ANAHEIM — Bill Stoneman didn’t have a heck of a lot of time to find a manager for the Angels back in November of 1999.
Two weeks? Stoneman wasn’t a guy to panic, so no problem, right?
He’d been hired by Disney to clean up a real scary mess after Halloween as the new Angels’ GM. It had been a season of turmoil.
Sound familiar? How bad had it been?
“Awful,” Stoneman recalled.
Stoneman remembered a handsome young man of 40 named Mike, a former catcher, walking through his office door that November. He made it all seem that everything would be just fine.
“The previous year had been a rough one in Anaheim,” Stoneman recalled on Monday in the sun-dappled outdoor seats at the Diamond Club at the Big A. “Real rough.
"But everything turned out just fine.”
At 74, William Hambly Stoneman III still has more of the look of a kindly uncle than the tough as nails MLB pitcher he was.
Most people don't remember the Stoneman, an undersized righty who tossed two no-hitters for the Montreal Expos during the era of Nolan Ryan and Vietnam.
Watching Monday from the VIP seats at Angel Stadium as GM Billy Eppler handed the reins to new field manager Brad Ausmus, Stoneman smiled as he sensed Eppler’s satisfaction.
“At the end of the day,” Stoneman said, “we were looking for the same thing: Leadership.
“Billy Eppler has been looking for different qualities this year than I was in ‘99. Other than leading. The approach to the game was different back then — it’s much more of a numbers game now.
"The game is still the same. You need men to play it, and people to lead them. ... And when you look, you just — know who that person is.”
Stoneman is successful and wise. He’s the only general manager in Angel history to have delivered a World Series championship to Anaheim, and he also hired the only field manager to do the same thing.
It wasn't coincidential. He figured out how.
No one could fault Stoneman for seeming a bit wistful as he gazed across the infield grass to the “green box” where Mike Scioscia stood and ruled for 19 years.
Stoneman watched the Angels’ newest GM hand the managerial mantle to another new man, fresh-faced Brad Ausmus.
“He’s the 17th manager in club history,” Stoneman reminded me, flicking through his press release. “That’s quite a few if you look at the history of a team.”
He’s right. Only Scioscia, and as of Sunday, Brad Ausmus, have been Angel managers since the turn of the millennium.
Stoneman said he’s absolutely sure that Eppler has made the right pick, just as he had been nearly two decades ago.
“Oh yeah, I was 100% sure,” Stoneman told me about Scioscia.
Command decisions like these aren’t easy. Your own job is at stake and also the hopes of fans riding on your shoulders.
The GM chair is probably the most uneasy of any top-level baseball job.
Looking backwards and forwards, Stoneman said he was proud of Eppler for using gut instinct.
Due diligence had been done by both men — exhaustive processes had been met. But in each case, one man stood out come D-Day.
For Stoneman, it was Scioscia. For Eppler, it’s Ausmus.
In Eppler’s case, we know the Angel GM interviewed at least 10 candidates for manager, six of whom have been named.
Stoneman, in 1999, had less time to work, perhaps, to replace the ousted Terry Collins. He interviewed seven hopefuls for one of baseball’s best jobs — including some big names.
Scioscia was the one for Stoneman.
“I knew it right after that first interview,” Stoneman said. He said it just didn’t make sense to bring anyone else in for a second interview but Scioscia.
It was a formality. The two signed a contract at the second interview, at a Marie Callendar’s restaurant that's no longer there.
Stomeman remains in OC, in his home in the Great City of Orange. The record book shows that Stoneman was spot-on in 1999 when he ushered in the most successful manager in Angel history.
And like a proud uncle, Stomeman has the sparkly-eyed wink of a guy who trusts that Eppler’s instinct is probably spot on as well.
It’s never easy, Stoneman said, relaxing with Angels greats — Bobby Grich, Chuck Finley, Mark Langston, Adam Kennedy, Rod Carew, Clyde Wright, around him.
Stoneman leaned back in his gold Hawaiian shirt.
“We had great players,” he said. “You know, you see them ...”
He paused to shake hands with Kennedy.
Stoneman and I had last seen each other in 2002, but he seemed like he needed to spur my memory anyway: “AK was my first trade,” he said with a bit of pride. “Him and Bott (Kent Bottenfield).”
“Sure,” I said. “I remember that trade.”
Kennedy and Bottenfield came west from the Cardinals in the deal that sent superstar center fielder Jim Edmonds to St. Louis.
To some, that seemed a controversial move — but a lot of Angel fans forgot about Edmonds after Kennedy starred in 2002 to lift the Stoneman & Scioscia Angels to the World Series, and then the title.
“Bottom line, we had a lot of outfielders,” Stoneman recalled. “I needed to move one of those to get some players we needed.”
Stoneman had outfield talent galore in 1999 — Angel Hall of Famers Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad among them.
He said it was similar to the talent stockpile that Ausmus will inherit in 2019 — Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Andrelton Simmons are arguably better players than any of Stoneman’s WS winners.
Of course, Stoneman has a sky-high, window-seat view as this plays out.
Stoneman last wore the GM badge — perhaps somewhat reluctantly — as an over-qualified temp in the summer of 2015, after Jerry Dipoto resigned under fire.
Eppler was hired to be Stoneman’s permanent replacement.
Stoneman still holds the title of Senior Advisor of Baseball Operations.
During his two stints as Angel GM, Stoneman acquired Swiss-Army knife Chone Figgins in a 2000 trade, and plucked shortstop David Eckstein off waivers the same year.
After winning the ‘02 World Series, Stoneman brought in even more legends.
Vladimir Guerrero turned out more than OK — he won the AL MVP award in his first season before being inducted to Cooperstown this past summer. Bartolo Colon — who is still pitching — won the Cy Young in 2005.
But as cozy as Stoneman seemed Monday in his familiar surroundings at the Big A, he brushed off any suggestion he has ever had anything to do with anything.
The job title?
“Ah ...” Stoneman laughed.
“I think they (the Angels) just give me some kind of name just so they don’t have to call me ‘retired’ ...
"Luck. Defense. Run support. "
Wink wink. Bill Stoneman is still keeping an eye on things.
(This informal interview was conducted during the presentation ceremony for new Angel manager Brad Ausmus).