Angels boast quartet of field generals
Anderson, Escobar, Lackey, Guerrero provide leadership
ANAHEIM -- Leadership comes in a variety of forms, impossible to quantify by sabermetricians. But it's as essential to the overall well-being of a ballclub as pitching, defense, timely hitting and sunflower seeds.The dynamics of the Angels' inner sanctum pivot around a time-tested foursome with disparate personalities: Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar. "Guys have to be here a long time to do that," manager Mike Scisocia said, addressing how an emotional tone is set in the clubhouse and dugout. "I think Garret sets a tone that is important, because he is so even-keeled. Vlad's the same way. John's probably a little more vocal than Garret or Vlad, but he's supportive of everybody in there. Same with Kelvim." There's no manual for leadership. You don't learn how to be a leader. Leadership finds you; you don't find it. "You can't call yourself a leader," Lackey said. "It's important to me to try to do things the right way -- do my work, compete on the field. If that means being a leader, it's part of it. "It's something you definitely pick up from guys who come before you." There are distinct cultures within the clubhouse, and they all blend together seamlessly on a foundation of mutual respect. Guerrero, Escobar, Orlando Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Francisco Rodriguez are examples for young Latinos, just as Anderson, Lackey, Gary Matthews Jr., Scot Shields, Darren Oliver and Justin Speier show the way for younger Angels. "Cabrera in the clubhouse is like one of those pop-rocks, always bouncing around, talking," Scioscia said. "Same with Speier. There's a lot of personality in there. "Garret and Vlad come here and have got one thing in mind. They're relaxed, but they want to go out and play baseball. That's a tone, almost like a light you want to follow." Guerrero is as admired as any player in the game for his unrelenting approach, his love of the game. He got drilled in the hand by a 96 mph Josh Beckett fastball in April and missed two games. Most players would have been out at least two weeks.
Lackey showed Guerrero his respect when he came roaring out of the dugout after Vlad had a pitch directed toward his head by Mariners pitcher Jorge Campillo in the final month of the regular season."Vlad's a guy who's not going to say a whole lot," Lackey said, "but he's a great example in the way he takes care of his business on the field. He's definitely a leader there. "Kelvim's like that. He's one of the hardest workers on the pitching staff. The young guys can see that and respond to it." When he was coaching the Lakers, Pat Riley used to talk about how lucky he was that his best players -- Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- were the hardest workers. It sets a standard and a tone. That's the way it is with the foursome of Guerrero, Anderson, Lackey and Escobar. There is in Anderson's character something that defines the Angels. It is found in their ability to meet difficult circumstances calmly, yet forcefully, head on. The left fielder has been around longer than anyone on the roster of the American League West champions, and that might explain even better than all of his franchise records (hits, doubles, total bases, RBIs) why he has matured like a fine wine. "Garret is about as even-keeled as they come," said Casey Kotchman, who observed Anderson in their corner of the home clubhouse and leaned on his wisdom for four years. "That's right where you want to be as far as holding a middle ground.
"Believe me, it's very beneficial to have him around. He's got this soothing, calming presence about him, this aura. It's hard to explain, but it's there. He's the kind of guy you want to follow into something."Anderson, never what the media calls a "good quote," is the anti-Reggie Jackson in many ways. But Anderson lives inside the game, a student of his craft relishing its finer points. He is always there if a teammate needs his counsel, even if it's not in his nature to actively seek people out. "We're playing together," he said. "When a game starts, we forget about yesterday, don't worry about tomorrow. You don't hear anybody talking about yesterday, what other teams are doing. It's all about right now." The younger players on the club -- 19 players on the expanded roster have two or fewer years of Major League experience -- are always watching, always listening. They understand that rookies and sophomores are cast in a more favorable light when they're seen but rarely heard. "They've followed suit," Anderson said. "You can see their focus is there. I think they know what needs to be done, what we're trying to do here. "You don't have to worry about too many things. Just go play. That's what I try to get across." He acknowledges that his leadership role has expanded over the years, that he enjoys drawing on his experiences as a 14-year veteran and imparting his knowledge to young teammates -- and there are many in his midst on a club built for the long haul. "When you're a young player, you want to do well and establish yourself," Anderson said. "That's your focus. When you get some time under your belt, you understand what you're here for. "When you get here, to this point, you really want to take full advantage of it. You never know when you're going to be back. I got a feel for that in my rookie year. We got a taste of it, and then I didn't get back for seven years. That's a lot of years." That '95 club with young Garret lost in a pre-postseason playoff in Seattle. When he made it to the postseason in 2002, older and wiser, he was the main offensive presence on a World Series champion. That brings respect among peers money can't buy. "Every year is unique," Anderson said, having come alive, his body finally free of injuries, with a monster second half to drive another club to October. "In the offseason, these guys will realize they had a chance to play in a pennant stretch. They'll know how special it was." Lackey recognizes the source of the club's commitment to the moment, a mind-set best embodied by Anderson's steely manner. "A lot of that comes from the top," said Lackey, a 19-game winner poised to work Game 1 against the Red Sox. "Scisocia is a day-by-day guy. We kind of get that knocked into us pretty quick when we get here." A manager runs the show, no doubt. But no team goes far without its own commanders on the field. "Going forward," Lackey said, "we should be fine in that regard."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.