ANAHEIM (AP) — Although the Los Angeles Angels’ season hasn’t been particularly good, it has been interesting in a lot of bad ways.
Two days after general manager Jerry Dipoto walked out on the Angels, they’ll visit Arlington, Texas, on Friday to face the Rangers and Josh Hamilton for the first time since Los Angeles paid him an astonishing amount to go away.
Weird tension and curious decisions have become normal for the Angels during mercurial owner Arte Moreno’s tenure, but the dramas of the current season have been uncommonly disruptive, according to manager Mike Scioscia and his players.
Hamilton’s prolonged departure and Dipoto’s abrupt resignation have been major distractions, yet Scioscia takes comfort in the fact that the Angels are still 41-38 and just five games back in second place in the AL West.
“The one thing about this game is it doesn’t stop,” Scioscia said. “Every day, you have to go out there and perform. You learn how to filter out distractions, whatever they may be. Our guys are pretty good at that. So whatever distractions or drama creeps up, we’re going to go out there and get ready to play a ballgame.”
Interim general manager Bill Stoneman started work Thursday while the Angels flew to Texas to begin a nine-game road trip heading into the All-Star break. A change of scenery sounded good to most of the Angels, who were largely baffled to learn Dipoto had quit one month before the trade deadline, apparently in response to a pair of team meetings going poorly last weekend.
“I didn’t even know there was any tension at all,” left-hander Hector Santiago said. “I didn’t know the past, what happened years ago. We had our meeting the other day, but it wasn’t anything intense. Definitely didn’t see this coming from that meeting. Unexpected, for sure, there’s no doubt about it.”
Injured ace Jered Weaver captured the Angels’ feelings before Wednesday’s game when he asked a clubhouse attendant to turn off several televisions showing news reports about Dipoto’s departure.
The 71-year-old Stoneman will remain in charge for the rest of the season, and team President John Carpino said the Angels have several strong in-house candidates for the full-time job, including pro scouting director Hal Morris and 34-year-old assistant GM Matt Klentak.
The Angels are grateful to get out of town even if they’re running into Hamilton, who remains friends with several of his teammates from two lousy years in Anaheim.
“Obviously we bonded here and had a good friendship,” AL MVP Mike Trout said. “He’s a great guy. Just hopefully he doesn’t get hits against us.”
Moreno probably isn’t his friend: He shipped Hamilton back to Texas in late April, angrily agreeing to pay most of the remainder of Hamilton’s $125 million free-agent deal after Hamilton self-reported a relapse in his sobriety.
Scioscia also criticized Hamilton on the way out the door, saying the slugger lacked “accountability” to his teammates. The manager is eager to see Hamilton’s reaction to their arrival.
“Hopefully he’ll publicly take an opportunity to thank the teammates that supported him,” Scioscia said. “And again, I really think that he should reach out to Arte and let Arte know that maybe some of the things he did weren’t what he signed up to do. We’ll leave it at that.”
Hamilton’s former Angels teammates largely don’t share management’s hard feelings. Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson, who will start Sunday, is close to Hamilton after being teammates in Texas and again in Anaheim.
“When you have a personal friendship with somebody, there’s that added gamesmanship to it,” Wilson said. “So I’ll probably stare at him, pretend like I’m going to throw him all fastballs, but I’m not. ... There’s a lot of history and friendships there, and a lot of Xbox games and whatnot, but now he’s just another guy over there with a bat.”
Despite these distractions and a largely inept offense behind Trout and Albert Pujols, the Angels are playing their best baseball of the season. They won all three series on their just-completed homestand, and they’re within striking distance of the first-place Houston Astros with one of the majors’ best pitching staffs.
If the Angels can avoid more negative drama, they have a strong chance to be a playoff team for the second straight year. But even if some new wackiness occurs, Pujols thinks the Angels are equipped for it.
“We’ve been going through these challenges since spring training,” Pujols said. “I think there’s always challenges every time you’re at this level, so you just have to make sure you don’t have those outside distractions get in the way.”