By Bob Nightengale |
One man forever changed a franchise’s legacy, and the other helped soothe a country’s pain.
Together, Dave Roberts and Alex Cora, two friends and former teammates who dealt with unique challenges this season, are about to make baseball history.
They will be the first minority managers to face one another in a World Series, along with being the first managers to have played for both teams, when the Boston Red Sox host the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 at Fenway Park (Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET, Fox).
“It’s symbolic, isn’t it?’’ said Cora, 43, the Red Sox’s first minority manager as a native of Puerto Rico, who’s vying to join Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox as the only Latino manager to win a World Series. “I know what it means for us. I know what it means to my colleagues who are minorities. I’m very proud that he’s here in the World Series.
“And I’m proud representing not only all the Puerto Ricans that live in the island, but Puerto Ricans all around the world. We know what happened last year. It was a tough one. And (Hurricane) Maria kicked our ass, you know. As a country, we’ve done an outstanding job fighting.’’
Roberts, 46, the son of an African-American father and Japanese mother, and the Dodgers’ first minority manager, would be the first African-American to win a World Series since Cito Gaston of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993.
“I don’t take a whole lot of time thinking about (it),’’ Roberts said, “but when I do, it’s special. I think that the needle is moving, maybe not as quickly as most people would like, but I’m always encouraging minorities to get opportunities.
“Like Alex said, we don’t do the hiring, but to look across the field and see a minority in the dugout, certainly is exciting.’’
Roberts should get the loudest ovation by any opposing manager in World Series history. He may be trying to ruin the Red Sox’s season, but he’ll forever be remembered in New England for the most famous stolen base in history. He stole second base for the Red Sox in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, triggering the greatest comeback in history, overcoming a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees, and then sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Series title since 1918.
“It is great coming back to this great city,’’ Roberts said. “I’ve got nothing but great memories, even flying into Logan and just this time of year, this city, the leaves changing. And then you drive up to Fenway Park and it all just kind of comes back to you, 2004.
“This is a dream job for me and I know speaking for him this is his dream job. So for us to play for a world championship, West Coast-East Coast, Dodgers-Red Sox, I just can’t see it getting any better.’’
Where else could Roberts show up in an opposing city in a World Series and be absolutely revered?
“He should be, he changed history for this organization,’’ Red Sox veteran second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “If he doesn’t steal that bag, who knows what happens?’’
Said Cora: “He’s a hero in this city. He comes here, and he makes a lot of money signing autographs. I know he puts (next to his autograph) ‘The greatest stolen base in the history of the game.’ He makes a lot of money in an hour.
“Probably, he’s making money right now.’’
The Dodgers players couldn’t help but tease Roberts after winning the National League pennant Saturday night in Milwaukee. They gathered in a bar to celebrate, and when they looked up at the TV, they kept seeing replays of Roberts’ stealing that base 14 years ago off Mariano Rivera.
They started chanting, “Turn the Page! Turn the Page!’’
Roberts couldn’t help but laugh, knowing that in this turbulent season, and managing in the final year of his contract — with an option for $1.2 million that has yet to be exercised — it has been awfully challenging to please everyone while trying to win the Dodgers’ first World Series title in 30 years.
You try telling Matt Kemp that while he may have been a starting outfielder in the All-Star Game in July, he’s relegated to merely a platoon role the second half.
You try explaining to former World Series MVP David Freese that you’re going to pinch-hit for him in the fourth inning after just one at-bat in Games 1 and 5 of the NLCS, and in the third inning of Game 3 of the Division Series.
You tell one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history, three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, that he won’t be starting in Game 1 of the NLDS.
Roberts may have a dream team, filled with All-Stars, MVPs and a Cy Young winner, but there are times that it feels like the worst job in America, trying to appease all of the clubhouse egos.
“There’s so much talent on one team,’’ Dodgers second baseman Brian Dozier said, “that the guys who aren’t in the lineup can be disappointed. They can be pissed off. Everybody is so used to getting 600, 700 at-bats a year, but there’s no such thing as a starter.
“That’s why you really have to swallow your ego and realize that this team assembled is rather unique. Whatever we can do to possibly win a game we’ll do, but whether we agree with that or not, you have to buy that this is the best thing.’’
If it weren’t for Roberts’ effervescent personality, and his eternal optimism that had him proclaiming the Dodgers would win the NL West when they were 10 games out of first place, maybe he’d have had a clubhouse revolt.
Manny Machado, the Dodgers’ hired gun in July, says it’s certainly different in L.A., where everyone knows your name, but no lineup ever stays the same. He praises Roberts for handling all of the egos in the room.
“Doc is a different person, very energetic, talks to the guys,’’ Machado said. “He’s just a good guy. He goes out and enjoys himself, roots for his guys.’’
While Cora’s brilliant strategic moves this postseason and communication skills all season have drawn rave reviews in his clubhouse, Cora’s biggest challenge is pacifying a fanbase that considers anything less than a World Series championship a disaster.
“Everyone loves him in here, bought in, and trusts and believes in everything he says,’’ Pedroia said. “But this is a tough town. There’s a lot of pressure. They want championships.”
The Red Sox won a franchise-record 108 games, trounced the Yankees and Houston Astros in the first two rounds, but if the Red Sox don’t knock off the Dodgers, guess who’ll be blamed?
“The other day I sat down,’’ Cora said, “I was like, Whew! We made it. Especially here. We knew about the division and record-setting season and all that stuff, but in this town, everything start[s] after October.
“We’re just glad that we’re here.’’
That makes two of them.