The Angels’ structure was doomed to fail

MLB

Combine an old-school entrenched manager, a new-school stat-based general manager, and a meddlesome owner and you have the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Angels’ situation finally blew up this week after 3 ½ years of dysfunction and disagreement between the direction in which GM Jerry Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia, and owner Arte Moreno wanted the club to go. In 2014, those fissures and diametrically opposed philosophies were glossed over by a misleading 98-win season and American League West title – the Angels’ first playoff appearance since 2009. They were unceremoniously swept away by the Kansas City Royals before they had the chance to enjoy their resurgence. While on the surface the rocky start to the relationship between Dipoto and Scioscia appeared to have stabilized with Moreno making clear than neither was going anywhere, the dueling belief systems were too much to overcome and Dipoto walked.

As the Angels struggled amid significant changes to the roster, were hovering around .500 and falling further and further behind the division-leading Houston Astros, Dipoto’s frustration with the on-field staff overtly ignoring the detailed statistical analysis and recommendations that were prepared reached a climax as he went to the clubhouse and addressed the issue to the manager, coaching staff and players. It did not go well. Rather than welcome the GM into the clubhouse, he was treated as an unwanted interloper undermining the manager and making unwelcome decrees.

This is a cultural issue more than disagreements regarding strategy. The old school that held sway as recently as ten years ago did not want the GM walking into the clubhouse and telling the manager and players, straight out, what he wanted. In today’s culture, such an instance is not only common, but expected. The days of the manager being left to run the team on the field as he sees fit are all but over in just about every venue except for Anaheim. And this is the problem.

Nowhere but in Anaheim does the manager have the power that Scioscia does. Bolstered by a 10-year contract and the (mostly) unwavering support of the owner, Scioscia has a backchannel to complain to the owner that has all but disappeared with the retirements of the likes of Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella and Tony La Russa. Managers without a resume to pull such an end-around will get fired as Bo Porter did by the Astros in late 2014.

The mistake Moreno has made is not in allowing Scioscia that power, nor was it in hiring Dipoto. The mistake was that he kept Scioscia in place and allowed him to retain the power while hiring a GM whose philosophy was so diametrically opposed to the manager’s. There’s a misplaced belief that putting high-quality people together in the same room and telling them to work together will somehow yield a positive result. As has been proven repeatedly, that is not the case. Because they couldn’t get on the same page does not imply that either man was wrong. The fact that Dipoto and Scioscia were not able to reach a détente in spite of Moreno’s attempts to placate both does not mean that any one person is responsible. Moreno’s intentions were good; Dipoto and Scioscia are smart baseball men; and the three could not work together if the team wasn’t streaking towards winning 100 games and cruising to the division title.

Scioscia wasn’t going anywhere and Dipoto knew it. Dipoto comes from conflicting experiences that collided with his realities. As a former player, he knew that there were certain lines that players, coaches and managers didn’t want crossed by upper management. As a front office executive, he also knew he would not be doing his job were he not to address issues that he felt were hindering the club. Going into the clubhouse might have been done out of frustration with the enough’s enough tone that if the manager and the team were not going to be receptive to his ideas, then he’d simply give them what he had and hope they used it. Once the reaction was so profoundly negative and quickly degenerated into a confrontation, he threw his hands up in the air and quit. Everyone has their breaking point at which they say, “I can’t work like this.” For Dipoto to react negatively to essentially being attacked in the clubhouse is thoroughly understandable for someone who’d been hired to do a job and was not being allowed to do it in the way he was trained.

Dipoto isn’t some outsider who went to a well-regarded university and decided that he’d like to work in baseball. This adds another layer to the complicated nature of his time with the Angels. He could be classified as a stat-guy, but he’s also a stat-guy who had an eight-year career in the Majors. He’s not some guy in a suit walking into the clubhouse, sticking a chew of dip into his lower lip, talking in clubhouse vernacular and eliciting “look at this poser” eye rolls.

Like the separation between church and state, Scioscia wants the lines between the manager’s office and the front office to be adhered to. He has transferred his known catching skills from being the best plate-blocker of the 1980s into his protectionist nature of his territory as a manager. Moreno did nothing other than smooth the egos to try and keep the front office and on-field staff working together.

In the final analysis, did Dipoto need to keep the job in the sense that he is not going to get hired elsewhere as Ruben Amaro Jr. won’t once the Philadelphia Phillies dismiss him? The answer is no. He’ll get another chance to be a GM. Dipoto is respected inside baseball. The circumstances he walked into are understood as having been untenable. Most importantly, he’s worked with a large proportion of the baseball community that is now making the bulk of the decisions as baseball bosses and is choosing whom to hire and fire. The Angels were probably the worst place for Dipoto to go given the unprecedented power the manager has and what Dipoto’s beliefs as to what the GM’s job are. Short of Moreno openly choosing one or the other by firing either Dipoto or Scioscia, Dipoto resigned. It was the only way this forced marriage could end.

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