LOS ANGELES — Well into a 35-minute press conference announcing his arrival as the 10th manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dave Roberts was thrown a curveball. Flanked by the men who hired him — Los Angeles General Manager Farhan Zaidi and President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman — Roberts, who was born in Okinawa to an African American father and Japanese mother, was asked about his place as the first person of color to manage a team that was known for employing Jackie Robinson, the first player to break the color barrier 68 years ago.
Just as he did to the ball with many of his 721 career hits in a Major League career, Roberts deftly flicked the question the other way.
“It’s one of those things where this opportunity presented itself,” Roberts said. “I was so focused on talking through (the baseball side of things) that I honestly didn’t realize the magnitude of this in the sense of being the first minority manager for the Dodgers until late in the game. I really … look at myself as the son of Waymon and Eiko Roberts, and the husband of Tricia Roberts, and I’ve got two beautiful kids. I am who I am. I’m transparent.
“I think to step back and realize that it’s much, much bigger than me … I think there (are) a lot of people that paved the way to ultimately have me have this opportunity. I’m really grateful to ownership, to the guys to my side, to have that vision to trust me in this chair. Again it goes … to the responsibility that I feel as the first minority manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that isn’t taken lightly, and it’s something that I’m going to carry with me forever.”
Roberts, who managed one game for the San Diego Padres last season after the firing of Bud Black, becomes only the second Asian American manager in the majors, following former Hayward High School three-sport star Don Wakamatsu, who was named manager of the Seattle Mariners in 2009. Wakamatsu, a fourth-generation Japanese American, is currently a bench coach with World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
After being adorned with the number 30 (the same digits he wore for the team as a player) by Dodgers minority owner and former Lakers great Earvin “Magic” Johnson inside the spacious Dodger Stadium Club, Roberts addressed the crowd.
Roberts said he and his wife often discussed what would be his “dream job” and the Dodgers’ managerial position was it, “without question.” “This is it, the pie in the sky. I went to school here, I’m a Southern California guy, I’m a former Dodger so I know what it means to wear this uniform. To put it bluntly this is my dream job.”
He then fielded several questions from his managing style, (“Grit,” and an “unrelenting passion and desire” towards a “common goal” that you don’t waiver from.), to the team’s goals, (Getting a World Series championship is “first and foremost,” but “there’s of lot of work” to do. It’s a process we are “going to commit to.”)
The 43-year-old also paid homage to the countless people who have helped him get through a college career at UCLA where he also earned a bachelor of arts degree in history, a World Series championship in 2004 with the Boston Red Sox, a solid 10-year playing career for five different teams, including a little over two seasons with the team he is now managing, and a five-year coaching stint with the San Diego Padres. He also acknowledged people like his Bruins coach Gary Adams, as well as bosses like Mark Shapiro and Mike Hargrove in Cleveland, Alan Trammell, the Dodgers’ Maury Wills and the Padres’ former manager Bud Black.
In addition to humbly describing receiving a phone call from Vin Scully on the legendary announcer’s 88th birthday no less, Roberts, who grew up just down Interstate 5 in the northern San Diego town of Vista, Calif., also good naturedly deferred a hopeful question from a Japanese reporter about signing more players from the Land of the Rising Sun.
“I do want to thank you for the support, because it’s great to know that people are rooting for the Dodgers in Japan,” Roberts said. “But I’m going to defer that to the guys to my right and left because that’s their job. When you talk about Okinawa and Japan, that’s my mo- — that’s part of who I am. And I know she has great pride in having me up here, so I welcome all the support for sure.”
The prevailing theme throughout the conference was Roberts’ repeated expressions of pride for and determination to keep the “Dodger Way” going in a crowd that included Dodgers greats past and present.
“For me to put this hat … and uniform back on again, it will never be mistaken and forgotten how impactful these people and the legacy they created,” Roberts said. “For me personally, I look at it as a responsibility and it’s to continue forward and do things the right way. I look and I see Don Newcombe, I see Maury Wills, I see Tommy Lasorda, … I see Adrian Gonzalez. These are people that when they wear that Dodger uniform, they wear it the right way. They wear it with pride. I know I can speak for these men. … I want to echo that and continue that going forward. … Just know that from the bottom of my heart, we have a lot of work to do, but I couldn’t be more excited.”