It’s clear, after the ritual sweepsmas eve celebrations last night, that the Mariners and Angels are not going to stop going at each others’ throats for the rest of the season. I mean, why would they? They’re really the last men standing for the non-big-four playoff spot. The Angels are sort of kneeling at this point, but you know. The affairs on the field have the usual whiff of “it’s just business”—just look at Mike Trout grinning at an Edwin Diaz slider to end the game last night. Even so, as much as I have a deep emotional connection to the Mariners and a visceral hatred of the Angels, it’s ultimately a (very fun) job and a way to make a living for these guys. That’s not necessarily so much the case between front offices. Jerry Dipoto’s departure from Anaheim in the summer of 2015 has become the stuff of legend among both fanbases, and his transition to Seattle created a slow burning ember of rage between the franchises that has, in the last 8 months, exploded into an inferno of recriminations, disgust, and, uh, farm system comparisons.
Jerry arrived in Anaheim as the heralded champion of the statistical wave that the Angels were at long last embracing. Over four years in Anaheim, the results were mostly positive; he oversaw Mike Trout’s explosion as an all-time great, won 89, 78, 98, and 85 games, and acquired or developed current useful players like Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Heaney, and Tyler Skaggs (as well as formerly useful player Kole Calhoun). It’s not something he alone gets credit for, and it wasn’t all pretty; in a refrain that will be familiar to Mariners fans, the farm system got worse through trades and graduations, and Dipoto’s relationship with Mike Scioscia was rocky almost from the start, as he fired Scioscia’s longtime friend and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, and Scioscia was annoyed by Scott Servais’ desire to be on-field for spring training drills.
Oh, also, they signed Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and CJ Wilson to like a billion dollars in contracts, mostly thanks to Arte Moreno’s determination, then pawned Hamilton back off on the Rangers and ate the entire contract, again because Arte said so. The Anaheim Angels: sure, we’re maltreating a guy with an addiction problem and paying a bajillion dollars to a guy who can’t hit (and batting him fourth!), but the real problem is a former catcher being on the field in uniform. And they say critical thinking is dead. (ed. they must have been in Anaheim at the time)
We are all well-versed in the circumstances that led to Dipoto’s resignation in Anaheim. To hear many Angels fans recount it now—do a twitter search for “dipoto eppler” if you don’t believe me, but look, maybe don’t do it around kids or on a work computer?—it was a long overdue move, and they are now able to succeed thanks to Billy Eppler, who has worked a near-miracle to undo Dipoto’s wrongs (and, of course, convinced Ohtani to sign with them, showing once and for all that Dipoto is a charlatan who ANYONE can easily see through). Looking back, some attitudes have… changed, slightly. Far from paroxysms of glee, Dipoto’s resignation sparked a crisis for a heck of a lot of Angels fans, to the point where some of them were questioning whether they wanted to continue as supporters of the franchise (n.b. I do not begrudge them this. We all say a lot of things we don’t mean when sports have us upset. I did mean those things about Hector Noesi, though.) Anyone is, of course, always welcome to reevaluate in light of new information—but you would think a GM who won 85 or more games in three of four years—and produced the best record in baseball in one of those years—and locked up the game’s greatest player to an insanely team-friendly extension—would be remembered more fondly, or at least neutrally. One suspects this is more about Dipoto ending up with a division rival, and less about what he actually did in Anaheim.
The biggest missteps of Dipoto’s tenure had Moreno’s fingerprints all over them; while Eppler has not had his hand forced similarly, it appears to me all parties involved in Anaheim may have learned a lesson about front office meddling. Eating $60mm of your own money will do that to a guy, I assume. Meanwhile, prospects like Jahmai Jones, Taylor Ward, Jaime Barria, and Michael Hermosillo, along with established major leaguers like Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Calhoun, and Nick Tropeano show that the Angels do owe a fair amount of their current success to the work Dipoto did. Eppler built it, but on the foundation left behind—and without making 60-some-odd trades.
We can all rattle off the “greatest” hits between us and the Angels. There’s the generic on-field stuff, like a 7-run 9th inning for a walkoff (which I felt, uh, extremely personally), Deadgar Weekend, Lollablueza, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout mocking Fernando Rodney, (DON’T EVER SPEAK TO ME OR MY CROOKED HATTED SON EVER AGAIN), look how much do you want me to say here this really hurts, but there’s also the front-office stuff: the Angels and Mariners were, fairly or not, regarded by the national zeitgeist as the two finalists for Ohtani, and since it happened there have been whispers from inside and outside the organization that Ohtani was scheduled to visit Seattle up until the Friday morning announcement that he’d play in Anaheim. We’ll never know if it’s true, but it carries many indicia of reliability.
Eppler and Dipoto have no reason for animosity, but the cracks at seemingly every other level are apparent; Dipoto, a most garrulous GM, readily shares past anecdotes on the Wheelhouse and in radio appearances, but listen carefully and you’ll note those stem, almost without fail, from his time in Arizona and earlier—it is exceedingly rare for him to relate an anecdote from Anaheim. He took the high road—it’s not only the right thing to do, but necessary for someone who wants to keep working in baseball—but you really couldn’t convince me Jerry won’t relish a sweep today more than just about any of us.
The Angels like to get in on the fun, too: Scioscia seems to have jiggered his rotation where possible to have Ohtani face Seattle (Tinfoil hatty? Yes. Do I think I’m right anyway? Yes. Do I blame Scioscia? No, not really.), and they made sure that Ohtani bobblehead night is while we’re in town. Their fans certainly enjoy pillorying Dipoto at every turn, for things that strangely they never really brought up until the Mariners hired him. As Kate explained on Monday, this has helped fan a rivalry into life; I suggest it will continue so long as the Angels are, well.
A dear happiness to baseball executives: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than an Angels fan swear he loves me.