Expectations in professional sports for coaches and managers are often ridiculously high, but in the case of Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, they may be at the absurd level. Roberts, whose team at press tine was tied 1-1 with the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Championship Series, is essentially operating without a contract. His option has not yet been picked up for 2019, and there is not only talk that if the Dodgers don’t win the World Series he’s out, it’s been said on both ESPN and Fox Sports by broadcasters who are reportedly knowledgeable about the situation.
That’s despite the fact that since Roberts took over the Dodgers in November of 2015, they’ve enjoyed nothing but success. After being passed over by the San Diego Padres for their manager’s job despite the fact he got lots for praise for the job he did as their bench coach, the Dodgers gave Roberts a shot in November of 2015. His first full season, despite the team placing 28 players on the disabled list and setting a record for pitching changes, they won their fourth straight NL Western Division title, and reached the Championship Series. Though they ultimately were defeated by the Cubs, Roberts was voted by both the Sporting News and Baseball Writers of America as National League Manager of the Year.
Things were even better in 2017. The Dodgers not only won another Division crown, this time they reached the World Series. They did lose to the Astros in seven games, but Roberts became only the fourth African-American manager to reach a World Series. He has a regular season winning percentage after this year, which once again has the Dodgers in contention for the World Series, of 58 percent in the regular season and 59 percent in the postseason.
Yet his job status remains uncertain. While ESPN’s Buster Olney said on a recent “Baseball Tonight” podcast that even if Roberts were fired, he’d be an instant candidate for other teams and would most be likely be quickly hired, it is hard to believe that someone with his credentials is even in jeopardy at all.
Roberts isn’t the only one supposedly facing possible termination. The Cubs’ Joe Maddon, who two seasons ago was the toast of baseball after the Cubs ended a drought of over a century and won the World Series, is now reportedly possibly facing a termination because the Cubs were eliminated in the wildcard game by the Rockies. That is equally as dumb, particularly because Maddon has turned the Cubs into a perennial contender, and shouldn’t shoulder the blame for the lengthy offensive slump his club suffered that began in mid-August and continued all the way through the playoffs.
But the Cubs lost back-to-back key games at home the final week of the season, and didn’t make it out of the knockout round. Now the moves Maddon made like constantly shifting his players around in different positions, batting the pitcher eighth, and making constant mound changes that once were viewed as visionary are being questioned and even doubted. All it takes for a manager to go from hero to goat is for their team to get prematurely bounced in postseason play.
In Roberts’ case, he’s a victim of the fact the Dodgers haven’t won a world title in 30 years, and ownership is super impatient at this point. They have a roster that’s among baseball’s highest paid, and a fan base that approached the season with a World Series crown or bust mentality. Longtime LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke fueled that talk when he wrote at the start of the playoffs that it wasn’t good enough for the Dodgers to make the World Series, as tough as that is. They had to win it, or the season would be judged a failure.
That’s the type of pressure Dave Roberts faces, and it will be intriguing to see what happens should the Dodgers quest for a title end in failure.