Roberts impresses with integrity, intelligence
The Los Angeles Dodgers have hired one of the nicest and most genuine men on the planet. As qualifications go for a job like this one, that's an excellent place to start. To know Dave Roberts is to like Dave Roberts.
That's the thing that will come up again and again now that the Dodgers have named Roberts their new manager. In 16 years as a Major League player, front-office employee and coach, he has impressed those who've played with him, played for him and simply gotten to know him with his decency, smarts and charisma.
First of all, this is a job about dealing with people -- not just managing them, but understanding them, communicating with them and getting the best from them.
Sure, it's about handling a bullpen, filling out lineups, etc. Beyond any of that, though, in this era of baseball, when there must be a collaboration between a front office and a manager, this job is about getting players to give their best effort every single day and making them understand that each decision he makes is in the best interests of the team.
It's a job that requires consistency and poise, about riding the good times and not getting swept away by the tough ones. Players do not want a manager who is all over the place emotionally.
Remember how Tommy Lasorda constantly reassured his players that they were the best this or the greatest that? If you laughed at that stuff, you missed Lasorda's genius. He managed his way into the Hall of Fame because he put players in position to succeed and made sure they knew he believed in them.
Roberts oozes enthusiasm and energy, too. During five seasons with the Padres, he learned from one of the best, Bud Black, and that's why players loved and respected both men.
Roberts is a cancer survivor, and the way he waged that battle -- upbeat, relentless and unwavering -- speaks volumes about him. No matter how tough the times get for the Dodgers next season, they won't endure anything worse than what Roberts has already stared down. Yes, perspective is important.
For the last 11 years, Roberts has been known largely as the guy who changed the course of baseball in New England. The Red Sox, trailing by a run, were three outs from being swept by the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series when Roberts pinch-ran for Kevin Millar in the bottom of the ninth inning and promptly stole second base.
No stolen base in the history of baseball has had more impact. Roberts put himself into position to score and did just that when Bill Mueller followed with a game-tying single. The Red Sox would go on to win four straight games to capture the pennant, then go on to win their first World Series in 86 years.
Now 43, Roberts will get a chance to write a new chapter in his baseball life. He arrives at the Dodgers job after playing 10 seasons for five franchises, including the Dodgers in 2002, '03 and part of '04.
Roberts is a .266 career hitter who never played more than 129 games in a season, so he understands that the game is difficult. Because he played for so many franchises, Roberts has seen that successful teams are able to weave all sorts of personalities into a cohesive unit.
Roberts did an assortment of tasks for Black in San Diego, from working with outfielders and baserunners to serving as bench coach.
Roberts is the first African-American manager the Dodgers will have, and that feels right. This is the franchise of Jackie Robinson, the franchise of Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. Roberts' hiring is a proud moment for the Dodgers, and it's a proud moment for baseball, too.
Like any other rookie manager, Roberts will have to earn the respect of his players. This he will do. He has worked too hard for too many years to fail. Roberts will be a better manager once Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman adds a couple of starting pitchers, but that's another part of this story.
Roberts will be reminded how much managing has changed in the last decade. Once upon a time, a general manager hired a manager, shook his hand and sent him to the dugout.
No more. There can be no walls between a front office and its manager. Front offices have data to share on lineups, matchups, strategy, etc. Managers have the final call on many decisions, but the best ones take advantage of every scrap of information they're provided.
Friedman interviewed close to a dozen candidates in the search for Don Mattingly's successor. In casting a wide net, he was seeking information about how different organizations do things.
Friedman was also looking for someone who fit the Dodgers at this point in their history. One of his current front-office employees, Gabe Kapler, was widely considered the favorite for the job when the process began.
Roberts ended up getting the offer, and so many people are happy for him it would be impossible to count them all. No one who has tracked his career or gotten to know him believes he will fail.