The greatest manager in Angel history called the final play of his career Sunday.
Mike Scioscia didn’t see much of the actual game of his Angels played, and won on the field.
After nearly 20 years in charge of the Angels, the skipper admitted he was fighting off tears nearly every inning. Not just at the end.
It was surreal.
Scioscia’s declaration after the game — “I am going to stepping down” — was real as it gets, and true to the man himself.
And dang: It was so hard to watch.
Much of Scioscia’s great success was born from his intense preparation. If Scioscia only had given a clear signal of how it might feel?
He didn’t know. To be fair, he wasn’t ready for his own emotion.
Many will say the modern game has passed him by, but no one can doubt his dedication.
It was just … time to go.
Scioscia started a perfect California afternoon Sunday managing the Angels.
And then ... Scioscia wasn’t the manager of the Angels anymore.
At first those words just stunned. Then it stung as real tears came from Scioscia. Probably you, and certainly me. Let that sink in.
But it started like almost any Angel game since 2000. Normal.
There was Scioscia, sporting the usual wraparound shades to his workplace — the yard.
Just another day at the office for the skipper, just another baseball game in thousands. Scioscia had won much more than he lost, and rose to strata of Angel legends.
Scioscia was by far the greatest in club history, and then his wins on the field started to dwindle.
But he never lost his passion, and his deep caring for the Angels. He’ll always be a winner.
If the skippers’ sunglasses were meant to mask the inner Sosh — the soft side of the ”Iron Mike” who had delivered the Angels their only World Series in 2002 — the disguise didn’t last for long.
Before the game Scioscia was unusually terse with the media.
He cut off a reporter’s question about how he might feel after three straight losing seasons: “I’ll address that after the game.”
It sounded cliché. But it was true, because he did.
Sunday, Angel fans already knew the final curtain for their 2018 Halos would drop. They still wanted to see a ballgame.
But what about Scioscia? Would he get a new deal and stay longer? Would he go by “mutual consent“ like Terry Collins did in 1999, a tragicomedy that opened the door for Scioscia to acheive greatness?
The crowd didn’t know. They started off early to Angel Stadium to see the last baseball game their Halos would play this calendar year. But what about the team’s great leader — a man on the last day of his contract?
It was a glorious sunny Sunday in Anaheim.
As the spectactors filled to their seats, they saw Mike Sciocia’s highlight reel up on the big screens. All of Sosh’s biggest hits.
Otherwise it was a just another regular season ballgame — was it also Sosh’s last?
The Angel players and the visiting Oakland Athletics stood, caps over the hearts, to salute the flag as the national anthem played.
Scioscia made that so-familiar walk from the dugout steps to behind home plate.
There, he met his Oakland counterpart Bob Melvin and they handed their lineup cards to umpire Marty Foster and crew.
The six men shook hands and went over the usual polite rituals of pregame — the ground rules, etc. — all protocol Scioscia could recite by rote.
Starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker was warm. The Angels defense had spread across the field. Oakland leadoff man Nick Martini was loose and ready to step into the batters’ box.
“Bring it down!” Porter cried out and the Angels infielders whipped the ball around.
Scioscia assumed his usual game-day posture at the Big A —his big arms draped over the green rail of the Angel dugout, between home and third base.
There he had stood, for nearly 20 years, on that top step. It’s a special place that Scioscia knows better than anyone and he’ll love it forever.
Shoemaker tossed a scoreless top of the first. The Angels staked their starter to a two-run cushion in the bottom of the first.
Then the A’s tied it 2-2 straight away. It was another of a countless battles.
The focus shifted from the field as sharp eyes spotted Scioscia making a sharp left turn out of the dugout, and into his other domain — the clubhouse.
Had he just been fired? Faint spell? Nothing like that.
Nobody knew why, Scioscia later explained he went back into the clubhouse his big decision was already made.
Nobody likes to see a strong man cry anyway. Not in front of thousands.
Who knew? After Sosh retreated, Alfredo Griffin popped up in empty the manager’s spot in the Angel dugout.
Griffin — Mike’s former Dodger teammate, assistant coach, confidant and friend.
If this was Scioscia’s last game, where was he? The game seemed to move like slowly under the sun. The fans stayed.
Scioscia has lots of friends. One-by-one to do stepped into the duties the legend would ordinarily handle.
After Griffin, bullpen coach Steve Soliz, a Scioscia ally since 2003, brought the lineup card to Porter to make a lineup switch for Sosh.
Next up on the perch on the dugout rail was bench coach Josh Paul – a man who will be viewed as a candidate to succeed Scioscia.
Dino Ebel, the human windmill coach who waved home a lot of runners to help build Scioscia’s legacy, took his turn on that top step.
Finally, Scioscia returned to the dugout, laughing as he sat in unfamiliar territory on the third base side of his dugout.
Scioscia was still seated in that spot when rookie Taylor Ward hit a walk-off homer that sealed a last win for Sosh.
For those who care about score lines, the Angels won 5-4. It was a dramatic walk off.
Some critics say there’s no room in the game any more game for old-school baseball guy like Mike Scioscia.
I don’t agree.
There needs to be a place for Sosh somewhere. He’s still young and his knowledge is priceless.
Old-school guys normally don’t display the range of emotions that Scioscia did during his final game, and then came pouring out in his last final press conference.
Scioscia began the presser by just stepping in and getting to the point” “I am going to step down.”
Wham! Like that.
Scioscia confirmed what MLB sleuth Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic had tweeted a month ago, a rumor Sosh had swiped away as “poppycock.” But it was real.
Scioscia had indeed stepped down. On own authority. He hadn’t been pushed from above.
That was confirmed from the owner Arte Moreno, president John Carpino and GM Billy Eppler. That was the final score.
Still, nobody knew for sure until Sosh said those six words that made it final.
There had been no carefully crafted press release by the Angel PR staff.
Not big splash so often associated with the team.
No pink slip that would be below Scioscia’s dignity.
Nope. The Angel manager clarified the decision had been a joint one between him and Anne, his wife of 33 years.
His exit was nothing like his entrance in 1999, when a team mutiny led to the sudden humiliation of manager Terry Collins — who stepped down by “mutual consent” — a euphemism for a collapse the Angels family would rather forget.
We remember how Sosh stepped so smoothly into Collins’ shoes in 2000 and didn’t stop until Sunday. Sosh mood on his final day didn’t change much.
He shifted gears from his normal mix of serious and hilarious. Then he couldn’t hold back. Scioscia’s unsteady voice, rising in pitch and wavering, was unexpected.
He asked if anyone wanted to talk about the game.
Scioscia admitted he hadn’t done much at al except planning — his pals did the managing, and joked that Ebel deserved credit for the W in the box score.
Sosh was he clearly drained at the end of it, Everyone else. He was hungry too.
He wanted a dinner at his favorite steakhouse, Mastro’s in Thousand Oaks. It was a long day no one will soon forget. In 2019, a new manager will take charge of the Angels.
Noboby knows yet who will step into Sosh’s long shadow. That’s up to Eppler and others to choose.
Sosh noticed that he wasn’t alone in tears. Again, Scioscia knew it was time. He didn’t want to see that. These were his family and friends.
So he just got up walked away: “See you down the road some day.”
The first time I met Mike Scioscia was the day he was hired in November 1999, at the Big A.
My admiration for him only grew over those all those years. It had something to do with the winning, but everything about the man that Mike Scioscia is.
Everything sort of welled up. Then he was gone.
Yep, see you down the road, Mike.
— (Stu Matthews was Internet Editor for the Anaheim Angels ballclub from 1998-2002.)