Shortly after the Dodgers announced Dave Roberts as their new manager on Monday, he received the endorsement of a powerful voice in the team’s veteran-laden clubhouse.
All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez sees in the 43-year-old Roberts a man capable of working with a wide range of personalities on one of baseball’s signature franchises.
“He’s a guy that has played all kinds of roles,” Gonzalez said. “He was a fourth and fifth outfielder. He was a starter. He had a few really good seasons. He’s a guy that’s come off the bench and done incredible things. He’s going to be able to relate to a lot of the situations that players are in.”
Gonzalez and Roberts played together for the San Diego Padres nearly a decade ago.
Describing the famously upbeat Roberts as socially adaptable, Gonzalez said, “He can connect to every individual person. He understands what works with whom.”
Similar thoughts were expressed by Andrew Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations. In a statement released by the team, Friedman praised Roberts’ baseball acumen and personality, calling him both a “baseball man” and “people person.”
Roberts, who signed a three-year contract that included a team option for a fourth year, plans to not speak publicly until his introductory news conference on Dec. 1. But in a team-issued news release, he said, “It’s hard for me to put into words what it means to be named manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. This is truly the opportunity of a lifetime. The Dodgers are the groundbreaking franchise of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo.”
Several Dodgers welcomed him over social media, including right fielder Yasiel Puig, third baseman Justin Turner and utilityman Enrique Hernandez, who posted congratulatory messages on their Twitter accounts. Left-hander Brett Anderson jokingly referred to Roberts’ signature moment as a player, his stolen base in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.
“Can’t wait to be the first one to ask our new manager if he remembers that time he stole that base for the Red Sox in the playoffs,” Anderson wrote.
Dodgers farm director Gabe Kapler, the other finalist for the position, posted a picture of handwritten note detailing Roberts’ virtues. The note ended with the sentence, “Dave is going to do a phenomenal job and Dodger fans have a man they can be proud of at the helm.”
Adams, now retired, coached Roberts from 1991 to 1994. He said he spoke to Roberts on Sunday night as news of his appointment was spreading.
“He is really excited,” Adams said. “I could see him smiling over the phone.”
Adams calls Roberts by his initials, as he did when Roberts was in college.
“Players on the team would say they would feel good just by being around D.R.,” Adams said. “As a manager, he’s going to do the same thing. His enthusiasm is going to rub off on his players.”
Adams coached one other player who went on to manage in the major leagues, Ron Roenicke. The Dodgers’ third base coach last season, Roenicke managed the Milwaukee Brewers for four-plus seasons starting in 2011. The Angels hired him last week to be their third base coach.
“They were both very competitive,” Adams said.
In 30 years at UCLA, Adams coached 37 players who reached the major leagues. By his estimation, none of them got as much out of their talent as Roberts.
“He really used his gift — he has God-given speed — and he really made the most of that,” Adams said.
Roberts left UCLA as the school’s all-time stolen-base leader but had to overcome several obstacles on his way to the major leagues, including a below-average throwing arm.
Adams recalled how Roberts was disappointed that he wasn’t drafted until the 47th round in his junior year, the year most top college players start their professional careers. Roberts returned for his senior season, after which he was taken in the 28th round by the Detroit Tigers.
When Adams thinks of Roberts, he thinks of “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
“He’s both of them,” Adams said. “He can run like the rabbit, but he has the patience and the perseverance of the tortoise.”
Adams’ enthusiasm for the Dodgers’ decision was shared by Pat Murphy, who became interim manager of the Padres last season after Bud Black was fired.
Roberts was the Padres’ bench coach at the time, and managed the team for one game between Black’s departure and Murphy’s arrival. Murphy said that rather than feel slighted he wasn’t assigned to manage the team, Roberts became one of his closest confidants.
“He taught me things this year that I’ll remember forever,” Murphy said. “He’s an amazing man. The Dodgers made a great choice.”