Interview conducted by Chuck Richter
I had a chance to hook up with the Angels long-time beat writer Mike DiGiovanna, as he's back from Tempe, AZ, taking a 'spring break' from spring training. Besides covering the team throughout the year, Mike has also been aired on Angels pre-game shows, Angels Talk and features an Angels Q&A with fans' questions that are sent in, which can be read in the LA Times Sports page or online at here.
So with no further ado, and introductions complete, here's the Angelswin.com interview with the LA Times Angels beat writer and columnist, Mike DiGiovanna.
Q: Angelswin.com - You've covered the Angels through 3 different owners (Autry's, Disney & Arte). What differences do you see in the way they ran the Angels operations?
A: Mike DiGiovanna - The differences are huge. I began covering the Angels in 1995, at the end of the Autry era, and at the time, the Angels were in a major cost-containment mode. They didn't really pursue high-priced free agents, high-priced draft picks (with the exception of Darin Erstad in 1995, but they had no choice; he was the first overall pick) or expensive players from Latin America; in fact, they pretty much shut down their academy in the Dominican Republic. But they did benefit from some wise draft choices by former GM Bill Bavasi and player personnel director Bob Fontaine, who helped develop players such as Tim Salmon, Gary DiSarcina, Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds, Troy Percival and J.T. Snow, who formed the nucleus of a competitive team in 1995.
After Disney took over in 1997, it was almost as if there were three different owners during the company's tenure. Early on, marketing seemed to drive most of their decisions-they changed the uniforms (who can forget periwinkle blue?), put cheerleaders on the dugout (a complete disaster) and renovated the stadium. I guess one out of three ain't bad. The stadium, even with the gaudy fake-rock formation in left-center field, turned out well. In general, Disney, in those early days, chose style over substance. Then, when it became clear that approach was alienating fans and not translating to on-field success, Disney went for the big splash, signing Mo Vaughn to a six-year, $80-million contract. They also began pumping more money and resources into their Latin American program, and investments into players such as Francisco Rodriguez eventually paid off. But when Vaughn, outside of one decent season (2000), turned out to be a total bust, Disney crawled into a financial shell and seemed unwilling to take a gamble on another high-priced free agent. GM Bill Stoneman and Manager Mike Scioscia came aboard in 2000 and stressed building the team from within. Team President Tony Tavares-the face, and the fist, of the Disney regime-was phased out, and Paul Pressler quietly began making decisions, such as killing an Erstad-to-the-White-Sox deal in 2001. By the end of the Disney regime, the Angels were getting it right, supplementing their really good home-grown talent with complimentary, but not high-priced, free agents such as Scott Spiezio and Brad Fullmer, and that led to a World Series title in 2002.
That championship gave Arte Moreno plenty of momentum when he took control of the team in 2003, and the Angels have essentially been a model franchise ever since, spending plenty on free agents, developing plenty of home-grown talent and winning three of the last four American League West titles, all while keeping ticket prices-and beer prices-relatively affordable in comparison to other teams. The biggest difference between Moreno and Disney is the lack of a corporate culture and chain of command, and that has expedited the decision-making process, to the Angels' benefit. If Disney owned the team when Vladimir Guerrero expressed interest in playing in Anaheim but needed an answer quickly, it could have taken Stoneman more than a week to determine whether he could pursue the slugger and, if so, what kind of contract he could offer. All that process took under Moreno was one phone call, and Guerrero's deal came together within a day or two.
Q: Angelswin.com - Mike, in all of your years covering the Angels as the club's beat writer, what are some of your fondest memories?
