Column: In final analysis, the best choice as Dodgers manager would be ... Dave Roberts
The biggest problem for the Dodgers is not analytics, but attitude. They have enough brilliant baseball minds; they need a tough baseball soul.
They need someone with enough guts to pull off one of the most important stolen bases in baseball history. Someone with enough perseverance to survive eight minor league seasons before ever having a chance to steal that base. Someone who would relate to the last man on the bench as well as the leadoff hitter because he’s been both. And, oh yeah, someone with enough blue that he bleeds both Dodgers and Bruins.
Those kind of guys don’t come around every day? Well, one just did. He showed up last week to interview for the Dodgers’ managerial vacancy, he aced the interview, and he’s now apparently the favorite.
Nearly two weeks have passed since the Dodgers graciously allowed Don Mattingly to take his talents to South Beach, more than enough time to fill what should be one of the most coveted managerial seats in baseball, yet Andrew Friedman appears to be purposely slowing his search.
Apparently Friedman’s group was initially ready to anoint minor league boss Gabe Kapler as their dugout conduit. He is someone they know, someone they trust, and someone who thinks enough like them to transfer their ideas directly to the field.
But then Dodgers ownership, while supportive of Kapler, asked them to consider other candidates who might be a better mix of numbers and human nature. The owners are smartly concerned about their dugout being run by a Friedman clone. They are, instead, hoping to find somebody who could complement the boss, taking Friedman’s smart ideas and turning them into the sort of scrapping baseball wins that the Dodgers couldn’t find under Mattingly.
Then Dave Roberts walked into the room.
He has spent the last two seasons as the San Diego Padres’ bench coach, but Dodgers fans will remember him as one of theirs. He spent parts of three seasons in the early 2000s here as their 5-foot-10 scampering center fielder and leadoff hitter. The former UCLA star was finally a major league regular after spending nearly a decade in the bushes, and he embraced the opportunity by covering acres of Chavez Ravine grass, racking up strong on-base percentages, and sprinting to a combined 118 stolen bases from 2002-2004.
He was eventually dumped to the Boston Red Sox during the infamous Paul DePodesta trade-deadline purge in July 2004, yet even a benching couldn’t stop him from turning 90 feet into history.
Standing on first base as a pinch-runner with none out, moments after he’d stepped out of the dugout, he stole second base. He scored two pitches later on a single by Bill Mueller to tie the game and begin a historic run. The Red Sox eventually won in 12 innings and then proceeded to win the next three games to become the first team in baseball history to overcome a three-games-to-none deficit. Then they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Series championship in 86 years.
You think this sort of daring might work for a Dodgers team that last season finished 26th in the major leagues in stolen bases? You think maybe this sort of savvy would work for a team that ended the season forgetting to cover third base?
Those obviously are not the reasons to hire Roberts, no more than the fact that his African American and Japanese ancestry would make him the first minority manager in the history of Jackie Robinson’s franchise. You also don’t hire him only because he once held down a job in the Padres front office while battling Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, scouting minor leaguers between chemotherapy treatments.
You hire Dave Roberts because a team of underachievers needs to be prodded by an overachiever, a team of chill needs a manager whose career could never withstand even one day of complacency. You hire Dave Roberts because, if his popular Dodgers tenure is any indication, his ego wouldn’t be too big to embrace new ideas, full front-office communication, and holdover pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.
But right now, if Roberts is truly the favorite, well, it works for me.
For those who are wondering, he wasn’t interviewed for the Padres opening that went to Andy Green because the Padres reportedly wanted to steer clear of the Bud Black coaching tree, and he was a strong candidate in Seattle before new baseball boss Jerry Dipoto went with former Angels colleague Scott Servais.
I phoned Roberts on Monday at his north San Diego County home but he was reluctant to discuss the job, possibly out of respect for the process, and would only offer one quote.
“To have an opportunity the work for the best franchise in sports would be a huge honor,” he said. “An opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in all of baseball is something that really intrigues me.’'
Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke
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