By Jim Tortolano/Garden Grove Journal
I remember the classic “Peanuts” cartoon wherein Charlie Brown is standing under a high fly ball during a baseball game. His teammates gather around, watching and waiting. They remind him that if he makes the catch he will be a hero; if not, he’s the goat.
Being the manager of a major league baseball team is not unlike being Charlie Brown. Your fate balances on such a narrow fulcrum, and the space between accolades and insults is mighty thin. A sudden gust of wind, or fate, can be your undoing.
This puts me in mind of Mike Scioscia, manager of the Los Angeles of Anaheim. A few scant weeks ago the area press was full of grumpy speculation that Mike was done-for, that his glory years as field manager were over and that the World Series triumph of 2002 and the many division titles and playoff appearances were ancient history.
To express it differently, “What have you done for me lately?”
The signing of Albert Pujols, theoretically the greatest hitter in baseball since Moses was in middle school, to the Angels roster raised expectations to the sky. The Angels would win the World Series in a walk, and probably finish in the NBA finals, too.
But when Pujols (and much of the rest of the team) started the season batting like the French national badminton team, the Angels posted a miserable 14-26 record. Worse yet, the defending American League West champion Texas Rangers rocketed out of the starting gate and looked to be popping the champagne by Independence Day.
The chorus of complaints returned. Scioscia was burned out. He was too old or tired, or too tired and old. His players had stopped listening to him. He wasn’t trying hard enough, or he was trying too hard. Newspaper columns and radio talk shows bubbled with the idea that the former Dodger catcher deserved catching all the flak for the fact that his millionaire hitters couldn’t seem to hit a cantaloupe.
And Mike’s expression didn’t change.
But then, everything else did. Pujol started to hit. Mike Trout came up from the minors. He and Mark Trumbo began blasting double and triples all over the American League. The Halos starting winning and rose from last place in the AL West into second. They’ve cut four and a half games off the Rangers lead, and would be in first if the Rangers weren’t playing just as well.
Even so, the Angels have smacked around the Dodgers and the Yankees — baseball’s two most storied franchises — and have a pretty firm grip (for now) on a wild card spot in the AL. Things are looking rosy-red over there at State College and Katella.
Remarkably, as much as Scioscia was blamed for the staggering start, he gets little credit for the recent hot streaks. Either he didn’t deserve the criticism then, or he is entitled to a bunch of “attaboys” now.
But that’s the way it is in the big leagues. Lots of money and lots of pressure. Ups and downs. That’s one of the reasons why Scioscia is the senior manager in the AL. He doesn’t jump and leap at every little bump and dip. He maintains a calm demeanor as a way of assuring his players that either pessimism or complacency won’t be winning attitudes in the long run.
Charlie Brown was a lovable loser who screamed “AUUUUGGGHHH!!!” when things went wrong. Mike, on the other hand, wins without showing much emotion at all. I think most of us know which approach is better in the long run, even if a lot of critics don’t.