On the cusp of historic victory, Scioscia still has sense of purpose

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Managers must have vast knowledge about the basic rules, tactics and the fundamentals associated with the game. Mike Scioscia, the Angels longtime manager, nurtures all of those qualities.

He played for the legendary Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda for the entirety of his 13-year career. He spent his playing days in Los Angeles, then he commuted to Anaheim for managerial work and taught those beneath him what his mentor incorporated into his lesson that wasn’t textbook schooling. It was, indeed, collected wisdom he gained from Lasorda as the older he grew.

The winter of 1999, the dawn of a new era, Scioscia was hired to manage the Angels and has held the position ever since. Nearly two decades later, he’s still resting his arms on top of the railing, observing the action from the dugout. For the better part of his tenure, he has compiled a record of 1,599 with a win percentage of .539 and approaches a monumental milestone that he can attain this week.

Scioscia, the most successful manager in Angels history, only needs one more victory to surpass Lasorda’s achievement with 1,600 managerial wins. And you knew the day was coming when he’d come near the top of the wins list. You knew the day was coming when he’d forge ahead of the now-90-year-old, father-like buff, who Scioscia looked to for inspiration and guidance.

The 11-4 victory over the Yankees in the Bronx on Saturday was a personal triumph for Scioscia, a winner who remarkably led the Angels to their only World Series championship and six American League West titles since the start of the new millennium.

For most, if not all Angel fans, it seems as if general manager Billy Eppler has been too nice to Scioscia. He hasn’t asked the former Dodger catcher to pack up and leave the team’s clubhouse. He knows what kind of man Scioscia is, so he won’t escort him from the building. He knows what Scioscia actually can achieve with the talent he has, so Eppler won’t fire him.

It speaks more to the team’s appreciation for what he’s done for the franchise and it outweighs the Angels’ disastrous 74-88 season in 2016, their worst since 1999. They finished fourth in the American League West and failed to make the playoffs.

Even as much as the Angels fell into the habit of losing a significant amount of games, Scioscia’s job was safe. Not only did he earn himself staying power with the Angels, in addition to being the foundational mainstay for a club in Anaheim, but he fortified the team at a time when it needed a sudden jolt.

He has done a good job managing the team for the past 19 seasons. He has gone to the postseason seven times, the only Angels manager to record more than two playoff appearances. His body of work over the years demonstrates, while he has been unsuccessful in guiding his team to the playoffs for three straight seasons, that he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame.

For those who have looked past the playoff drought the last three seasons, Scioscia became the first manager in MLB history to take his team to the playoffs six times in his first 10 seasons. With a 80-82 record last October, the Angels didn’t miss the postseason by much.

Just when it seemed as if all hope was lost, the season took a completely different turn with a stretch run. The Angels, who were five games back of Minnesota, didn’t count themselves out of the race. They were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs after a 6-4, 10-inning loss to the Chicago White Sox.

But the manager can’t swing the bat or toss a pitch for his players. There’s only so much he can do for his club. He can assess the situation realistically, focus on strengths and manage around the weaknesses and stress the importance of preparation.

Only the players can take the field, work together as a team and win the ballgame. The manager can do nothing else but look on. If the team can’t produce and comes up short, then much of the blame falls on a guy like Scioscia when maybe the front office is just as easy to hold responsible when things go wrong.

You think Scioscia is bad in that regard? Just look at the Angels this season. It is now that they continue a trend of improvement with a 29-24 record, despite taking just one of three in the series against the Yankees.

It’s unfair to Scioscia, not absolved of any blame for the Angels’ plight that has undermined his initiatives, that he’s suddenly a destroyer of the franchise. The pitching staff was hit by a succession of injuries.

In baseball, in any sport for that matter, players can suffer the kind of ailments that keep them out of the lineup. The past doesn’t matter, nor does last season’s health issues that were out of Scioscia’s control.

Scioscia, as it turns out, still holds the reins. By and large, the Angels know there is no manager out there better than Scioscia. For a team that lacked depth, he somehow stabilized the environment.

The day he took over everybody knew he was a natural for the job. Back in the day, in fact, Lasorda said Scioscia should have been the manager of the Dodgers.

If that had happened, Davey Johnson, Jim Tracy, Grady Little, Joe Torre, Don Mattingly, heck, even Dave Roberts most likely wouldn’t have taken the helm as manager for the Dodgers.

Scioscia’s effort reveals that it’s not the individual deeds that make him conspicuous. It’s his experience, his prowess and keen intellect that distinguish him from all but a few who have managed before him.

Go through his history, pick up a library of MLB history books and flip the pages until he appears before your eyes. Just know that he’s in there somewhere.

The prevailing sentiment of the Angels’ clubhouse and front office remain the same. Whether he stays with the team after his contract runs out is the question now. But there’s no definitive answer, at least not until the season comes to an end.

As far as we know, though, he’s definitely going down as one of the best to ever manage a major-league franchise.

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