By Ross Newhan
There was a time in Dave Roberts development as a player and person that Maury Wills, his base stealing guru with the Dodgers, gently lamented his pupil's friendly disposition.
Wills goal for Roberts, as I wrote in a 2004 column in The Times: less affability and more aggressiveness; there was no time for shaking hands on the bases, and didn't even Roberts wife, Tricia, call him the Governor, Wills said, for all the greetings he exchanges?
Tricia would suggest that Wills was stretching it with the Governor bit, but as I wrote of Roberts in that column: "There is no one more personable, conversational, outgoing--and the way Roberts is in the clubhouse and at the batting cage, with teammates and opponents he played with on the way up, is the way he is said to be in the mall and at the market."
Now, of course, we know that Roberts' disposition, his drive, charisma, baseball acumen and (apparent) willingness to collaborate have satisfied all the metrics of the Dodgers' analytically-minded management.
His hiring as the first minority manager of the organization that welcomed Jackie Robinson is exciting, adventurous and risky.
Of the 18 managers hired since the winter of 2013-14, Roberts is the 12th first timer. There have been more failures than successes, but out with the old and in with the new, in my view.
The Dodgers won three straight division titles under Don Mattingly, but the Roberts I know provides a different kind of presence, spirit, overdrive. The affability is there for sure--he has a "genuine concern" for people, said Andrew Friedman, who hired him--but so is the aggressiveness that Wills sought to upgrade more than a decade ago.
In 10 plus major league seasons Roberts ultimately stole 243 bases, which does not include probably the most dramatic steal in post-season history, turning around the 2004 American League's Championship Series for the Boston Red Sox in a lights out situation. He has beaten cancer, honed his dugout knowledge by coaching in San Diego for five years, been runner-up for the recent Seattle managerial opening that went to General Manager Jerry Dipoto's close friend Scott Servais, and now, testimony to the communicative skills he brought to the interviewing process as a seeming longshot, outlasted eight other candidates for the Dodger job, including the in-house favorite, Gabe Kapler, on the final weekend.
A gregarious, innovative thinker who Friedman brought from Tampa Bay to be the Dodgers farm director, Kapler, too, would have been an outside the box choice as manager, but it is believed that owner Mark Walter, who met with Roberts Friday, instructed Friedman to step outside the office, removing any perception in the clubhouse that the farm director/manager would merely be a direct arm of the executive wing.
As it is, it can be assumed that Roberts has agreed to the analytical precepts, that lineups will be discussed, shifts agreed to, pitching formats understood, all while attempting to remain his own man.
He becomes the eighth fulltime manager since the Dodgers last won a World Series under Tom Lasorda in 1988, and his task will not be easy. There is no guarantee that Zach Grienke and/or Howie Kendrick will be back among other issues of both clubhouse and personnel nature.
Still, there is now a new, immediate, almost vibrant perception to Dodger Stadium blue, and, perhaps, the hope for all those letter writing, second guessing Mattingly hating fans is that Roberts will be as successful as another first year managerial hire by Friedman.
A lofty goal, indeed.