WASHINGTON -- Dave Roberts has lived a lifetime beating the odds. He was an undersized Major Leaguer. He recovered from cancer. And almost a year ago he emerged as manager of the Dodgers, even though entering the hiring process, he wasn't the perceived first choice of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
On Friday, the rookie manager tackles Dusty Baker and the Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series (5:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. PT on FS1). The Dodgers bring in a roster built through the same collaborative process that will decide the starting lineups of each game. Contrary to the popular narrative, Roberts doesn't show up to his office and find a lineup card on his desk filled out by Friedman or his lieutenants.
"Not even close," Roberts said of that accusation. "It hasn't been awkward like that at all. These guys have given me as much autonomy as I want. More times than not, I find myself calling them to come down and talk, and they are more of staying out of my way. "There's always learning one another, but we both have high respect for one another. I've been completely open to their ideas. I have my thoughts on how things should be handled. Andrew and Farhan [Zaidi, general manager,] feel the same way about being open to ideas, and that's helped our relationship. We talk every day. For me, the whole front office dynamic is as good as I could have hoped."
Friedman was initially presumed bent on hiring Gabe Kapler, a Tampa Bay protege and Dodgers farm director, as manager. But from the day of Roberts' hiring through a press briefing this week, Friedman has raved about the job Roberts has done.
"He's tremendous," Friedman said Tuesday night. "The ability to communicate with positive energy, the ability to put guys in positions to succeed, to really explain their roles. He's done a tremendous job navigating this season with all the different injuries and different things thrown at him. And to do it in his first year, it's really just incredible. To listen to him address the team [before Tuesday's workout], it gave me goose bumps. Him going through what we did, accomplishing our first goal, to win the division, and now focused on the next goal, to win the World Series."
When it was clear Roberts wouldn't be promoted by the Padres from bench coach to manager a year ago, and he left that organization, he had no clue he would be managing the Dodgers, or anyone else. He's proud, but not shocked at how well it has turned out.
"One part of it is, I'll bet on myself any day, any time. That's one layer," said Roberts, who had no previous managing experience. "Another layer, Dusty was talking about himself, that he's not surprised, this is where he's supposed to be because he feels he always made people around him better, and they won, for whatever reason. A little bit for me, I feel that wherever I go, success is not too far behind."
In the first postseason matchup of African-American managers, there are other connections between the pair. Although Baker is 67 and Roberts 44, they were both Dodgers outfielders. And they have both overcome societal and situational obstacles to get where they are.
"He's where I was 20 years ago," said Baker, in his 21st year and with his fourth club as a manager. "I'm happy for him, big time. I know him, but I really don't know him. I know him from across the field, and I know him from one of my players, Rich Aurilia. He and Rich Aurilia are wine owners, like I am. They don't grow grapes, but we both make wine. He's always a pleasant guy, he's a very bright young man, but he's in the way."
Roberts said he's as proud of the way the Dodgers have gone about their accomplishment so far as the accomplishment itself.
"The thing I'm most pleased with is we've made no excuses and we've persevered," said Roberts. "We've got a tough group of players. In life and in sports, there's always talk about accountability and reasons why you don't have success, but our guys don't have that, and I think that's the thing I can hang my hat on."
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.