympathy, or any other comment.
"I don't want to talk about that," Pujols said before the game. "You guys are just looking for a story."
The Angels used to have a larger-than-life picture of Scioscia hanging outside Angel Stadium. That picture was removed this season, a dash of Kremlinology at the dawn of the Dipoto Era.
Moreno does not take the Angels' results lightly. The Angels are stumbling in the depths of the American League, with attendance down 14% in the first year of the Pujols Era.
Scioscia, working for a general manager who did not hire him and an owner who pushed the payroll beyond comfort, said later that he does not worry about whether this might be the beginning of the end of his era.
"It's not my decision," Scioscia said. "It doesn't change anything I would do day to day. I don't think about that."
He says he does not believe his voice is tired or stale.
"This is fresh," he said. "I love it. It's still a challenge."
There was a moment before Wednesday's game when Dipoto and Scioscia were on the field, a few feet from one another. Neither man stopped to talk to the other.