Who would have thought that after 162 major league baseball games with 30 teams there would be four teams with identical records who would have to play one more game to determine who is a division winner and who is a wild card team? It’s never happened before, but it happened this year; so today is game 163 for four teams: the Brewers and the Cubs, and the Dodgers and the Rockies. My Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, like the other 19 teams who are on their way home today, only played their allotted 162 games. Which is plenty.
What makes the end of this season stand out for this team, however, is that this 162nd game yesterday was the last one Mike Scioscia managed. After 19 seasons, he is stepping down as manager of the Angels. In a tearful press conference following the game, Scioscia gave thanks to the ownership and front office of the club, but saved his highest praise for his players. The players were the heart of his talk, because, as he put it, they are the heart and soul of the team. He and his coaches can manage and coach all they want, but in the end, it’s the players on the field that make the difference. He talked about how inspired he was by his players — how hard they played, win or lose, and what kind of human beings they are aside from being ball players. It was something for a leader to be inspired by his players. And even though this team finished in fourth place, 23 games behind the first place Houston Astros, there was evidence of a tight team, a committed family, and, as Mike said, the kind of play where they leave it all on the field. Even this last game — number 162 — they won on a ninth-inning, walk-off, two-run home run by a rookie who will most likely be a starting player next spring. They could have packed this game in just like their bags were ready to go, but they gave it all and won it against playoff-bound Oakland.
Winning isn’t everything; commitment to the team and to each other is a value in and of itself.
Players rarely attend post-game press conferences, but three of his star players — Mike Trout, Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun — wanted to witness Mike Scioscia’s good-by and hear what he had to say. When Mike noticed them in the room, he said “What are you guys doing here? Was your flight delayed?” It was a good-natured rib at the fact of how much it meant to him for them to have stayed. It was certainly not a requirement.
Great leaders have great respect for those they lead. The inspiration goes both ways. Even God is proud about us and how we’re doing. God boasted about Job, admired Noah, walked with Enoch, wrestled with Jacob. When you follow a great leader, you want to do good even if it’s game 162 and you’re 23 games behind first place, and your bags are packed and ready to go.
By the way, in case you were wondering, there are only 144 days until spring training. I knew you wanted to know that.