By Ross Newhan
It doesn't matter how the Angels explain it, but Tuesday's firing of Manager Mike Scioscia's friend and hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, significantly changes the image of organization control.
Scioscia's contract extends through 2018, which would be his 19th year at the club's helm, but the manager would never have made Hatcher the scapegoat for an offense that General Manager Jerry DiPoto describes as having "grossly underachieved." DiPoto, whose contract run through 2014, with option years in 2015 and 2016, is clearly making the key decisions now, with approval of owner Arte Moreno.
In addition, Albert Pujols' pathetic performance through the first six weeks of his 10 year, $240 million contract, has left Scioscia--and the entire lineup--facing the Sword of Damocles, now resting in Hatcher's neck.
Jim Eppard, elevated from triple A, is the new hitting coach. Good luck.
The gregarious Hatcher, a former Dodger teammate of Scioscia's and his hitting coach in triple A, had also been with Scioscia throughout his Angel tenure.
He was the hitting coach when the Angels won the 2002 World Series, when they won five of six division titles and when they set club records for hits, runs, runs batted in and batting average in 2009.
When the Angels lost the last two division titles to the Texas Rangers--and given their inconsistent start of this year (including being shut out a major league high eight times while last in the West)--Hatcher came under fire from fans despite a series of fruitless, big money acquisitions by the front office, including those of Gary Matthews Jr. and Vernon Wells.
Will Pujols prove fruitless after Moreno--stung by the Rangers' division dominance--couldn't wait to spend his new TV money?
As of Wednesday, Pujols had hit one home run in 146 at bats and was batting .212 after getting three infield hits in Tuesday's 4-0 victory over Oakland, after which the Angels distributed a press release on the firing of Hatcher, the timing being such that Sciocia wasn't avavilable.
Hatcher said Scioscia was "frustrated and disappointed" by the decision but that Hatcher said he tried to tell his friend it was just part of the game.
Hatcher had recently been criticized by Pujols for talking to the media about a closed door meeting the team had conducted, and Pujols had already criticized the organization after Moreno, the former billboard magnate, had approved a series of billboards in L.A. and throughout Southern California portraying Pujols as "El Hombre." Pujols said he came up in the St. Louis organization believing there was only one "El Hombre," so to speak, and that was Stan "The Man" Musial.
While Pujols has been the most glaring hole in the Angel lineup, there have been others, but two youngsters--sophomore Mike Trumbo and rookie Mike Trout--have created a sense of optimism, and it is difficult to believe Pujols won't regain a measure of his previous form despite his last three declining seasons in St. Louis.
In the meantime, Moreno and DiPoto will be making the decisions, with Hatcher's firing seemingly cutting into the control that was previously believed to belong to the manager.