Whatever the odds, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts finds ways to win

New Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts invests extra time researching every angle to get an advantage. Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- Nobody wants to hear about your dreams or your fantasy teams, or so the modern axiom goes. But notice it doesn't mention anything about discussing somebody else's fantasy team.

Dave Roberts' fantasy football team in 2003, one he shared with then-Dodgers teammate Robin Ventura, is a subtle peek into the how and why of the 28th manager in Dodgers history -- and first minority manager in team history -- as he is set to make his official debut with the club Monday at San Diego.

Take the name of the fantasy team alone. "Black Man and Robin" (Roberts' moniker for the squad) won the league going away, earning all the spoils afforded to young men with lots of spare change and the bravado to back up their speculative ventures.

Except for Roberts, the de facto general manager of the team, this wasn't anything close to a naked gamble. Since the team's sole financial backer was Ventura, Roberts made sure his investment was the time and effort it took to make sure the partnership was a success.

Roberts knew one thing: If the name of the fantasy football team didn't grab his teammates' attention, then his draft style would. Stuck with the last pick in the draft, Roberts hatched a plan that went against the grain of football drafts more than a decade ago. Armed with back-to-back picks, as the draft order reversed itself, Roberts crunched the numbers and decided against a running back, the no-doubt-about-it, slam-dunk early pick option in those days.

"He was very good," said Ventura, now the current Chicago White Sox's manager, of Roberts' football-drafting acumen. "I was the owner and I didn't know anything, but he was really good. He took some chances. We took a lot of heat early for the way he drafted the team, but we did dominate. I say 'we,' but he did."

Riding Peyton Manning and Randy Moss that season, not to mention an unheralded running back selected in the fourth round, whose name Ventura couldn't remember, victory belonged to "Black Man and Robin."

Ventura said he learned a lot about his friend during the process, including Roberts' savvy will to win.

"No matter what he does, he's prepared," Ventura said. "He's fully engaged in it."

Others have seen it in ventures far more important than pretend football.

"He's diligent in garnishing and gathering information," said Rick Renteria, who coached with Roberts for three seasons in San Diego. "I think he's a guy that will keep guys motivated. Just by the way his personality is, he doesn't get down. I know, and everybody talks about it at the big-league level, that guys can get complacent and he's not a guy that is accepting of complacency."

Engaged in conversation about that fantasy football team recently, Roberts laughed heartily. It's another of his endearing traits, that he is quick to laughter, prompt in validating your time with the microphone with his nod of approval. Roberts never makes you feel that the door to his inner circle is closed.

Of his outside-the-box draft strategy, Roberts admits it really is a window into how he operates.

"That certainly kind of sums up who I am as a person," said Roberts, who is primarily referred to as "Doc" these days, a nickname that may or may not be a play on his initials. "But yeah, that was a lot of fun."

As a player, a coach and now a manager, everybody seems to marvel at how Roberts has always done his homework. They talk about how he is always willing to turn one more page of the research guide than the next person.

"That obviously puts him in a position to be able to give him a chance to transition, when everything is going fast, and do the job he needs to do," Renteria said.

Yet that concept of Roberts being willing to use any and all resources in order to have an advantage was put to the test this week. He showed some hesitation about switching from three-ring binders and handwritten scouting reports, to using iPads in the dugout per Major League Baseball's new agreement that allows the devices in dugouts loaded with analytics, video and every scouting report imaginable.

Yes, part of his hesitation was changing from a trusted way of doing things to a way in which he was not yet familiar, but Roberts took an even deeper view. What if it is in the late innings and the WiFi crashes, or the device glitches, and the handwritten notes are nowhere to be found?

Roberts even has a way of staying one step ahead of technology.

Complimenting a new manager is sometimes a difficult proposition for players in the clubhouse. The perception exists that a compliment for the way a new manager does things is an immediate condemnation of how the former manager did them.

Clayton Kershaw did his best to walk that tightrope this week, complimenting Roberts while not disparaging former manager Don Mattingly.

"Doc is different than Donnie, a different person, obviously a different personality," Kershaw said. "I love both of the guys. Obviously I loved Donnie being here and Doc just brings a little bit different energy to the clubhouse, all the things everybody said that was positive."

If Roberts has insecurities, they are guarded. If he is defensive, he isn't showing it.

"I don't think he has met a guy that didn't like him," Kershaw said. "As far as that goes, he's probably a little more hands on than Donnie was. It's been great. I've enjoyed getting to know him and I look forward to spending the season with him."

Winning over the most important player in the clubhouse is a great start. An even more impressive endorsement might have come from Jamey Wright, now a former player, who was just told by Roberts that his skill set did not fit the team's needs.

When Wright announced his retirement last week, not long after Roberts told him he would not make the team, there were three separate times he nearly came to tears: Once when talking about his love for the game, once when talking about his family and once when talking about Roberts.

"I'm sad that I won't be able to play for him this year because he is a class act and I think, since the first day he addressed this team, they have something to look forward to here this summer in L.A.," Wright said. "He's as good as they get."

Whether it's gaining every advantage, or earning the respect of the men he leads, Roberts seems to have it figured out. Monday begins his chance to put it all together as a full-time manager.

"I just love to dig, and get to the root of things and understand why and get information," said Roberts, who beat Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 37. "I think it's healthy and I love to challenge myself and then make certain decisions.

"So whether it's a fantasy football team, researching players and trying to get steals with picks and get value with my players, or managing a major league team, I love to get advantages and understand why, and do some digging. I love it."

He can also take a joke, and tell one as well. Take those 2003 Dodgers -- Roberts knew they were going to give him some heat, but he wasn't afraid to do it his way.

"If the name 'Black Man and Robin' didn't [earn some teasing], some of my draft picks did it," Roberts said, "but we got the last laugh."