LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Dave Roberts’ first two years as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager have gone by in an action-packed blur.
He has watched 195 regular-season wins and survived one awful losing skid. He has won two NL West titles, three playoff series and a pennant. He persevered through his father’s death with almost no time to grieve last spring, determined to keep his team pointed toward its championship goal.
And though he played 2 1/2 seasons for the Dodgers, this UCLA product still sometimes feels like a newcomer in blue.
“I’m learning something every day, I think,” Roberts said recently. “Being more familiar with the front office, the players, the coaches, I think that all of that has helped me be more comfortable in any situation.”
Roberts relishes the chance to reflect on these two crazy seasons — perhaps at his North County winery — after the World Series, which visits Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night for the first time in 29 years.
But until the Dodgers and the Houston Astros are finished, he’ll stay focused on putting his highly paid players in the best positions to chase that trophy. Although he had no managerial aspirations until long after his playing career ended, Roberts has grown passionate about the work.
“I think that I just love the game,” Roberts said. “I love to teach. I love the players. … I think that as your (playing) career evolves and starts to descend, you start changing roles as far as mentor, teammate, role model, and then helping younger players, and just loving the teaching component.”
Roberts is often given credit for balancing the demands of the prodigious baseball minds in the Dodgers’ data-driven front office and the hearts of the ballplayers doing the on-field work. He routinely redistributes any praise among his players and the team’s large group of executives and coaches — just as a leader should.
And while he was a surprise choice for the job in late 2015, Roberts has been just about as successful as anyone can be in an unforgiving, relentlessly second-guessed profession.
In concert with the front office, he has been innovative and fearless while the big-budget Dodgers honed new strategies to handle pitching staffs and attempted to get maximal value from all their extraordinary assets.
Roberts won the NL Manager of the Year award as a rookie last season while setting a major league record with 606 pitching changes. With a few inspired moves in the NL Division Series against Washington, he helped the Dodgers to the NL Championship Series, where they ran into the destined Chicago Cubs.
After guiding these current 104-win Dodgers past Arizona and Chicago in a 7-1 playoff rampage, the former outfielder has the chance to add another championship ring to the one he earned through his monumental stolen base against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera during the Boston Red Sox’s 2004 championship run.
“Doc gets a lot of respect because he played the game, but the biggest thing that he gives us is consistency,” Dodgers left-hander Rich Hill said. “If we’re winning six times a week or in a losing streak, he’s the same guy every day. He’s always trying to make everybody better, and he doesn’t take days off. Teams feed off that, and the results of it show up when you get to where we are in October.”
Roberts has major advantages in his job: The highest payroll in baseball, a roster studded with talent, and a loyal, vociferous fan base eager for a championship.
He also has incredible challenges: The Dodgers’ championship drought, a surplus of talent to keep happy, those enormous expectations brought on by that fat payroll — and a loyal, vociferous fan base eager for a championship.
At 45, Roberts approaches it all with a studied, contagious confidence.
“Doc is a smart man. He always knows what to do in situations,” said right fielder Yasiel Puig, whose career has been revitalized under Roberts and his coaching staff.
Roberts tries to speak to each of his players every day, even if it’s just a greeting. He works the Dodgers’ clubhouse like a senior class president, checking in on every relationship and staying abreast of everybody’s health. He gave himself a mental break over the weekend, spending a day at home in San Diego and enjoying a favourite wine.
Roberts would be the first manager of Asian descent to win a World Series, and the second black manager to win a title, following Toronto’s Cito Gaston. He recognizes the importance of those milestones, but he believes they would mean more to his father.
Waymon Roberts died at 68 during spring training this year. The longtime Marine instilled a work ethic in his son and provided a behaviour template that he strives to teach his children and his players.
Before these playoffs began, Roberts said he had “a good cry” thinking about how excited his father, who followed the Dodgers vociferously, would have been about this playoff run.
“What would he tell me?” Roberts said. “He’d be wearing his big Dodgers blue jacket. He would just tell me how proud he was. Just go have fun.”
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