There’s a song by a group named Rev Theory called “Voices.” If you’re a wrestling fan, you’ll probably recognize it as Randy Orton’s entrance music. But this isn’t about wrestling. It’s about the voices. I hear them, and they’re coming from Anaheim.
In 2012 the Angels added Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. A lot of us Angels fans were eagerly awaiting the printing date for playoff tickets. We were ready for the season. Problem is, the Angels weren’t.
They started 6-14 in 2012, and Albert didn’t have a home run in April. Albert told us he’d be fine, and he was right. Unfortunately, he wasn’t speaking for the other 24 guys. The Angels eventually lifted themselves into contention for a wild card spot, but they couldn’t seem to put together that one hot run that would catch Oakland. Or Texas. Or even Baltimore. They finished with 89 wins, which is a good season by most standards, but a crushing disappointment to a team and a fan base that expected so much more.
The enthusiasm over the big-name signings may have blinded us to some of the flaws that still existed on that team: a young, unproven bullpen with no established closer and the lack of a left-handed power hitter to give the everyday lineup some balance. We know what happened. The 22 blown saves, the feast or famine offense, the struggles of Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
If it was up to me, I’d forget about 2012. But after an 17-27 start, the voices won’t let me. It was all going to be different in 2013. Jerry DiPoto reinforced the bullpen. Arte Moreno opened his checkbook again with the signing of Josh Hamilton. And just like 2012, the expectations were sky-high. But also like 2012, there were still flaws. Hamilton was here, but Kendrys Morales and Torii Hunter were gone. So was valuable utilityman Maicer Izturis. The rotation spots once occupied by Haren, Santana, and Zack Greinke were now in the hands of Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, and Jason Vargas.
The voices from Anaheim keep saying the same things they said last year. The players who say they’re confident will turn things around, and they’re unconcerned by the slow start. But I see those same players playing tight and tentative baseball, seemingly awaiting the next misfortune that will lead to another loss. I see a team that doesn’t respond well to adversity. I see a team that’s looking toward tomorrow, because today slipped away yet again.
Mike Scioscia is the dean of Major League managers. He’s won five divisional titles and the franchise’s only World Series. Scioscia doesn’t hit or pitch, but as the saying goes “You can’t fire all the players.” Just two or three years ago the idea of replacing Scioscia would have been ridiculed by 80 percent of Angels fans. That pendulum has swung heavily in the other direction.
Is Scioscia to blame? Not entirely, but he helped bring this about. For over a decade much of the Angels success came from their “little ball” style of play; their ability to manufacture runs. They ran the bases aggressively, worked the count, utilized the hit and run — all things which place pressure on the defense, and create more high-stress situations for the opposing pitcher. The acquisition of Pujols and Hamilton added a needed power element, but didn’t require the abandonment of a proven philosophy. Three-run homers aren’t there every night, but plate discipline, speed, and aggressiveness are. They don’t go into slumps.
It’s not just a matter of playing style. Scioscia didn’t wake up one morning and become a bad manager. But after 13 seasons with the Angels, can he still reach the team? Every coach or manager eventually reaches that point. The message, the motivational techniques, the overall psychology that goes in running a team, only plays for so long. No one’s immune, not even the great ones. It happened to Joe Torre. Phil Jackson. Pat Riley. Terry Francona. Maybe it’s happening now to Bill Belichick.
Where’s the fire? The sense of urgency? Any sign of a clubhouse leader? I don’t see it. And with every successive loss, the voices keep telling me that it isn’t changing anytime soon. Of course, none of that matters, I’m just a fan. I just have to wonder if Jerry DiPoto and Arte Moreno are hearing those voices, and how loud they’ve become.