- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

ANAHEIM, Calif. — This Angels franchise has gone from an afterthought to one of the most successful organizations in baseball.

They drew 3.4 million fans in a ballpark that was built 39 years ago — it opened five years after RFK Stadium — yet, thanks to a remarkable renovation that took place seven years ago, has the feel of a new facility.

They won the World Series in 2002. This season, they won their second consecutive AL West title.

They have one of the most respected player development systems in the industry, and their manager, Mike Scioscia, is considered one of the best in the game.

Their marketing efforts, led by their new owner, Arte Moreno, have made them the top dog in baseball here, relegating the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers to second-place status — something no one ever thought would happen.

But the guy who built the foundation for this success is in Washington, not knowing whether he will have a job at the end of the month.

Does Tony Tavares take any pleasure in watching the success of the Angels?

“I tend to view life more like Mike [Scioscia] views a bad call,” Tavares said. “I have to focus on what is in front of me.”

What is in front of Tavares is the continued uncertainty about the future of the Washington Nationals. But before Tavares took the Montreal Expos team president job in 2002 when Major League Baseball purchased the franchise, he ran the Angels for Disney and put into place many of the components for the success the team is now enjoying.

Tavares hired Bill Stoneman, the current Angels general manager, and the two of them hired Scioscia. He also oversaw the renovation of the ballpark and contributed to other moves that changed the direction of this franchise, making it quite a bargain when Moreno bought it for $180 million (a quaint number in comparison to the projected $450 million sales price of the Nationals) in 2003.

Tavares oversaw the Disney sports operation here, which included the NHL’s Mighty Ducks, and the Angels fell under that umbrella when Disney bought the franchise from the Autry family.

“There was a transition that had to take place there because the Autrys had been looking to sell the team, and it was operated in a way that reflected that,” Tavares said. “There were changes that had to be made in the organization.”

One of Tavares’ first moves was replacing resigned general manager Bill Bavasi in November 1999 with Stoneman.

“I thought [Stoneman] would be the perfect guy based on his success with the Montreal minor league system [as vice president of baseball operations],” Tavares said. “He had been part of building the right kind of franchise that solved its problems from within and built a core foundation for success.

“He is a nuts and bolts, get-the-job done kind of guy and the furthest thing from a self-promoter you could find,” Tavares said. “He went right to work assembling a professional staff that could do what we wanted to do.”

That included bringing in Gary Sutherland, one of the most respected scouts in the game, as a special assistant to coordinate professional scouting for the organization and hiring a manager whom Tavares said both he and Stoneman figured was destined for greatness.

“We interviewed many candidates for the job, but the minute Mike Scioscia walked through the door, he made an impression on us,” Tavares said. “After the interview, Bill turned to me and asked, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘I think we just found our guy.’ ”

Tavares said the best of Scioscia was on display in the way he handled the controversial ninth inning third strike call by Doug Eddings in Game 2 of the ALCS that allowed A.J. Pierzynski to reach first safely and set up the game-winning hit by Joe Crede.

Scioscia refused to use the call as an excuse for losing.

“There’s a lot of focus on that play, but we didn’t play to a high enough level tonight to win the ballgame. That’s the bottom line. You have to play at a high enough level. If there’s a call you don’t get or something happens, a bloop, whatever it might be, you have to play at a high enough level that you should be able to absorb it.”

Tavares was impressed with the way his former manager handled the situation.

“He got the focus of his team back on the next game,” Tavares said. “It served no useful purpose to look back. You can’t do anything about it. It was a stroke of brilliance to get his team ready for the next game.

“When you talk about class acts, we both felt we hired a guy who would evolve into one of the best managers in the game. And I think he is one of the best three in the game today.”

Moreno is reaping much of the glory and the rewards for the success of the Angels as the new owner, and he has done much to contribute to that success. But the pieces that were in place that allowed him to do that were put there by Tavares.

“I enjoyed my time with the Angels and the contributions I was able to make,” he said. “We had some really good people working together there.”

And if Tony Tavares happens to get a chance to run the Washington Nationals with a legitimate owner willing to commit resources, Nationals fans should look at the Angels as his model for the franchise.

“The Angels are the blueprint,” Tavares said. “Draft well, build a strong minor league system and put quality people in place and you will succeed.”

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