Mike Scioscia On Team USA, Standout Olympic Prospects And His Future Managerial Plans
Three years after stepping down as the Angels manager, Mike Scioscia returned to the dugout this summer to manage Team USA in the Olympic qualifiers and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Scioscia guided Team USA to an undefeated record in qualifying to clinch a spot in the Olympics and led the U.S. to a silver medal at the Tokyo Games. Team USA reached the gold medal game before falling to host Japan, 2-0, and finished 4-2 overall in the tournament. It was Team USA’s first silver medal after previously winning gold in 2000 and bronze in 1996 and 2008.
Scioscia became just the third person to win both a World Series and an Olympic medal as a manager. The others are Tommy Lasorda, Scioscia’s former manager and longtime friend, and Davey Johnson. Lasorda won two World Series (1981, 1988) and a gold medal (2000), Scioscia won one World Series (2002) and a silver medal (2021) and Johnson won one World Series (1986) and a bronze medal (2008). Scioscia (1981, 1988) and Johnson (1966, 1970) also won two World Series championships as players.
Scioscia spoke with Baseball America about Team USA’s performance during the Summer Olympics, which young players impressed him most, what rules he’d like to see changed in Olympic baseball and what’s next for him as a manager.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Team USA took home the silver medal and played in a lot of tight, competitive games throughout the Olympics. How do you assess the team’s performance and the overall experience of Tokyo?
Mike Scioscia: We couldn’t be prouder of the way our guys played. I think they represented U.S. baseball at a tremendous level and to come away with a silver medal is quite an accomplishment. The whole experience was incredible for me on a personal level, just getting back into a competitive nature from the qualifiers to the Olympics in Tokyo. It was a tremendous experience for me. I think every player has the same feeling putting on a USA jersey, the sense of pride you have with competing under the flag. The Olympic experience, it was muted in some ways because we couldn’t go to some of the events we’d hoped to go to when we made the Olympics, that we hoped to go see. We were really limited to some of the things we could do. But the competitive nature of the teams that we beat and how well our guys played is something that makes us all feel a sense of accomplishment.
Obviously, the goal for everyone at the Olympics is to win a gold medal. How do you balance the disappointment of not winning gold with the pride you mentioned of winning silver?
Scioscia: There’s always disappointment when you don’t reach your ultimate goal. But seeing the level of competition and seeing how tough all the teams were, seeing how tough the teams were even in the qualifiers, I mean you got great teams like Cuba, Canada had a terrific team, Venezuela, these guys didn’t even get past the qualifiers. This group of guys beat them to get to Tokyo. So you look at the quality of the competition and you look at how well we had to play during the whole tournament, I think you take a little solace in the fact you did the best you could. These guys played at an incredible level. Obviously, there is disappointment not getting a gold medal, but just to medal and get a silver medal with all the great teams that were there gives you a good feeling.
You’ve spoken a lot about Tommy Lasorda and his influence on you and the memory of him winning gold at the 2000 Olympics and how much that meant. How often did you find yourself thinking about Tommy during this Olympic run?
Scioscia: There were times, especially during the national anthem. The image is burned into my mind, and in talking with Tommy, when they’re playing our national anthem on the gold medal stand and he’s got tears streaming down his eyes. I think that says it all. I was fortunate to play on many division winners and a couple world championship teams with Tommy managing and he was very emotional, but never (like) the emotion that came out of him when they won that gold medal. I would think about that and just hope our guys played well enough to maybe have that opportunity, which we did. But even though it’s a double-edged sword, I’m glad we got the silver and I’m also happy that Tommy is the only manager to win a gold medal at the Olympics and a World Series championship. It just speaks volumes to the terrific baseball man he was.
You won World Series championships as both a player and a manager, now you have an Olympic medal. Where does this experience, winning an Olympic medal, stack up for you?
Scioscia: I really believe this game is about playing it. This game isn’t about coaching it or managing it. That’s a lot of fun for me, I loved it, but the experience I had as a player is something that is the ultimate I carry forward. Winning championships, being on championship teams in 1981 and 1988 as a player, being a small part of those championship teams, is the pride I bring forward in what I did in baseball as a professional or amateur. But next to that, getting an opportunity to win a World Series as a manager in 2002 and all the division titles, playing in LCS’s with the Angels, those are special. But watching our guys, as hard as they played under the sense of urgency with every game to win an Olympic medal, is really, really special to me.
Are you going to keep your Olympic medal with your World Series rings?
Scioscia: We’re not getting our medals yet. We don’t get them from the IOC. Only the players do. We’re getting them from USA Baseball. Absolutely, it’s going to have a prominent spot in my little cabinet.
Japan was a talented team with a lot of players who are very highly regarded. They beat Team USA twice, including in the gold medal game. What were your impressions of that Japanese team and what made them so tough to beat?
