Despite ups and downs, Scioscia still Angels' rock

Despite ups and downs, Scioscia still Angels' rock

ANAHEIM -- There have been times this season when Mike Scioscia sure didn't figure to be having much fun. There was the 6-14 record to begin the year, coinciding with the mystifying slump of Albert Pujols and proof to many that the Angels were crumbling under the weight of unfamiliar expectations. And there was that 14-22 start to the second half, placing the Halos in the uphill climb they currently face while putting Scioscia's status in question like never before.

The Angels skipper is still not trading jobs with anyone, though.

"A funny thing about it is, even the worst days that you have on this job, it's still baseball," Scioscia said. "You're doing something you love. It's a privilege to be able to do something you have such a deep passion for. I don't take that for granted."

The one constant

Baseball rosters turn over more frequently than ever these days, but Scioscia, who spent his entire playing career with the Dodgers, has been immune to it.

This 2012 season is his 13th as manager of the Angels. The only one who comes close to that kind of staying power in this game is Ron Gardenhire, who is in his 11th year with the Twins. Besides that, only the Phillies' Charlie Manuel (eight), the Rays' Joe Maddon (seven), the Tigers' Jim Leyland (seven), the Rangers' Ron Washington (six), the Giants' Bruce Bochy (six) and the Padres' Bud Black (six) have been steering their current team for longer than five years.

Since Scioscia's first season as Angels skipper in 2000, only two players (Adam Kennedy and Ramon Ortiz) are still active in the big leagues. Only first-base coach A.J. Griffin has been on his staff the entire time. And Jerry Dipoto is now his third general manager.

But Scioscia, signed through 2018, doesn't spend much time reflecting, nor does he look ahead much, either. The cliche he often spews when asked about upcoming matchups against the Rangers or Yankees -- "every game is important" -- is one he actually lives his life by.

"I'm looking at our season this year and I'm looking at the challenges we've talked about every day, trying to meet them," Scioscia said. "I'm not looking back. I'm privileged to have had a great opportunity here. We get great support from ownership and we have a terrific team. That's all I'm looking at. I'm not looking back to any accomplishments, or any length of service or saying, 'You've done this, you've done that.' I'm looking at this year. That's the way I go about it."

You don't last very long in this business without that day-to-day focus.

And Scioscia, the ex-Dodgers catcher groomed under Tommy Lasorda, has lasted with an undying belief in his players and an unwavering commitment to the principles he preaches, which remain constant through success and failure and time.

Asked about his managerial style now compared to 13 years ago, the 53-year-old Scioscia said: "There's no doubt my philosophy is not only the same, but I think it's been really confirmed over time, about how you want to go about playing this game, how you want to prepare players and what you're looking for in a winning team. That hasn't changed a bit."

Asked about keeping his message fresh with attention spans shorter than ever, Scioscia believes outside factors do it for him.

"Major League Baseball clubhouses will slowly turn over through attrition," he said. "Whether guys are traded or whether someone else comes along that takes a position, whatever happens, [it] keeps a new audience in there for you."

In an age of smartphones and tablets, Scioscia, perhaps, is the calculator -- mostly unchanged through time, but still useful and effective.

It's tough to argue with his results. Since taking over, Scioscia has given Anaheim its only World Series championship, has been named American League Manager of the Year twice, has led his team to the playoffs six times and has posted a .548 winning percentage.

But this year -- a year that began with so much hype and buildup after the offseason signings of Pujols and C.J. Wilson -- has been a trying one, from the offensive struggles that caused a rough April to the woeful pitching issues that led to another bad stretch immediately after the All-Star break.

Riding the highs and lows

Scioscia refuses to blame the high expectations on the struggles -- "The expectations that we have as a staff are higher than you would have as media, or fans would have" -- and calls the stress level of 2012 "the same."

"I wouldn't call it stress," he added. "You deal with frustration at times, when you're not performing to the level you can, and that's happened from Year 1 to this year, at certain times during the season. You're dealing with tragedies [like Nick Adenhart's death in '09], you're dealing with players on the field whose careers have ended because of injury. You deal with that all the way through. I don't look at it as stress. I look at it as coming in and preparing a team and evaluating and communicating with your coaches and getting input to make decisions, and really just trying to set the environment where these players are going to play to their level. That's it."

Up until just recently, the Angels weren't playing to their potential. That was clearest on Aug. 19, after they concluded a 3-7 homestand with a four-game sweep by the Rays to reach the lowest point in their season.

After that, Scioscia was asked in a postgame setting about the pressures he's feeling.

"I'm not taking it easy," Scioscia said, "but as far as the way I go about my business, nothing's changed in 13 years."

Owner Arte Moreno was asked by MLB.com about Scioscia's job status.

"I signed Mike long term," Moreno said, "and I'm invested in Mike long term."

And Dipoto was asked the same by two local newspapers.

"He has a very long track record that suggests he's qualified," Dipoto said. "I say, let him do his job."

And then suddenly, Scioscia's Angels started winning again.

Their 15-4 record since Aug. 20 is the best in the Majors, putting them only 1 1/2 games back of the second AL Wild Card spot entering Tuesday thanks to a second season-saving run. Nobody knows what will happen over the next 20 games. And if it leads to a third straight postseason absence -- from a roster with so much star power -- nobody knows what will become of the longest-tenured manager in baseball.

But through it all -- the highs, the lows, the failures, the triumphs -- Scioscia will tell you about something else that has gone unchanged in 13 years at the helm: His passion for this job.

"No doubt," he said. "This is a kick. I love it. I love coming here, I love what this job brings, both the pluses and minuses. I'm a baseball rat."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.