A: Mike DiGiovanna - Just off the top of my head . being in Camden Yards in September of 1995 the night Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record . center fielder Jim Edmonds' amazing over-the-shoulder, diving catch near the warning track of David Howard's fly ball in Kansas City, probably the best defensive play I've ever seen . J.T. Snow making a similar catch down the line in foul territory in the SkyDome in Toronto, when he said he gauged where to dive by looking at the eyes of fans in the first few rows who were tracking the ball . that spring-training game in Scottsdale in 1995, when reliever Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams hit two Giants with pitches, sending both to the hospital for X-rays, gave up a home run and threw two wild pitches, all in one inning . the class with which Jim Abbott carried himself during a 2-18 season in 1996 . the day-in, day-out intensity and determination of guys like Darin Erstad, Troy Percival and David Eckstein . just about any conversation I ever had with Tim Salmon (and there were many), because he was probably the most approachable player I've ever dealt with and conversant on a wide variety of topics . visiting Ramon Ortiz's house in the Dominican Republic . Adam Kennedy's three-homer game in the ALCS-clinching win over Minnesota in 2002 . Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, when the Angels came back from a 5-0 deficit with Scott Spiezio's three-run homer, Erstad's solo shot and Troy Glaus' game-winning double . seeing Angels team photographer V.J. Lovero get doused with champagne and beer by just about every player in the clubhouse after the World Series clincher; I met V.J., who also worked for Sports Illustrated, at Cal State Fullerton in 1982, played softball with him for many years, and we remained friends through our work in baseball. He was battling cancer in 2002 and passed away in January of 2004, but I will always remember his sheer joy that night . Vladimir Guerrero's nine-RBI game against the Red Sox in 2004 . Josh Paul failing to tag A.J. Pierzynski and rolling the ball back to the mound in Game 2 of the 2005 ALCS in Chicago, still one of the biggest bone-headed plays I've ever seen . Garret Anderson's 10-RBI game in 2007 ... I'm rambling, so we'll leave it at that.
Q: Angelswin.com - What is your most memorable Angels player interview?
A: Mike DiGiovanna - My most memorable interview wasn't with an Angels player, it was with a coach, former batting instructor Rod Carew. It was the spring of 1996, after Rod's 18-year-old daughter, Michelle, had been diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of leukemia the previous fall. Normally a very private, very reserved and, at least with the press, sometimes distant man, Carew had begun to open up to the media in hopes of finding a bone-marrow donor for Michelle. For a story I was writing on Rod and Michelle, Rod allowed me to accompany him on a five-hour drive from Tempe, Ariz., where the Angels were for spring training, to Orange County. It was an emotional journey, with Rod breaking down in tears several times as he spoke of Michelle and how brave and strong she had been and how he couldn't handle the thought of having to bury his daughter. Rod also talked extensively about his childhood, how his father used to beat him regularly, and how, when he was 23, he gave his mother an ultimatum: "She could have the father or the son," he said. "She took the son." That shed some light on why Rod was so reluctant to talk about his past during his playing days, and why he was suspicious of reporters. It also made me realize how tough it must have been for him to go public with his bone-marrow plea, and to finally open up to reporters. Over the next day or two, I visited Michelle in the hospital, and then interviewed Michelle and Rod and his family in their Anaheim Hills home; Michelle, at the time, was able to come home from the hospital for short visits. There were plenty of tears, as Michelle recalled the night she went into septic shock and was convinced she actually died and came back to life, and her parents spoke of how difficult it was coming to grips with the possibility of losing their daughter. But, remarkably, there was laughter, too. Michelle, despite her predicament, had an amazing sense of humor. Michelle was also so proud of her dad for opening up to the press and trying to help not only her but so many other cancer victims. Sadly, about two months later, Michelle died. I only met her once, but I'll never forget her.
Q: Angelswin.com - Craziest thing you've ever seen in the Angels clubhouse either pre-game or post-game?
A: Mike DiGiovanna - Well, some of the crazy things I've seen are probably best left in the clubhouse, and those who were in Texas late in the 2004 season, after an extra-inning Angels win and a Seattle loss on television sparked a rather interesting celebration in the visiting clubhouse at The Ballpark in Arlington, will know what I'm referring to. But I will pass along this crazy thing, though it didn't happen in the Angels clubhouse; it was in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse in the Kingdome in 1996. After Seattle's 1995 playoff run, the Mariners were struggling in 1996 and there was some tension in the clubhouse. I was in there before a game waiting to speak to Ken Griffey Jr. when Randy Johnson walked in and told David Segui to turn down the music blaring on the sound system. Segui refused, the two got in a shouting and then shoving match, and before I knew it, there were about 12 guys in a huge scrum by Segui's locker, with arms and legs and fists flailing. I was the only reporter in the room at the time, so I knew I was witnessing a big story, so I just stood there and watched. And then reliever Norm Charlton, who was near the bottom of the pile, his head and neck firmly in the grip of some teammate, and his face turning red. Yet, Charlton somehow had the presence of mind to notice me out of the corner of his eye and scream, "Get the (bleep) out of here!" I thought that was pretty impressive. That's veteran leadership.
