Angels Declare War Against Time
A look inside the "Lost Angeles Angels of Back-in-Time" and how their digging in against intelligent design is an affront to evolution.
If Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger were teaming up as murderesses-turned-vaudeville stars on the big screen,
and Baltimore cops were stepping up their pursuit of the Barksdale Organization on the small screen,
and Nickelback's "How You Remind Me" were rocking every first-generation iPod owner's earbuds en route to the top of Billboard's year-end chart,
then it would be a banner day for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
But of course, 13 years have passed since "Chicago" hit theaters, "The Wire" hit the airwaves, and perhaps the least popular popular band of all time hit the jackpot. Thirteen years have also passed since the Angels won their first and only World Series. You'd just never guess it by observing how they operate to this day.
Starting from a casual spectator's perspective, the Angels' in-stadium experience could still pass for 2002: the rocks beyond center field resembling Splash Mountain, a perpetual reminder of Disney's corporate ownership coinciding with the championship run,
the rally monkey taking over the Jumbotron to the tune of House of Pain's "Jump Around" when the late innings get interesting,
and, of course, Thunderstix.
A trip to Angel Stadium these days is like a journey back in time – based on almost every visual and auditory cue inside "The Big A," you can hardly help but wonder if you've entered the twilight zone.
More significantly, exploring key components of the organizational structure is also retrospective. Manager Mike Scioscia was hired in a different millennium; no other active skipper has been managing his team for a decade. Scioscia's tenure is largely a testament to his steady leadership and ability to command respect from players in the clubhouse, which translated to the most successful stretch in Angels history. On top of the 2002 title, they won the American League West five times from 2004-2009. The last five seasons, however, have seen only one postseason appearance and zero playoff wins. This reinforces that sustained success at the highest level in any field requires the ability to evolve to a certain extent - an area in which Scioscia is stagnant and the front office just went backward.
As of this past week, the Angels also have the same General Manager as they did in the charmed year of 2002. 71-year-old Bill Stoneman has come out of pseudo-retirement to replace Jerry Dipoto after a longstanding philosophical clash between Dipoto and Scioscia came to a head.
The knee-jerk reaction is to chalk it up to new school vs. old school, sabermetrics-centered information vs. a baseball lifer's intuition. But as Grantland's Jonah Keri reports, that fails to capture the real story. This wasn't a front office shoving new-age numbers down the manager's throat. It was much more basic – a GM telling his go-by-the-gut manager to balance his approach with the most fundamental aspects of scouting, only to be be met by insubordination.
The irony is that Dipoto and his staff, while savvy with statistical analysis, aren't a bunch of number crunchers with econ degrees who never played the game. Dipoto pitched in the majors for eight years. Assistant GM Scott Servais caught in the big leagues for parts of 11 seasons. And Pro Scouting Director Hal Morris, whom Keri describes as "one of the leading forces trying to arm Scioscia and his staff with scouting-based information that mostly went rejected or ignored," played 13 years in the majors.
Hypothetically, this would be like the Angels' team bus needing to get from Los Angeles to Anaheim as quickly as possible (contrary to the team's name, they're not the same place). Traffic at any hour is virtually guaranteed, with accidents and construction only prolonging the trek. Reading the roads by "feel" might be the best way to go – after all, the manager drives this metaphorical bus and Scioscia knows the streets well having been here forever. But in an age of Garmin and Waze, by neglecting modern tools he's likely leaving precious time on the table. The front office, in touch with reality while recognizing the manager's personal preferences, simply asked him to check Sigalert before hitting the road.
Scioscia isn't the only culprit, however, for the Angels having lost their sense of direction.
He wouldn't be in a position to circumvent Dipoto without the support of Arte Moreno. As the team's owner, Moreno has a history of Jerry Jonesing it and botching transactions orchestrated by the owner's office (e.g. Vernon Wells and Josh Hamilton). He went all in on an organizational philosophy of going by feel not only by giving himself the power to influence the roster, but also by handing Scioscia an unheard-of 10-year, $50-million contract that runs through 2018.
Cloaked in impermeable security, it's easy to see why Scioscia has stuck to his ways, with no need to sweat the ultimatum Dipoto reportedly gave Moreno before packing it in. It's also easy to wonder how anyone could truly do a GM's job for a team whose owner-manager tandem wields so much power.
With Moreno's backing, Scioscia has won his battle against Dipoto. But it could ultimately be a Pyrrhic victory for the franchise.
Advanced metrics in baseball are here to stay. As glorious as 2002 was for the Angels and their fans, if Moreno and Scioscia don't wake up to the new age soon, all that remains is to lose the war.