“To know that he was remotely admiring or watching and supporting me is pretty amazing,” said Roberts in a phone interview Monday afternoon. He said he “did the same thing in 1992, 1993” when Gaston won consecutive titles with the Toronto Blue Jays and became the first black manager in baseball history to win the World Series. “It is a great honor for me to follow in his footsteps.”
Roberts also admitted that he was “a little disappointed”.
“There should be others before me,” he said. “This gap shouldn’t be that big.”
The bridge between first and second black managers to win the World Series lasted 27 years. Gaston wasn’t valued for being the first until he was the only one for so long.
The list of the “Fast” that Gaston should join is not long: four black managers have reached the autumn classic. Two, Roberts and Dusty Baker, are the only active black managers in the game. And as the number of black baseball players declines – they made up around 8 percent of the opening lists in 2020 – the importance of Roberts’ win only grows because the distance from second to third could be even longer.
“I never thought it would have taken so long,” said Gaston, 76, in a telephone interview from his home in Clearwater, Florida, of Roberts’ victory. “I’m just telling him, ‘You have to win another one. You have to win back to back. ‘”
History was written much faster in the NFL and NBA. Tony Dungy was the first African-American NFL coach to win a Super Bowl with Indianapolis in 2007, and Mike Tomlin joined him with Pittsburgh two years later. Bill Russell won consecutive titles as player-coach for the Boston Celtics in 1968 and 1969; Al Attles joined him six years later with the Golden State Warriors.
In the “gap” phase of baseball, Baker and Ron Washington got close together before experiencing heartbreak. In 2002, Baker’s San Francisco Giants led the Anaheim Angels by five runs in the seventh inning of a possible Game 6 winner – and lost in seven games. The Texas Rangers in Washington made consecutive World Series trips in 2010 and 2011. In that second run, his squad won everything in Game 6 against St. Louis – “Twice,” sighed Washington Cardinals years later.
Roberts may have joined Gaston earlier, but lost to the Astros in 2017 and the Boston Red Sox in 2018. Both the Astros and the Red Sox were fined for misconduct, but neither was stripped of the title. But Roberts took the heat on himself.
“Some of these ‘geniuses’ can screw up all day and you will find them making excuses for them,” Washington said in a telephone interview. “You never found anyone to apologize for Dave Roberts. That’s why I admire him so much.
“If you read the experts, everyone wants to fire him if he does something that doesn’t work. I just don’t get it. “
The Dodgers hired Roberts in November 2015, three weeks after the Washington Nationals hired Baker, making them the only two black managers in baseball. Five years later, that is still the case.
Roberts’ win keeps a trend alive: the last three world champions have been led by minorities, including Alex Cora from Boston and Dave Martinez from Washington, both Puerto Ricans. Roberts also has Asian heritage. He was born in Okinawa, Japan, where his father Waymon was a US Marine and where Roberts’ mother married Eiko, who is Japanese. (Roberts grew up in San Diego.)
“I just feel like I don’t have the luxury to fail,” he said. “I have to be successful to give other minorities the opportunity to manage the industry and to show that there are many capable people. I would like to think that now, with my African American-Asian background, there are others who can do the same and deserve these opportunities. “
“People in the game,” he continued, “like any industry, like people of the same mind and who look like them.” And the people who run the game are White America. So I think by doing this you are hiring people for the full spectrum of people who look the same. I think baseball has to keep doing a better job when it’s not pitcher. “
Roberts represents the franchise that broke the color barrier. Jackie Robinson made his debut for the organization in 1947, a pivotal moment attributed to the definitive separation of the military and school. The Dodgers are also the franchise of Al Campanis, who ran the organization for nearly 20 years before he was fired in 1987 after telling Nightline that blacks “may not have the need, like a field manager or maybe a general Manager. “
Five years later, Gaston picked up the Commissioner’s Trophy from the Blue Jays.
“We have to hold on,” said Baker, who remembers reading the hateful letters his former Atlanta Braves teammate, Hank Aaron, received while chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record. “We have to do that. Do not carry on with hatred, but carry on with strength. We have to do that. I tell the brothers that. “
“I hope this is not the end of us, me and Dave,” continued Baker, whose 1,892 regular wins this season are more than any black manager in history. “For the future, more has to be put into the funnel. I also hope that we can get over being called a “black manager” and simply being called a “manager”. “
As he basked at that moment, Roberts, a history buff, recalls Robinson’s dying desire to “look at that third line of basic coaching one day and see a black face that gets by in baseball.” Those were Robinson’s words when he spoke to a crowd at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium before Game 2 of the 1972 World Series, nine days before his death from a heart attack.
Roberts made friends with Robinson’s widow Rachel and their daughter Sharon and never lost sight of his mission.
“It is one of my proudest accomplishments to just get his legacy right and keep it moving,” said Roberts of Robinson. “Basically, I feel like I represent everyone. And I try to please them. Everyone has a little piece with them, which I really appreciate. “