Scioscia: Well, I think they had some really high-level pitchers that pitched against us, particularly in the last game. The first game we had them beat in the ninth inning with one out and they did a great job to come back and tie the game and win in extra innings. I think the way our guys played, we could certainly play with them. We had opportunities in the gold medal game. We had runners on in seven innings and really couldn’t get that key hit. But the Japanese team, they were very, very tough. They were deep in pitching. They had a lot of situational hitters in their lineup and were able to do things when they needed to and they deserved to win. They played the best. We tip our caps to them and we’re a little disappointed we didn’t get there, but we know we played as well as we could.
You had a mix of older veterans and younger prospects on the team. Which of the younger players impressed you most?
Scioscia: I think all our young guys performed very well. Mark Kolozsvary, our catcher, just has a special makeup and something about him where he is just a force behind the plate. Nick Allen, our shortstop, is a guy that will definitely play in the big leagues. The way he plays shortstop, he made the all-defensive team and that says a lot with all the great players and great shortstops who were in this tournament. Triston Casas at first base was the biggest bat on our team and has the most upside, I think, of any player that we had. He’s going to get his opportunity in the big leagues for sure. I think Eddy Alvarez, who was kind of our sparkplug, will get another opportunity to play in the big leagues. Though he’s 31 years old, he still has a lot of baseball left in him. And a lot of our young pitchers, you look at Shane Baz and Joe Ryan, these guys have just tremendous stuff and I think once they figure out their repertoires, I think they’re going to be good big league pitchers for a long time.
You mention Casas having the most upside of any player on the team. He hit three home runs, all to different fields, and had some of the best at-bats of the tournament. What did you make of his maturity as a hitter in addition to his performance?
Scioscia: He’s advanced beyond his age as far as a hitter. He understands what pitchers are trying to do to him. He’s made some adjustments to his swing just from the qualifiers to now that were tremendous. And I think his ability to hit right and lefthanded pitching is a skill set that you don’t see in a lot of young hitters. Especially lefthanded hitters. I think he’s a student of the game. He’s got tremendous power to all fields and he’s going to play in the big leagues for a long time.
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The Olympics play under different rules than MLB. What were some of the things you enjoyed about Olympic-style baseball and what are some things you want to see improved?
Scioscia: Couple things. I think there needs to be consistency with some of things that are communicated to teams. We had some issues between innings as far as how many warmups pitchers would get or when we were starting innings. That needs to be resolved. A simple thing unforeseen to me, they have a five-minute break after the fifth inning of every Olympic game because of what they call a smoking break. Which just doesn’t pass the eye test. I mean when you’re trying to crunch innings and get them started at a certain time and then you put a five-minute break in the middle, it just disturbs the whole rhythm of the game. So, there are little things I think you’d like the World Baseball Softball Confederation to maybe cut down and become more uniform with, and maybe make some common sense adjustments to what they’re trying to do. But as far as international baseball, I think it’s booming. I think that you’re seeing more countries play baseball that (traditionally) haven’t. You’re seeing a deeper growth of kids that are enjoying the game and understanding the game. Baseball is on the uptick. So, I would hope that baseball would become a permanent Olympic sport. I feel it’s an incredible oversight that it’s not. But in-house, I think some things in international baseball need to be looked at and have better guidance as to how to run some of these events.
The rule where runners are placed on first and second base to start extra innings, would you like to see that stay in international baseball or would you like to see it move to the traditional setup where no one is on base to start extra innings?
Scioscia: I think it was OK. I think it does make sense. We were limited to a 24-man roster, which needs to be discussed, too. It really squeezes some players out and it’s putting a burden on some of your pitching when you only have a 24-man roster. So, I think for international baseball it makes sense, just for the fact that you don’t want the 18-inning game because no team would really have that much pitching to be able to absorb that because you can’t replace guys. Whoever you bring, that’s it. For the Olympics or for qualifiers, you can’t add players afterwards. It’s not like Major League Baseball where you call somebody up from the minor leagues. That would have to be looked at. I would like to see rosters be at 26 (players). At the qualifiers we had 26, Olympics we only had 24. Those are some of the things that I think need to be looked at from an international baseball perspective.
In terms of what’s next for you, do you have any desire to manage in the major leagues again?
Scioscia: No. I’m very, very content with the privilege I had to manage the Angels for 19 seasons. I think my focus will be on helping out at the amateur level and if USA Baseball needs me to do something, obviously I would consider it. I do things with Tony Reagins from MLB and I’d like to pay it forward that way.
If the Olympics was your last time managing at the professional level, how are you going to remember the experience?
Scioscia: I think it was a great privilege to put a USA uniform on. And I think from all the work that we put in from our minicamp before the qualifier to get some of our veterans evaluated, to the work leading up to the Olympics and how our guys played, I’m going to take the best parts of that and just be grateful that I had the opportunity to do this. It was a thrill for me, a thrill for my family. I couldn’t be prouder of the way these guys played on a personal level. I couldn’t be prouder to put a USA uniform on and play under our flag. It’s a tremendous privilege.