Wednesday, September 17, 2014

By Joe McDonnell, Columnist - 

A year ago if you walked into the Angels' clubhouse, you immediately sensed that it was not the happiest place on earth. 

The Angels were finishing up one of the most disappointing seasons in their history, leaving owner Arte Moreno angry and frustrated with a fourth straight year of missing the playoffs. He had to be wondering why after spending nearly a half billion dollars to sign Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson and Josh Hamilton--his team was on the outside looking in, Again.

Speculation had both Manager Mike Scioscia and GM Jerry Dipoto on the chopping block, even though Moreno gave them the usually-fatal vote of confidence, they were both brought back with mandate of "Win Now."

They have responded, the Halos have clinched a playoff spot and both are serious candidates for post-season awards.

In his 15th year,  former catcher Scioscia has done one of his finest jobs, blending new players with the old players and keeping the team's confidence high during a serious run of injuries to the pitching staff. Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs were lost for the year and rookie sensation Matt Shoemaker is a question mark after an oblique injury Monday night.

This is where Dipoto has shined, when the bullpen needed rebuilding, he did it, acquiring Houston Street and Jason Grilli. Before the season he shored up roster depth and the bench, including a good veteran player and great teammate, John McDonald. Within a year, Dipoto has gone from getting crushed by the media & fans from being the favorite to win the Executive of the Year Award.

I sat down with Dipoto and we talked about the state of the Angels,

Joe McDonnell -- Quite a difference from a year ago, You must be thrilled,

Jerry Dipoto -- Certainly feel good about it and we're confident with where we are, I think the key to our season was starting off a little better than we have in the past few seasons, We had to battle through some injuries and adversity early and some significant injuries with Garrett and Tyler Skaggs going down, There's really something special about this team character-wise and Mike and his staff have done a great job keeping them all together,

Joe McDonnell -- How much of a factor is a player's character when you' putting together a roster?

Jerry Dipoto -- It's huge. It dates back to the off-season when we were formulating out plan for the roster, We wanted to add "makeup" to this club in guys like Raul Ibanez, Johnny McDonald. Houston Street and Joe Smith. players who were off-season and in-season acquisitions, And also Jason Grilli who brings that great personality to the team, There's so much quality and character that we brought in to go along with who we already had here.and it's manifested into such a good group. 

Joe McDonnell -- Just watching them interact on and off the field shows that they really get along.

Jerry Dipoto -- This may be the most cohesive group I've been around. This is the 26th different team I've been associated with in my career, and the way this group gets along, the way they pull for each other and pick each other up when they're down is extraordinary.

Joe McDonnell -- You took a lot of heat from the media and fans the past two years. Would you consider this a season of redemption?

Jerry Dipoto -- That's just part of the gig. You are going to take heat. And next year if we don't (win) I'll take heat again. That's the nature of the business. I always tell the players that pressure is what you make of it. Pressure, to me, is not being able to pay the bills. The guy who doesn't quite make enough money and has to live paycheck to paycheck. That's pressure. What we do here is fun. I'd be lying to you if I said there were never times when I'm a little edgy. There are. But when you have a job in the public eye you have to let stuff roll off  of you. Me, Mike Arte--we're going to get criticized. But we pick each other up and play as hard as we can and hopefully we win.

Joe McDonnell --  There's been lots of talk that you and Scioscia don't get along. True or false?

Jerry Dipoto -- I think what a lot of people don't know is that the first day Mike and I met was the first day we worked together. I came in with philosophies and ideas  from my baseball life and Mike came in with the things he had done in his baseball life. He believed firmly in the things he believed in and I believed firmly in the things I believed in, and we had to figure each other out along the way. That doesn't happen in a day or even a month, but we got to know each other along the way. I don't think we ever had a problem with each other personally and frankly I think we got along fine personally. Once we started to understand each other's baseball, everything became balanced.

(After the interview with Dipoto, I asked Scioscia the same question.)

Mike Scioscia --You have guys with strong opinions in Jerry and I, and a lot of that is healthy. Its's said that we don't get along and that's erroneous. There are some things we talk about that we don't agree on, much like any manager and GM, I think we've become a better team in terms of our manager-general manager relationship. The lines of communication are kept open and I think it's worked out just fine.

Joe McDonnell -- Why has this team been successful in 2014?

Jerry Dipoto -- A lot of factors have made us successful. Mike and his staff have been great. They have so much knowledge. They've payed the game, coached the game and managed the game. We have people in the front office who understand the game, know how the read the numbers, make judgments and get us the right players. And of course the players themselves. We've got a great bunch of guys who play hard every game and all of them have made big contributions. The Mike Trouts', Albert Pujols' Josh Hamitons', Jered Weavers' and Garret Richards are great players and get well-deserved recognition. But this is a TEAM, and if we keep playing like we have, this could end up being a very special year. That's what we're hoping for.

See's Q & A session prior to the start of the 2014 season held in Tempe, AZ, at our Spring Fanfest Event.
Love to hear what you think!

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