LOS ANGELES — Dave Roberts overcame long odds during his playing days in the major leagues and survived a bout with cancer in recent years. He had no managerial experience when he went after the vacant Los Angeles Dodgers’ job.
Fittingly, the personable Roberts beat the odds again, impressing the front office with his energy, enthusiasm and knowledge to become the Dodgers’ first minority manager.
Los Angeles said Monday it plans to introduce the 43-year-old at a news conference on Dec. 1.
“When I put on this uniform as a player, I understood the special responsibility to honor those that played before me as well as the amazing bond between the Dodgers and their fans,” Roberts said in a statement. “I feel that I have now come full circle in my career and there is plenty of unfinished business left in LA.”
He called the franchise “groundbreaking” for having such players as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo.
Roberts’ father is black and his mother is Japanese. Roberts was born in Okinawa, Japan, where his father served in the U.S. Marines. He becomes the third minority manager in the majors, joining the Washington Nationals’ Dusty Baker and the Atlanta Braves’ Fredi Gonzalez.
Roberts said his hiring is “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
The widely perceived front-runner for the job was former major leaguer Gabe Kapler, the team’s director of player development. He played for Tampa Bay when Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations, was there.
But Roberts made an indelible impression during the interview process.
“His energy is infectious and he has the rare ability to make a genuine connection with every person he comes across,” Friedman said. “He has developed strong leadership qualities and accumulated a breadth of baseball experience over his career as both a player and coach. He is a ‘baseball man’ and ‘people person’ in the truest sense of those words. We feel fully confident that he will effectively lead our team in pursuit of its ultimate goal – bringing a world championship back to the city of Los Angeles.”
The Dodgers haven’t appeared in the World Series since winning the title in 1988.
Roberts served as bench coach for San Diego during the last two seasons. Before that, Roberts was a special assistant for the Padres’ front office in 2010 and their first base coach from 2011-13. He served as manager for one game this season after Bud Black was fired.
Roberts was the starting center fielder for the Dodgers from 2002-04, hitting .262 in 302 games while stealing 118 bases, succeeding on 82 percent of his attempts. He becomes the fourth Dodgers manager to also play for the franchise, joining Tom Lasorda, Bill Russell and Glenn Hoffman. Roberts is the 10th manager since the team moved to Los Angeles and the 28th in franchise history.
He succeeds Don Mattingly, who mutually parted ways with the team last month after five years and a week later signed a deal to manage the Miami Marlins. Mattingly led the Dodgers to three consecutive NL West titles.
Mayor Eric Garcetti enthusiastically endorsed Roberts while noting the significance of his hiring.
“With Dave in the dugout, the team not only secures a top notch baseball mind, but it also makes history, bringing the first person of color to this important post,” Garcetti said. “It is good to have Dave back home, ready to inspire Angelenos on and off the field.”
Third baseman Justin Turner tweeted: “Glad to have Dave Roberts on our side!!! Looking forward to getting out to AZ to get 2016 going already.”
As a player, Roberts is perhaps best known for his stolen base in the 2004 AL playoffs that sparked the Red Sox to an elusive World Series championship.
In the AL Championship Series, Boston was three outs from being swept by the New York Yankees. Roberts pinch-ran after Kevin Millar drew a leadoff walk from Mariano Rivera. Roberts stole second and scored on Bill Mueller’s single.
Boston won 6-4 in 12 innings and then became the first team in major league history to overcome a 3-0 deficit and win a postseason series. Roberts did not play as the Red Sox swept St. Louis for their first championship since 1918, but will always be beloved in Boston because of that one play.
In 2010, Roberts survived a bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.