In two short seasons as Los Angeles Dodgers manager, Dave Roberts has already accomplished some pretty special things. Back-to-back NL West championships is a terrific way to start his résumé. As is guiding his team to a league-best 104 wins during the 2017 regular season.
What sits before him now though is a chance to join some truly special company. With four more wins, Roberts would join Cito Gaston as the only two black managers to win a World Series.
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The group of African-American managers to even have this opportunity is small too. Roberts, who’s the first black manager in Dodgers franchise history, is only the fourth, joining Gaston, Dusty Baker (2002 San Francisco Giants) and Ron Washington (2010 and 2011 Texas Rangers). His opportunity comes 25 years after Gaston’s Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Atlanta Braves to bring the first ever World Series championship to Canada.
The Blue Jays would go on to win it again in 1993, topping the Philadelphia Phillies on Joe Carter’s memorable walk-off home run in Game 6. They are one of only two teams to win back-to-back championships since 1978. The New York Yankees won three World Series in a row from 1998 to 2000. That just highlights how difficult the task is, and how good a job Gaston did leading and managing his squad.
For Roberts, the goal is simply to win one. At least for now. That would take a huge burden off a Dodgers franchise that hasn’t won or appeared in a World Series since 1988.
He understands this is an opportunity many managers have chased for years, only to fall short. Even if it only took him two years to get here, he knows it’s not guaranteed to come again. And given the turnover in the managerial ranks these days, that’s the only mindset to have. Even managers leading playoff teams seem to be as likely to lose their job as managers who don’t.
The Undefeated recently ran a story on Roberts and Baker both having the opportunity to equal Gaston’s feat this season. Those stories took completely opposite turns in a matter of hours. The morning after the Dodgers won the NL pennant in Chicago, Baker learned that his services wouldn’t be retained in Washington. He joined Boston’s John Farrell as postseason managers out of work.
Baker’s dismissal also spotlights a concern that’s existed in MLB for a long time. Despite numerous candidates who are qualified, not enough black managers have been hired over the years. Even fewer have been given a real chance to see their work through. That’s not to say Baker was poised to lead Washington to a championship, but he wasn’t standing in their way either.
That hasn’t been lost on Gaston, who recently reflected on his place in history by noting how few other black managers have been given the same chance he had.
“It’s unreal that it’s been 25 years [since I first won],” Gaston said. “I think it’s because maybe there hasn’t been that many black managers lately. Plus you do have to have a decent or a good team to win.”
Roberts, who is also the first manager of Asian descent to reach the World Series, certainly has a good team in Los Angeles. But even with a deep and talented roster, he’s pulled his weight too. Not everyone agrees with his lineups or bullpen management, but more times than not he’s put his players in the best spot to succeed. As a result, the Dodgers have stayed a step or two ahead of the competition. That’s especially true this October, where they’ve finished off opponents quickly and allowed themselves time to plot for the next round.
That will be the case again in the World Series. While the Yankees and Astros battled in Game 7 on Saturday night, the Dodgers were home resting with the knowledge that Clayton Kershaw will pitch Game 1, that Corey Seager could be back in the lineup, and that their bullpen is rested.
The ball is in their court. Now there’s a chance for everyone involved, Roberts included, to make history.
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