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Roberts proving Dodgers found right man for job

Newly crowned NL champs kept open mind when hiring manager before 2016 season
MLB.com @castrovince

All these teams looking for a new manager -- and another one joined the list Friday when the Nationals announced they're parting ways with Dusty Baker -- should hire somebody the way the Dodgers hired Dave Roberts.

OK, look, that sentence isn't as simple or as silly as it sounds. Roberts is an individual, and individuals are all, in their own way, unrepeatable. The point here is not that every team should aspire to have somebody exactly like Roberts, the skipper of the newly named National League champion Dodgers.

All these teams looking for a new manager -- and another one joined the list Friday when the Nationals announced they're parting ways with Dusty Baker -- should hire somebody the way the Dodgers hired Dave Roberts.

OK, look, that sentence isn't as simple or as silly as it sounds. Roberts is an individual, and individuals are all, in their own way, unrepeatable. The point here is not that every team should aspire to have somebody exactly like Roberts, the skipper of the newly named National League champion Dodgers.

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The point, rather, is that a lesson can be gleaned from the way the Dodgers, who open the World Series presented by YouTube TV on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, came upon Roberts in the first place: with an open mind that led them to the right man for their team and tastes.

Roberts was not the Dodgers' first choice when they began the interview process. If anything, the process itself could have been viewed as a mere formality before the expected in-house hire of farm director Gabe Kapler. To be clear, Kapler has intelligence and assets that likely would have translated well to the job. But Roberts, who also interviewed for the Mariners job that went to Scott Servais that offseason, was so prepared and communicative that Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman's previous unfamiliarity with Roberts and Roberts' lack of managerial experience didn't matter. With all preconceived notions seemingly stacked against him, the dude came in and earned the job.

"We walked out of the initial interview joking that he had our answer key," Friedman said. "From there, it just continued. We didn't know that much about him. We had heard he was really impressive in the Seattle interviews. We had heard good things about him as a person, about his ability to connect with people. But you don't know until you sit down and get a better feel for someone. He was extremely impressive as far as his thought process, and he is a relentless optimist, which I think over the course of a long season is a great approach when dealing with so many different personalities."

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Interviewing a bunch of people and picking the person who seems the best fit sounds simple, of course. But baseball is not unlike many businesses in that personal relationships and shared backgrounds can affect judgments, especially with such an important hire. Going off the grid with an unfamiliar face is probably more rare than it ought to be. Every ballclub is structured with its own sets of strengths, weaknesses and structures, and it is elemental to find somebody who fits within that club's current climate.

One of the great mismatches of recent history was the Red Sox's hire of Bobby Valentine. He was a known name, no doubt, and a skipper with past successes. But Valentine's penchant for public honesty didn't mesh well with a largely veteran clubhouse accustomed to Terry Francona's incessantly supportive public proclamations. That club soured on Valentine early, and his tenure famously didn't last long.

Contrast that admittedly extreme example with the way the Dodgers landed on Roberts. This was a club devoted to depth. The Dodgers have the largest payroll in the game, but under the Friedman regime, the emphasis has been on maintaining an elite farm system and building a big league roster that can mix and match with the best of them. What that means is there are tough conversations that must take place with players from Day 1 of Spring Training all the way through. In the interview process, the Dodgers came to realize what an asset Roberts' interpersonal abilities can be, and the players have come to discover it, too.

"Everybody talks about Doc's enthusiasm and positivity," said staff ace Clayton Kershaw, "which is huge in a leadership role."

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Remembering well the values he most appreciated in managers he played for, Roberts makes it a point before every game to personally check in with every player on his roster -- how they're feeling, what they're going through, etc. When you develop trust, it makes the difficult conversations and moments easier to go through together.

"The ability to give guys a feel for when they're going to play and when not and just continually putting them in the best position to succeed inspires more confidence and trust and helps propel the relationships," Friedman said. "Doc and the coaches do a tremendous job with synthesizing the information and delivering it in nuggets."

So no, hiring a manager isn't as simple as just going with the guy the media trumpets or the fans gravitate toward. It's not as simple as sorting the managerial-wins leaderboard and going with the first available guy on the list. It's not even as simple as promoting a known quantity in-house. The manager has to fit the situation before the situation can fit the manager. Roberts is a prime example who is now, in the wake of taking down the defending champs, in a prime position.

"I connect with people and players," Roberts said. "I think that it's always important to get the most out of your players. As a teacher, that's your job -- on the field and personally. So I feel that I can do that. But the players, the coaches, the front office, I think that a lot of the credit goes to them in helping me grow."

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Los Angeles Dodgers