In a world of high-pressure, cutthroat professional sports that tends to eat its own, Ned Colletti has been given a way to avoid even the nibbles.
Currently, he is a former general manager. To those who see only the black and white of such things, he is fired, toast, yesterday’s news.
Sure, he got one of those cushy out-the-door deals from the management, where you collect a paycheck for a while and watch soap operas all day until everybody forgets you. Soon, the soap operas become a total bore and you become a total has-been.
If that is how people want to perceive things, Colletti is fine with it. As a matter of fact, he is fine with lots of things these days. Remember the TV commercial years ago, where brothers at the breakfast table prod the youngest into taking a bite of healthful cereal?
“He likes it! Hey, Mikey.”
Well, if you prod Colletti, who at age 60 has nine seasons in the books as general manager of the Dodgers that produced five playoff appearances, three National League Championship Series appearances and more victories — by 40 games — in that timespan than any other NL general manager, he would react similarly.
He likes it! Hey, Ned.
“At first, when it happened,” Colletti says, “my feelings were a little bit hurt. But I’ve always been clear on one thing. I’m far from perfect. I’m more human than perfect.
“When pride and ego become your individual culture, you have some rough roads ahead.”
Often, how things are done trumps what is done. Dodgers President Stan Kasten seemed to handle the “how” expertly. Colletti says that Kasten identified a need for Colletti to get off the treadmill.
“We were walking down the hall one day,” Colletti says, “and Stan said he realized I hadn’t had a day off in a couple of decades.”
When the season ended last fall, and the Cardinals had, once again, spoiled parade plans in Tinseltown, conversations between Kasten and Colletti resulted in Colletti taking on the title of senior advisor to the president. They also resulted in Colletti sharing in the conversation of who got next.
Andrew Friedman, 38, received the newly designated position of president of baseball operations and hired Farhan Zaidi as general manager. Colletti says he was all in on all of it.
Then Kasten extended Colletti’s contract not just through this season, but through 2016. You just can’t watch that many soap operas.
So Colletti has rolled up his sleeves and gone back to his roots. He is determined, and happy, to make what he does more than just an occasional whisper of advice in Kasten’s ear.
“When you’re a GM,” Colletti says, “you are always at 35,000 feet.”
That’s his way of saying that you stop getting your hands dirty, even though your ability to get your hands dirty is what got you promoted to 35,000 feet in the first place. Now, Colletti is out watching prospects, going to college games, finding future Dodgers. He says 90% of what he does now is directly grass-roots baseball stuff.
He also is doing some TV work for the Dodgers network. Vin Scully need not fear.
“There’s not enough makeup in existence….” Colletti says.
It isn’t that he sees his days finished as a major league baseball operational executive. He’s had offers.
But at least for the moment, he likes remaining with “the greatest franchise in baseball history.”
Even more, he likes the change of pace, the break. He uses words such as “respite” and “oasis.” He says it is time for him to recalibrate. He takes a piece of paper and draws the symbol that means “pause” on sheet music.
“That’s me,” he says. “That symbol is what I am doing. The song isn’t over. It is just a pause.”
Once a sportswriter and still a student of the craft, Colletti rolls out a memorable Jim Murray characterization of how life, work, ego and drive can sweep you up.
“I think he wrote one time,” Colletti says, “that things can get like riding a tiger. We’re afraid to get on, and once we’re on, we’re afraid to get off.”
Mostly, Colletti never forgets where he came from, that he is a blue-collar guy who made it to cuff links and a big desk. He never forgets the winter of 1982, when his newspaper in Philadelphia folded and left him without a job, with a baby, an 18% mortgage and a dying father in Chicago.
The Cubs called with a baseball job in their publications office and he was saved. Soon, the Giants were calling and he was working his way up a ladder that led to the assistant general manager’s office.
Soon, it was on to the Dodgers, surviving the McCourt years and embracing the current deep-pocket Guggenheim ownership.
He kept riding the tiger and not knowing how to get off. Now he has, and with as gentle a push as you’ll find in pro sports these days.
The cuff links are being replaced by sunscreen and binoculars. The pressure is in somebody else’s cooker. For the moment, he’s the Dodgers’ Mikey.
He likes it! Hey, Ned.