Q: Angelswin.com - Who are some of your favorite all-time Angels players?
A: Mike DiGiovanna - I think back to my first few years on the beat and realize how lucky I had it, covering such characters as Lee Smith, Chuck Finley, Chili Davis, Gary DiSarcina and Rex Hudler. Both Smith and Finley were from Louisiana and could rip off one-liners with the best of them. I'll never forget that 1995 night in Cleveland when Smith blew a two-run, ninth-inning lead by giving up a grand slam to Albert Belle, the ball landing in a picnic area behind the right-center field wall in Jacobs Field. When asked afterward about the pitch, Smith said, "Two-and-two to the barbecue." Finley was also an All-Pro quipster, among the funniest guys I have covered, and DiSarcina, who grew up in Massachusetts, had that New England, wry, self-deprecating sense of humor; I've never covered a guy who could find so much humor at his own expense. Davis was a deep thinker, a pretty philosophical guy who loved talking about things other than baseball, but he was also hilarious. One day in Toronto he struck out and took out his frustrations on a drinking fountain that was located just down the steps toward the clubhouse in the SkyDome. The next day, the drinking fountain wasn't there, but you could see the outline of where it was on the wall. I asked Chili about it and he said, "That drinking fountain? I just looked at that thing, and it fell off the wall." Don't worry, he paid for the repairs. And Hudler? Well, you've seen him on TV; he was pretty much the same as a player, filled with energy and could talk a mile a minute.
I also enjoyed covering guys who had reputations for being difficult, guys like Dave Hollins, Randy Velarde and, early in his career, Darin Erstad. Hollins had a mean glare that could unnerve you, and when that do-not-disturb sign seemed to be hanging in his locker, you knew not to approach him. But when you got to know him and started talking to him at the right times, he was hilarious, another guy who could easily laugh at himself. When Erstad came up, he would have his game face on three hours before the game, and other writers thought he was not approachable. Once again, as you got to know him, you learned he was very approachable, very talkative and very likeable. Velarde was very quiet and seemed a little bit aloof, but he had that Texas drawl and monotone voice, from which one-liners always sounded funnier. Mo Vaughn, also from that era, was also a fun guy to be around, though he wasn't around much, and I was lucky enough to cover two knuckleball pitchers, Dennis Springer and Steve Sparks, and if you've ever talked to a knuckleball pitcher, you know how quirky they can be.
More recently, the Angels have had a few colorful characters such as Brendan Donnelly and Orlando Cabrera, and though we've only had him for a few weeks of spring training, I think Torii Hunter is going to be a lot of fun to cover.
Q: Angelswin.com - Must have been tough covering the Dodgers for the LA Times in the Angels 2002 Championship season eh?
A: Mike DiGiovanna - Not really . the only thing that was tough about covering the Dodgers in 2002 was that drive to Los Angeles from Orange County. With traffic so unpredictable, there were days it took me 35 minutes to get to Dodger Stadium and days it took me an hour and 35 minutes to get there. And even though I covered the Dodgers that year, I did follow the Angels in the ALCS and World Series, both at home and on the road, so I was there for most of the championship run. I had covered the Angels for seven years before being moved to the Dodgers beat, and the Angels never made the playoffs during that time. Having covered the post-season every year since 1995, watching the Yankees build their dynasty, I always wondered how the Angels would respond to October baseball. I had trouble projecting in my mind how they would do. Would they fold under pressure? Would they thrive? Well, that question was obviously answered in 2002, when guys like Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Bengie Molina, Adam Kennedy, Troy Glaus, David Eckstein, Jarrod Washburn and Troy Percival rose to the occasion, not to mention the fans and those noise sticks. Though I wrote sidebars and not game stories that October, it was still cool to be a part of it. Plus, it was nice to be home in October for a change.
