Flashing spry quickness not unlike his playing days, rookie Dodgers manager Dave Roberts raced from his perch atop the dugout steps in defense of his third baseman, Justin Turner, embroiled in argument with home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski after an inning-ending called third strike.
But even the second-youngest manager in the majors couldn’t sprint fast enough. Untangling himself from a dismal .221 start to the 2016 campaign, the frustrated Turner was ejected. But Roberts’ swift steps rushing to defend one of his struggling players could hardly have gone unnoticed by the rest of his team.
A calm clubhouse with a manager who exudes confidence in his players has helped the Giants to three World Series titles in the last six seasons. Their downstate rivals hope a similar climate can lift them toward titles of their own.
Roberts’ 10-year playing career includes a World Series ring with the 2004 Red Sox, as well as stints with the Giants (2007–2008), Dodgers (2002–2004), Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres. His last two stops placed him in the same clubhouse as Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who spent 12 years as San Diego’s manager before joining the Giants in 2007.
In his first few months as a major league manager, Roberts’ laid-back style has resembled Bochy’s approach to handling players. Bochy told SFBay that he didn’t peg Roberts as a future manager, but said the rookie skipper’s personality should play well with big leaguers:
“[The Dodgers] run the bases hard. They play the game hard. That’s a credit to Dave. … He’s got a great way about him. Great makeup. Players are gonna love playing for him. He’s such a positive guy and so upbeat every day. He’s gonna bring that every day, too. Looking back now, and once I saw him go into coaching, I said, ‘He’s gonna be great for players.’”
Bochy is renowned for the tranquility he fosters in his clubhouse, which allows players’ personalities to show in their on-field exploits. Shortstop Brandon Crawford credited that tranquility as a big part of the Giants’ recent success:
“In the 2012 [National League Division Series] we were down 0-2 going into Cincinnati. Where a lot of guys might hit the panic button and feel a little anxious about that, but we went in and we were like, ‘We can do this. We can win three games.’ [Bochy] gave us a little speech before that game just saying to go out there and play our game. … He didn’t panic and I think you can kind of see that with the rest of our team also.”
Ahead of his 10th matchup helming his own club against his former manager, Roberts stopped short of deeming the rivalry a tale of two managers with similar styles:
“It’s the Giants the versus Dodgers. I’ve learned a lot from Boch and I have so much respect for him. Playing for him was great. Coaching against him is just as fun. Every day for me I’m learning and trying to get better at just trying to get the most out of our players. That’s what a coach’s job is to do. It’s been a lot of fun. I look forward to beating him tonight.”
Roberts’ positivity resonates with his players, including Los Angeles newcomer Trayce Thompson, who joined the Dodgers in a three-team trade in December:
“For me especially, being a new guy who’s new to the league and it being my first time with this organization, he’s really [helped me] feel like I’ve been here for a long time and it’s really just because of him. That’s says a lot, especially about a manager who has really only been here three or four months.”
Veterans also appear to take notice, favoring how Roberts handles players. Five-time All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez lauded his manager’s open demeanor:
“Dave brings a lot of positive energy. He’s very good at communicating and making sure he touches base with everybody. Everybody knows that they’re being heard and knows where they’re at. It’s a relaxed environment but we’re gonna play hard.”
Gonzalez echoed Crawford’s sentiment that managerial approach often affects ballplayers positively:
“From my experience, if you let somebody be themself, they’ll play up to their potential. If you try to mold somebody and make them something they’re not, they won’t be comfortable and they won’t show their full potential. Obviously if somebody gets out of line you’ve gotta check them, but for the most part you’ve got to let them be.”
All three weekend Giants-Dodgers contests went down to the wire; a sole run determined the winner in all three games.
Bochy now has a 6-4 record against his former player. The Giants enter the week boasting a five-game cushion between them and the second-place Dodgers, who San Francisco isn’t set to meet again until a mid-August three-game set in Los Angeles.