'Full circle' for Roberts as Dodgers manager
LOS ANGELES -- With icons Maury Wills and Don Newcombe looking on and his African-American father and Japanese-American mother in the audience, Dave Roberts said he knows that being the first minority manager of the Dodgers is "huge."
But having grown up amid the diversity found on his father's military bases, the Okinawa-born Roberts said he never considered the possibility he was just a "token" candidate and proved he was the best fit to replace Don Mattingly as new manager of the Dodgers, emerging from a field that started with nine candidates.
"I didn't see myself as a token or the first minority manager; I am who I am and presented myself in that way," Roberts said at his Tuesday news conference unveiling. "My energy, my positiveness, that's just my way."
His way took him from being a bench coach with the San Diego Padres the past two years with no managing experience to a three-year contract to manage the Dodgers.
"There was no way he didn't leave that first meeting with us without feeling, 'I totally nailed it,'" general manager Farhan Zaidi said of Roberts' first interview, which dazzled decision-makers.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said it was as if Roberts "had our answer key" and called him the "ideal person" because of his "positive energy and ability to connect and his leadership style."
Now Roberts gets to work. A coaching staff is expected to be announced later this week. Although Friedman said Roberts is driving that process, Roberts conceded he is "leaning" on the front office, which apparently decided to bring back well-regarded pitching coach Rick Honeycutt even before hiring Roberts.
Mets bench coach Bob Geren -- one of the managerial candidates with strong ties to Zaidi from their time together in Oakland -- is considered the favorite to be Roberts' bench coach.
Friedman said it will be important to have someone in that role with managerial or bench-coach experience (Geren has both) to support Roberts. Gabe Kapler, the other finalist as farm director this year, is "definitely in the mix" for a coaching job, Roberts said.
At 43, Roberts is the youngest Dodgers manager since 42-year-old Walt Alston was hired in 1954 (interim manager Glenn Hoffman was 39). He is the Dodgers' eighth manager in the last 17 years, following a 42-year run between Hall of Famers Alston and Tommy Lasorda.
Roberts, a former Dodgers outfielder, said he has come "full circle" in returning as manager and he dismisses outsiders who consider him a "puppet" of an intrusive front office. Instead he said he "welcomes" and "needs" analytics and sabermetrics, which he said he was open to as a player and coach. Zaidi also mentioned Roberts' openness to new ideas and "intellectual curiosity" as factors in his hiring.
"I'll make decisions on the lineup," Roberts said. "I'll make in-game decisions."
He said he "believes in accountability" and attributes his success as an undersized player to "grit" and plans to instill that in his players.
"When I see people who don't buy into the team, it frustrates me," he said.
He said he previously had told his wife that managing the Dodgers would be "the dream job" and said one of the first perks was getting a congratulatory phone call Sunday from broadcaster Vin Scully.
Roberts said he has spoken with about 15 players already and will visit with Clayton Kershaw on Sunday in Dallas en route to the Winter Meetings in Nashville.
"I like what he said about grit, bringing some toughness to our team," said Dodgers part-owner Magic Johnson. "We have talent, and he brings a lot of excitement and he'll have those guys excited just to come to the ballpark. The guy is a workaholic and we need that type of manager here. Dodger fans should be excited as well. He understands, having been a Dodger player and understands the brand and what it stands for."
A graduate of UCLA and a disciple of Dodgers basestealing legend Wills, Roberts was drafted in the 28th round by Detroit in 1994, was traded to Cleveland in 1998 and was acquired by the Dodgers in a December 2001 trade for Minor Leaguers Christian Bridenbaugh and Nial Hughes that went completely under the radar.
But Roberts impressed manager Jim Tracy with his offseason workout routine and he won the starting center-field job in Spring Training after spending most of the previous eight years in the Minor Leagues. He played three years for the Dodgers, then for the Red Sox, Padres and Giants before retiring in 2009. From his first full season in 2002 to his last full season in 2007, he ranked fourth among all Major League players with 226 stolen bases.