When Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced he was going with a reliever instead of 20-game winner Julio Urias to open Game 5 of a National League Division series earlier this month – here in San Francisco, he said the decision was not his, but rather came down from the “tippy-top” of the organization.
You mean Mark Walter, the owner and presidentWas Roberts asked a bit jokingly?
“The very tippy-top,” Roberts replied.
Roberts has said he has a seat at the table when these kinds of decisions are made, but that’s it.
“I don’t get more than one vote,” he said. “No, I don’t. I do not.”
This is how the job of manager has devolved into Major League Baseball these days. Decisions are made largely on the basis of analysis from the Department of Baseball Operations. A game plan is designed and the manager is supposed to implement it without any deviation.
He has to sell it to the players and explain it to the media. If the plan goes wrong, he must defend it or face the wrath of his bosses. A manager without influence works harder to maintain his credibility in the clubhouse and with the public.
Conversely, the next GM who comes down after the game to explain a failed move will be the first.
Roberts led the Dodgers for six years and is entering a lame duck season on his four-year contract. He has a 0.622 winning percentage, won three NL pennants and a World Series. Nonetheless, the captain’s role evolved into a middle frame in the baseball iteration of this era.
“Everyone has to face it,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “The key to any job is to coexist in a workplace. There is a compromise. It’s just a matter of how much you’re willing to give or how much you’re willing to take.
“Every man has inner and outer dignity, what you will take to keep the job and sometimes what you will not. At some point you have to say, “Hey, you can keep it. “
The World Series offers a neat comparison. The Astros are led by Baker, 72, whose 24 years as manager of five clubs have covered the old and the new way of doing things. Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves is ending his fifth season after decades of underage management.
The clubs are tied in one game each, with the next three games scheduled to start Friday night at Truist Park in Atlanta.
Snitker, 66, said everyone in Braves baseball operations has a say in major decisions on the field, “but I don’t have to do something I don’t want to do.”
And it’s refreshing to hear.
“Yeah, there’s just more information out there,” he said. “Analysis is good information. It’s not as easy as it used to be, you just have to play the game and go so far away from your instincts and instincts. It’s just more involved now than before.
Baker and Snitker are both baseball lifers.
Baker, a well-known former outfielder, played 19 years in the big leagues, batting .278 with 242 homers and 1,981 hits. He played for the 1981 Dodgers who beat the New York Yankees in six games to win their only World Series. That’s a lot of street credit.
As a manager, he has won 1,987 regular season games and has a winning percentage of 0.534. All of the teams he led have made the playoffs, but none have won the World Series. The last time he went was in 2002 with the Giants, and they lost in seven games to the Angels.
They were leading 3-2 and were close to winning Game 6 when the Angels came from behind to win that game and ultimately the series.
His pitching moves – knocking out starter Russ Ortiz – at the end of Game 6 still haunt him. But here’s the thing, it was his movements.
“The use of pitchers, the short hook and the greater importance of the bullpen are very different now than they were 20 years ago,” said Baker. “I was criticized for eliminating Russ Ortiz 20 years ago, but today I would have been criticized for not eliminating him.”
Baker said it’s not a question of whether it’s the old school or the new school. He was hired by the Astros in 2020 in the days between the sign-stealing scandal and the pandemic to restore some order in a messy situation.
Nothing works all the time, he says. “There are no absolutes in sport, not so much that you are playing against someone on the other side who can mess up your game plan.”
Dodgers fans tend to blame Roberts for moves dictated by the front office. It’s the same with Aaron Boone and the Yankees, Gabe Kapler and the Giants, and whoever occupies the San Diego Padres executive seat, to name a few.
When St. Louis Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak recently fired manager Mike Schildt for “philosophical differences,” that was the code to say that Schildt didn’t want to implement what Mozeliak wanted him to do. ‘he does.
But the Dodgers’ baseball operations, led by President Andrew Freeman, gave Roberts a hard time in October. Tactical decisions based on analytics have gotten too cute by half this playoff.
They used relief Max Scherzer to close Game 5 against the Giants, rendering him unavailable to start Game 6 of the NL Championship Series, which the Dodgers lost to the Braves. Same with Urias, who was used in relief against the Braves, and didn’t quite have it when he started later in the series.
Second baseman Gavin Lux was moved to center field for the first time in history as injuries increased. It was a shootout, and he missed a key ball in a Game 3 NLCS loss that put the Dodgers in a hole they never came out of.
Roberts was left to take the chin for all of those moves, but he knew that was what would happen when he signed on to replace Don Mattingly, who no longer wanted any part of the Dodgers situation under Friedman.
Roberts was also an outfielder and played 10 years in the Majors, including two with the Dodgers.
He played for old-school managers like Jim Tracy in LA and Terry Francona in Boston, where he will always be remembered for stealing the second goal in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the League Championship Series. American 2004 against the Yankees. He was knocked down in the tied race, the first domino is a historic comeback for the Red Sox. Boston then erased a 0-3 deficit before sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series for the first time since 1918.
Francona was one of the first managers of this time to face interference with the front office in Boston. Roberts is well aware of the difference.
“When I arrived the manager certainly had complete autonomy,” said Roberts. “It’s neither good nor bad. It’s just different from the way the world works today. The most important thing for me is your ability to build relationships with the players. Dusty is clearly at the top of the list. I think Brian does a fantastic job as well. Baseball is baseball, and getting players to play at their optimum ability is the goal.