Q: Angelswin.com - Do you root for both the Angels and Dodgers? What team are you more a fan of?
A: Mike DiGiovanna - I don't root for either team, and I am not a fan of either team. As a reporter, we're supposed to be objective, and to root for the team I'm covering would greatly compromise my coverage. I do admit I root for stories, for good angles.
Q: Angelswin.com - In a 1/9 interview on MLB TV's "Under The Lights" Broadcaster Rex Hudler made the comment that even though he doesn't want to say that Reagins is a puppet, that Arte Moreno and Mike Scioscia now have more input into what deals are made. When Stoneman was GM, there is no doubt he had almost complete control. What is the situation now? Do you think GM Tony Reagins has to get Scioscia's approval before making a deal?
A: Mike DiGiovanna - First of all, when Stoneman was GM, he did not have complete control. Moreno, of course, had the final say on any significant free-agent signing, and he was a lot more involved in trade talks then people think. And Stoneman would always get input from Scioscia before considering any trade. So, it would be incorrect to say Stoneman had complete control. With the hiring of Reagins, who had virtually no experience in player personnel moves at the major league level, I think Scioscia and Moreno are even more involved than they were when Stoneman was GM, and I think Scioscia, in particular, will have more influence on personnel moves than he had under Stoneman. Does that make Reagins a puppet? That's hard to say, but I don't think Reagins would have taken the job if he didn't have some autonomy. One thing to remember, Reagins is essentially surrounded by the same key advisers-special assistant Gary Sutherland and assistant GM Ken Forsch-that Stoneman was, and Stoneman is still very much involved as an advisor to Moreno, so the decision-making process in the front office hasn't really changed.
Q: Angelswin.com - With the lease on Angel Stadium coming up sooner rather than later, have there been any rumblings about what the future holds for the team staying in Anaheim ? Have the relations between the City of Anaheim and Moreno improved?
A: Mike DiGiovanna - I haven't heard any rumblings and I'd be shocked, even with the adversarial relationship between Moreno and the city, if the Angels consider leaving Anaheim. The stadium, after being renovated 10 years ago, is in great shape, equipped with all the modern revenue-generating amenities (dugout suites, club suites, Diamond Club, etc.) and is centrally located in a huge metropolitan area, accessible by three freeways. The team has drawn about 3.4 million fans a year for several years. As for relations between the city and Moreno, I wouldn't say they've improved-Anaheim is still pursuing appeals to the name-change court case, which has to agitate the owner-but I don't think they've deteriorated any more since the name-change lawsuit.
Q: Angelswin.com - What has it been like working with some talented writers' from the LA Times over the years? Do you miss Gabe Lacques?
A: Mike DiGiovanna - Gabe who? Just kidding . actually, Gabe worked for the L.A. News Group, not The Times, but we covered the Angels together for two years, and I do miss the little guy and his quirky sense of humor. He has since moved on to USA Today and we keep in touch-we had lunch during the World Series in Boston last October, and he's come up to Baltimore a few times when the Angels are in town playing the Orioles.
As for my colleagues at The Times, I was extremely fortunate to work with Ross Newhan, our former national baseball writer who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000 and retired a few years ago. He guided me through my first interview with a big leaguer, Bert Blyleven, back in 1983, and has been an invaluable resource since I started covering baseball as a beat writer in 1995.
I was also lucky enough to begin covering baseball when Jim Murray was still alive-in fact, the first two World Series I covered, in 1995 and 1996, I sat next to Jim in the press box for several games. I'll never forget being in Yankee Stadium for Game 6 of the 1996 World Series between the Yankees and Braves, and before the game Vin Scully stopped by to chat with Jim for about 20 minutes, and Jim included me in the entire conversation, like I belonged. It was like chatting with the Mt. Rushmore of sports journalism. Not only was Jim an incredible writer, he was as down-to-earth and friendly as a guy can be. As I was writing my game story about the Yankees clinching the World Series that night I kept thinking, "My game story is going to be packaged on the front page of the LA Times with Jim Murray . I am not worthy. " Talk about pressure. There have been plenty of other Times writers who have helped and influenced me over the years, but if I start listing them, I'm sure I'll leave someone out, so I'll just leave it at that.