Jay Paris: Cardiff’s Roberts rides rookie wave to become NL Manager of the Year

The votes were in, the numbers tabulated and a surprising choice came out on top.

Make the Dodgers Great again?

Something like that but Dave Roberts’ coronation as the National League Manger of the Year came with little backlash.

Instead Roberts, a Cardiff resident, was the unanimous winner among his colleagues after leading the Dodgers to the NL Championship Series in his rookie season.

“I’m humbled,’ Roberts said repeatedly. “I’m speechless.’’

Good things don’t happen to good people? That cliché is one that Roberts’ doesn’t wear. The optimistic and personable Roberts has few — any? — detractors.

Instead he treats everyone with respect, demands accountability, and oh yeah, knows a thing or two about baseball.

We can hope the same can be said about the Padres’ brain trust.

Roberts, once the Padres’ bench coach, was brushed off last November by the locals when seeking San Diego’s vacant managerial post. The former major-leaguer not only didn’t get the job, he didn’t get a sniff.

But the Padres’ snub offers a picture into Roberts’ life. This San Diego Hall of Champions member has consistently overcome obstacles to reach the pinnacle of his profession.

As a three-sport standout at Rancho Buena Vista High, he wrecked his knee before his junior year, only to return stronger.

At UCLA, he arrived to play baseball without a scholarship. Told to stick around with no promises, he became the Bruins’ starting center fielder and all-time stolen base leader.

When the draft came, Roberts’ name wasn’t called until the 28th round. To put that in perspective, the Padres squandered a 24th-round pick on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

“I can’t believe he went four rounds ahead of me,’’ Roberts said, with a laugh.

Players in those rounds seldom see the big leagues. Instead, the undersized Roberts maximized his skills — thanks goes to Dodgers legend Maury Wills for his guidance — and he would ultimately swipe the most famous bag in baseball history. Roberts’ steal of second base in the 2004 postseason fueled an improbable comeback, which led to the Red Sox’s first World Series title since 1918.

After his playing career ended, Roberts beat back cancer.

So instead of getting his nose out of joint after a closed Padres door rammed into it, Roberts kept searching for the right fit.

That it came in Los Angeles, where Roberts, an ex-Dodger, blossomed, so be it. He made the commute, made the Dodgers a team and made good on a promise that seemed unlikely in spring training.

Roberts, 44, knew the Dodgers’ record payroll was well north of $200 million. But the savvy Roberts also was aware that money can’t buy you love. So Roberts bought in on being a hands-on manager.

Literally.

“I wanted to reach out and touch each of players every single day, that’s true,’’ Roberts said. “When you get through September, that gets to be a challenge.’’

Few politicians match Roberts in pressing the flesh. Especially considering the Dodgers had a clubhouse with a revolving door, as a record 28 players landed on the disabled list.

That was among the reasons Roberts made more than 600 pitching changes in his maiden season.

That didn’t matter to the man known affectionately as “Doc.” A Roberts handshake a day helped keep the doubters away.

“I remember what it is like to be a player,’’ Roberts said. “And when a coach or the manager puts his hands on you, that sends a message that they care about you, and what you are thinking about.’’

Most thought the Dodgers were dumpster-bound when ace Clayton Kershaw was injured for two months. Despite the Dodgers’ deficit to the first-place Giants growing to eight games, that wasn’t enough to bury the Dodgers.

Instead, with Roberts’ steady hands on the wheel — and players — the Dodgers rallied to easily win the NL West.

“I had so much support,’’ Roberts said, “to be sitting where I am today.’’

The 5-foot-10 Roberts always stood tall, regardless of the dugout he belonged to. Now he’s part of a special group.

The Dodgers’ first minority manager joins Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda as the only Los Angeles skipper to be selected the National League’s top manager.

“Everybody just really bought into the process,’’ Roberts said.

The payoff for Roberts came with a distinguished award, more than 200 congratulatory text messages and a kiss from his wife, Tricia, on national television.

“I’m sure I’m going to get some ribbing,’’ Roberts said of the smooch.

After hugging his players all season, Roberts deserved it.

Contact Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Read his book “Game of My Life San Diego Chargers,” which is available at area bookstores and amazon.com.

a
or

Log in with your credentials

or    

Forgot your details?