It's steady at the helm with Baker, Scioscia

Saturday, October 19, 2002

He came up through the old Dodgers' organization, a tough Italian catcher from Upper Darby, Pa., playing for a loud Italian manager from nearby Norristown. And the temptation was to immediately label him a Tommy Lasorda clone.

It turns out Mike Scioscia is anything but.

Oh, he still pays homage to the man who managed him throughout his major-league career. He is quick to mention he learned plenty of baseball from him.

But in style and personality, Scioscia is nothing like Tommy.

"Mike is always very calculative in his moves and uses his natural instincts and the ability to manage the same way that he played," said his old teammate, Dusty Baker, who will be managing across from him in this Wild Card World Series.

Imagine Lasorda in the manager's chair Scioscia occupied early this season, when the Angels looked lost and disjointed, staggering to a franchise-worst 6-14 start and falling 10 1/2 games out of first place in the first month.

Tommy would have been ranting and raving, screaming to the media, defending his actions, creating a deafening roar guaranteed to shake up everyone in the organization. And maybe that might have worked.

But Scioscia did it differently. He did it his way, which is to say he remained calm, never raised his voice, never went to the media.

"If he had panicked, we probably would have," Tim Salmon said.

But Scioscia didn't, and neither did the Angels.

Now here he is, this manager who had callers screaming for his job on sports talk radio five months ago, pushing every right button, making every correct move as he takes this franchise to a place it had never been.

More than anyone else, this memorable season was shaped by him.

And if it had been Lasorda in the wild postgame celebration after clinching the pennant, he would have been out in front, hugging everybody, making speeches, accepting all media interviews and personally directing everything that was going on.

In contrast, immediately after the Angels clinched, Scioscia was nowhere to be found in the winning clubhouse.

"I addressed the players briefly, but I wanted it to be their time," he said. "They were the ones responsible. They deserved the credit and I wanted them to enjoy it on their own."

Clearly, this is a man whose baseball philosophy has been shaped by more than a certain rotund former Dodgers manager.

"It wasn't just Tommy," Scioscia said. "There were a whole lot of other people who helped give me my baseball foundation."

Surprisingly, one of them was Walter Alston, the manager who immediately preceded Lasorda with the Dodgers.

"He'd stepped down in 1976, and my first spring training was 1977," Scioscia said. "And Alston was working as a minor-league consultant. He took a liking to me, for whatever reason. I remember he even came to see me in Clinton, Iowa, and took me to lunch.

"Yeah, you could say I was a little in awe of him. He had some great insights. He kept telling me to just keep playing, that's it's the same basic game. With him, it wasn't what he was saying so much. It was the fact he was saying it to you."

Next up for this young, wide-eyed catcher was a chance to meet Roy Campanella.

"Later, I realized how lucky I was to get instruction from guys like Campy, Del Crandall and John Roseboro," Scioscia said.

"Campy was incredible. He was this genuine human being who really cared about you. The support he gave you, you could feel it. It became a part of you. He was soft-spoken, but also one of the most powerful men I ever met."

Maybe Scioscia's greatest strength as an athlete was the joy he had for playing the game. Even now, on the verge of being named the American League's Manager of the Year, you get the idea he'd trade his job in a World Series minute for a chance to go back on the field.

"I won't say this isn't fun and exciting, managing a big-league club," he said. "But being a player is the ultimate."

When Scioscia was coming up to the big leagues, Baker was already an experienced Dodgers veteran. They were together on the club from 1980 through 1983.

"Dusty stepped out of his shoes to extend a welcome hand to the young players on the team," Scioscia said. "We're still good friends. We talk to each other over the winter and see each other every year in spring training."

But just because they played on the same team doesn't mean they manage the same way.

"I try to be myself," Scioscia said. "Some of the traits Dusty had were shaped from having spent time with guys in Atlanta when he first came up. I'm sure Henry Aaron had a major influence on him. Dusty has a great baseball mind, but as far as he and I sharing a common style of play, no, I don't think so.

"You have to look at the strengths of your own club. You have to shape your team according to what you have. It's not something you can force if it's not there."

It has been there for both these men this year.

For Baker, with Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent anchoring the heart of a powerful offense complemented by good pitching. And for Scioscia, with a wonderful team concept, a solid rotation and an extraordinary bullpen.

"I can still remember what Dusty used to say to us rookies," Scioscia said, with a smile. "'Hey,' he'd say, 'you're messing with my World Series money. So you better do a good job.'"

Some 20 years later, Scioscia again will be messing with Baker's World Series money.

And yes, Dusty, in case you're wondering, he's apt to do a very good job.

Steve Bisheff is a sports columnist for The Orange County (Calif.) Register.

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