Dodgers’ Dave Roberts is National League manager of the year
The interview was over but the camera still focused on Dave Roberts. As he took off his headset, his wife Tricia walked into the picture and planted a big, triumphant, nationally televised kiss on her husband, the newly crowned National League manager of the year.
“I’m sure I’m going to get some ribbing,” Roberts said with a laugh.
He wasn’t sure how much ribbing. He said he had about 200 unchecked text messages.
Those were the spoils of victory. On Tuesday, Roberts became the first Dodgers manager to win the award since Tommy Lasorda in 1988, the last year the Dodgers appeared in the World Series. Every other NL West team has had a manager win the award since then.
Roberts, who never had managed at any level, made runners-up out of Joe Maddon and Dusty Baker, each a three-time manager of the year.
Roberts won with 16 first-place votes. Maddon, who led the Chicago Cubs to the World Series championship, finished second with eight votes. (Voting was conducted before the postseason.)
Baker who led the Washington Nationals to the NL East championship, was third with four votes. The Miami Marlins’ Don Mattingly, whose divorce from the Dodgers created the vacancy that Roberts filled, finished fifth in the voting.
Terry Francona, who led the Cleveland Indians to the World Series, was selected American League manager of the year, with Jeff Banister of the Texas Rangers second and Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles third.
“We came up short in the sense of winning a world championship,” Roberts said, “but I’m proud of the way our group battled adversity all year.”
When Mattingly left, Dodgers minor league director Gabe Kapler was widely considered the favorite to replace him. But, as ownership urged the front office to expand its search to external candidates, Roberts dazzled the Dodgers in interviews and emerged atop a field of nine. None of the three finalists — Roberts, Kapler and University of Nebraska coach and former Angels outfielder Darin Erstad — had managed in the major leagues.
Roberts neither hid nor objected to the fact that the front office was heavily involved in daily decisions, but he established trust with his players by checking in with every player every day.
“I think the players really saw the authenticity in me from day one of spring training,” he said.
With the Dodgers setting a major league record by putting 28 players on the disabled list, and with the front office prone to making a roster move for even the slightest of advantages on any given day, the Dodgers’ media notes listed 206 transactions this year, an average of more than one per game.
Roberts was left to deal with the human fallout virtually on a daily basis. He said he gained the most confidence when he removed pitcher Ross Stripling from a no-hitter in his major league debut, with five outs to go, and endured 24 hours of scrutiny and second-guessing only to grow more confident in his decision.
“For me to be able to say I would do the same thing over again surprised me, in a good way,” Roberts said.
Roberts was challenged by the two-month absence of ace Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers had fallen eight games behind the front-running San Francisco Giants in the NL West, but Roberts trusted his players rather than call a team meeting to remind them of the obvious stakes.
Roberts invested heavily in building a personal relationship with temperamental outfielder Yasiel Puig, but the manager was not shy about calling out Puig when the Dodgers demoted him to the minor leagues in August. Roberts also empowered the veteran leadership of Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley and Justin Turner.
Turner said he respected Mattingly but said he saw something special in Roberts.
“I loved playing for Donnie. I thought he was awesome,” Turner said in August. “He was just really nonconfrontational. He didn’t enjoy, it seemed like, taking care of things right away. I think some things lingered too long and ended up turning into bigger things and issues.
“In his mind, he wanted the players to take care of it, and police ourselves, which is fine to an extent. We try to do that now. But bigger things don’t happen when Dave takes the initiative. Myself, Adrian, Chase, Kershaw, whoever, we don’t have to worry about ending it. We can just worry about playing, which makes it nice for us.”
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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