Dave Roberts can both bring Dodgers first World Series since 1988 & write his own history
Roberts would become first manager of Asian descent, and second African-American, to win a Fall Classic
LOS ANGELES — Step into the elevator on the ninth-floor pavilion at Dodger Stadium, ride it down to the first floor, step out and be prepared to be taken aback. To the left is a rectangular case full of Los Angeles Dodgers Gold Glove winners. The case to the right holds the 1981 and 1988 World Series trophies, with six bats in the middle that commemorate the team’s world championships.
Saunter through that hallway and take in the many Cy Young awards the organization’s pitchers have amassed. Make a left and be greeted by Jackie Robinson’s framed jersey. It is the first uniform in a long line of Hall of Fame and prestigious Dodgers whose jerseys line the walkway that leads to their dugout.
This is Dave Roberts’ walk into work. A history major at UCLA, the 45-year-old Dodgers manager is surrounded and reminded of team history every day. He is four wins away from adding to that history and bringing home Los Angeles’ first World Series title in 29 years.
“I do that every single day, and I do take moments to look down that long list of hardware when I get off the elevator,” Roberts said. “I see the Silver Sluggers. I see the world championship trophies. I see the Gold Gloves and all the different pictures of the former managers, the great players. That kind of blows me away.
“So I really try to focus on the moment. But when you look at the history and in that context, yeah, it’s a little overwhelming to just think that you just want to do your job and be good at your job and help a team be good that particular day and win a baseball game. There’s a lot that kind of comes with that. But, yeah, I definitely don’t take that lightly.”
In only his second season, Roberts managed his team to the best record in baseball (104-58), its second appearance in the National League Championship Series and first World Series appearance since 1988.
On the 25th anniversary of the Toronto Blue Jays’ Cito Gaston becoming the first black manager to win the World Series, Roberts went into Game 1 against the Houston Astros on Tuesday as the fourth African-American and first Asian manager to reach the Fall Classic.
“I take it in the best possible way in the sense that I represent a lot of people, and trying to do things the right way for the right reasons,” Roberts said Monday. “And so as we expect to win four games, and to bring a championship back to Los Angeles, I think at that point in time there will be a lot of emotions because of those reasons. But right now I think purposefully. I try not to get out of the moment as far as preparing for [Game 1 starter] Dallas Keuchel and the Astros. But I think when you frame it like that, it’s very meaningful.”
Roberts’ team is one of only 26 teams in the wild-card era to hit the century mark in wins and aims to become the fourth 100-win team — along with the 1998 Yankees, 2009 Yankees and 2016 Cubs — to win the World Series. The Astros won 101 games, making this the first matchup of 100-win teams since the 1970 World Series featuring the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles.
Almost two years ago, Roberts was preparing to take his seat between Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. As the rest of his family took their seats in the front row for the news conference announcing Roberts as Los Angeles’ 28th manager, his father, Waymon, pulled him aside.
A Marine who retired as a master gunnery sergeant in 1998 after 30 years of service, Waymon Roberts and his wife, Eiko, did not raise Dave or his sister, Melissa, to believe their race determined who they were going to be.
But on this day, Waymon Roberts stressed the importance of his son’s appointment as skipper. Roberts was about to become the Dodgers’ first manager of color.
This same organization brought Robinson up to help break the color barrier in 1947, played the first game of the 1965 World Series without pitcher Sandy Koufax because he was observing the first day of Yom Kippur and became home to Hideo Nomo, the first Japanese player to permanently relocate and remain with MLB.
Waymon Roberts didn’t just want Roberts to be aware of these things, he wanted him to soak them in, continue to build on that storied history and keep that in the back of his mind as he blazed his own trail.
“I try not to put that kind of pressure or burden on myself, but I kind of just look at it as a responsibility and understand that you look back at history and when you liken it to baseball, what Jackie did and gave other African-Americans and minorities other opportunities,” Dave Roberts said. “If he didn’t play well, it might have prolonged things or put things off a little bit longer. So I think for me, on the Asian and African-American side, obviously, Frank Robinson, the first African-American manager and his success, and Dusty Baker, and obviously for me to have some success early, I think it’s good for minorities going forward.”
In March, two weeks before Opening Day, Waymon Roberts died at age 68. Roberts took a few days to attend to his family, but when he came back, he talked about the healing power of the sport and how he wanted to devote his attention to the team.
Roberts said he still talks to his father about what’s going on in his life. That included Dave Roberts Bobblehead Night at Dodger Stadium on July 6, a day Waymon Roberts most certainly would have enjoyed. Roberts’s daughter, Emme, sang the national anthem, and his son, Cole, delivered a perfect strike down the middle as the first pitch to his father, who was playing catcher. Roberts then managed Los Angeles to a 5-4 comeback win and series sweep of its National League West foe Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I’ve looked to him and leaned on him and talked to him out loud throughout the season,” Roberts said. “It’s definitely tough when I know that he’s not there, and I can’t look up there and see him physically, but I know that’s he’s looking down on me and supporting me and he’s got that big smile. So that was God’s plan, but I know he’s still there in spirit.”
Waymon Roberts met Eiko when he was stationed in Naha, Okinawa, Japan. Roberts was born in Okinawa in 1972.
Those years of moving from base to base, before the family settled in San Diego in 1984, made it easier for Dave and his sister to understand and become comfortable with being biracial. There were a number of biracial kids on the base, so they were around others who grew up in similar households.
Admittedly, Roberts is closer to his father’s side of the family, many of whom live in Houston, because Waymon Roberts’ family was stateside growing up. But Roberts’ parents never made him feel like he had to associate himself with one group.
“To my parents’ credit, when you get into your adolescence, it’s really just encouraging you to be yourself,” Roberts said. “I really sort of associated with both. Obviously, it’s easier for me to say the African-American side because living in the United States, there are more African-Americans than Japanese people and I don’t speak the language. … To be quite honest with you, I never really try to identify with one over the other because then I felt like I’d be pitting my mom against my dad.”
Roberts has been mindful not to get too far ahead in thinking about how historic his triumph in the World Series would be. After all, history is written by the victors, so should he and his Dodgers win, that’ll be the time to discuss his place in baseball history.
“I often think of how that one epiphany led me to where I am today,” Roberts told ESPN senior writer Steve Wulf on Oct. 9. “I go to UCLA because Jackie Robinson went there. I end up playing for the Dodgers, the team that opened the door not only to him and other African-Americans, but to Japanese players as well. I learn how to steal bases from Maury Wills [who later became the third black manager in the majors], and now I’m wearing his No. 30, talking baseball with Sandy Koufax and trying to bring the first World Series trophy to Dodger Stadium since 1988.
“I guess that you could say that it was meant to be.”