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Commentary: Dave Roberts, best manager ever? Numbers back up the notion

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts watches from the dugout
The Dodgers have made the playoffs all six seasons they’ve been managed by Dave Roberts.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Dave Roberts, best manager in baseball history?

Perhaps that sentence should end with a period instead of a question mark. The Dodgers are in the playoffs, again. Never have the Dodgers missed the postseason in a year Roberts has managed them.

For all the never-ending second-guessing from an engaged and spirited fan base, this statistic speaks for itself: Nobody in major league history has managed more games with a better winning percentage.

Roberts’ career winning percentage is .618. That averages to 100 wins per season.

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The San Diego Padres never have won 100 games. Neither have the Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins or Toronto Blue Jays. The Tampa Bay Rays, for all their wizardry, never have won 100.

Washington’s current franchise, born in Montreal in 1969, never has won 100. Neither has Washington’s former franchise, born in 1961 and relocated to Texas in 1972.

Max Muncy, Trea Turner and Will Smith each hit home runs as the Dodgers defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-4 and clinch a playoff spot.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have not won 100 games since 1909. The Chicago White Sox have not won 100 games since 1917.

In the immortal words of Tommy Lasorda, “This [freaking] job is not that [freaking] easy.”

The job is much more difficult today than it was in Lasorda’s day.

Lasorda was the face of the Dodgers. He commanded the attention, and enormous power over who played and who did not, who stayed in L.A. and who did not. He could share a buffet table of Italian delicacies, or overturn it and yell at his players.

Today, the front office has most of the power, and a manager shouting at his players and tossing tables aside would be considered out of control. The buzzword in the modern baseball operations department is “collaborative” — not just the general manager and the coaching staff, but a village that includes nutritionists, and biomechanical and statistical analysts.

After the Dodgers clinched their ninth consecutive playoff berth Tuesday, Roberts embraced the organizational village.

“There’s a lot of sacrifices, a lot of guys pitching in and picking each other up — coaches, front office, training staff, scouting, player development, everyone,” he said. “It takes a whole army to get this thing moving forward in the right direction. There’s a lot of people that should be very proud.”

Dave Roberts greets Dodgers players
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and bench coach Bob Geren greet Max Muncy (13) and Mookie Betts after Muncy’s two-run home against Arizona.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Roberts is the spokesman charged with explaining all the Dodgers’ decisions, making him the inevitable target for criticism on “Dodger Talk” and in the weekly letters column in The Times. In last Sunday’s column alone, he was blamed for not sending Cody Bellinger to the minor leagues, for resting players too often, and for treating “pitchers like glassware,” all decisions that would flow from organizational collaboration.

Roberts declined to say that he took personal satisfaction in another postseason berth, even in a year the Dodgers lost 14 of 18 games and fell into third place in May.

“I don’t take much time to reflect personally, but it’s great,” he said. “I’m surrounded by so many great people that make me look good and make my job so much fun. We have a lot of talent — not only on the field, but in the entire organization. Personally, I’m just very fortunate to be a part of the Dodgers.

“Like I said from Day One, when I got hired, I’ve got the best job in the world.”

On television, it might appear a manager’s most important role is to decide when to change pitchers. In reality, nothing is more important than managing a clubhouse in an era where star players bounce around the field and the batting order and fringe players come and go on a daily basis.

Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer is closing in on a possible fourth Cy Young Award. But he also might set a record for his futile efforts as a hitter.

“He’s been great,” Justin Turner said of Roberts. “He’s been great for us since the first day he put on the Dodger uniform as our manager. He’s a positive guy. He loves the game. He loves his players. We love going out and competing for him.

“I can’t say enough about him and what he’s done. We’re going to do everything we can to go out and win him another championship.”

In October, Roberts’ career winning percentage is .585. The only man to manage more postseason games with a higher winning percentage: Joe Torre, who led the New York Yankees to four World Series championships in five seasons.

Six years is hardly the test of time. Torre managed more than 4,000 games. Lasorda managed 3,000. Roberts has yet to manage 1,000.

And, yes, Andrew Friedman runs an outstanding front office, and players along the lines of Turner, Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Walker Buehler, Kenley Jansen and Corey Seager could make any manager look good.

But check out that T-shirt the Dodgers wore in celebration Tuesday night: “Built for October.”

October is never guaranteed. The Dodgers are built for October every year, and Roberts steers them there every year.


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