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Dave Roberts can join Cito Gaston as the only black managers to win World Series

Twenty-five years after Gaston’s first title with Blue Jays, Roberts has guided the Dodgers to the Fall Classic

The signs were out during the Toronto Blue Jays’ World Series championship parade in 1992. Two men stood near the end of the route, one with a tomahawk and one with a cardboard sign: “First we took your toy, and then we beat you.”

“To see those two guys with that sign, and it was so simple,” said former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. “I thought that was the greatest sign out there.”

On Oct. 24, 1992, Toronto went to the Atlanta Braves’ Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for Game 6 of the World Series and beat the home team, 4-3, in 11 innings. Forty-five years after Jackie Robinson integrated baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 18 years after Frank Robinson became the first black manager in the majors, and three years after Gaston became the first black manager to lead his team to the playoffs, Gaston became the first – and still the only – African-American manager to win a World Series.

Dave Roberts, one of two black managers in the majors this season, has a chance to join Gaston in winning the World Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers manager is headed to the Fall Classic after his team eliminated the defending champion Chicago Cubs in five games Thursday night in the National League Championship Series (NLCS). The Cubs knocked off Dusty Baker and the Washington Nationals in the NL Division Series.

“It’s unreal that it’s been 25 years [since I first won],” Gaston said. “I think it’s because maybe there hasn’t been that many black managers lately. … Plus you do have to have a decent or a good team to win.”

Roberts is the fourth African-American manager to lead a team to the World Series, joining Gaston, Baker (2002 San Francisco Giants) and Ron Washington (2010 and 2011 Texas Rangers).

He also is the first manager of Asian heritage (his mother is Japanese-American) to manage in a World Series. Roberts is the second person of Asian descent to manage in the big leagues – Don Wakamatsu was the first when he took over the Seattle Mariners from 2009-2010.

When Roberts and Baker met in the NLDS in 2016, it marked the first time black managers faced each other in the postseason. After falling behind, 2-1, Roberts led the Dodgers to two straight wins, going to Nationals Park for Game 5 and beating Baker and the Nationals, 4-3, to advance to the NLCS. The eventual World Series champion Cubs would eliminate Los Angeles, but that NLDS game was one for the books.

“It was special,” Roberts said. “I tried not to get out of that isolated moment of the series or the individual game, but the moments that I did take, you would look across the field and see Dusty Baker and a person that I’ve admired since I was a kid. To see what he’s done, and how he’s impacted not only my career but baseball, I really took moments to appreciate that and never take that for granted.

“But I think to see two African-American managers go head to head in the postseason was long overdue.”

Manager Dusty Baker #12 of the Washington Nationals walks out of the clubhouse before a game against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on August 9, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

When informed it has been 25 years since Gaston won his first World Series, Baker leaned back in his chair last month and asked, “It’s been how long?”

“Cito won his first title in 1992, so it’s been 25 years,” the reporter said. Baker chuckled to himself when he said, “Goodness, I didn’t know it had been that long. Now I’m even more motivated to win this year.”

Baker and Gaston have a 50-year friendship that began when the Nationals manager was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 26th round of the MLB draft in 1967. During a road game in Little Rock, Arkansas, Baker was stationed in right field, with Gaston in center and Ralph Garr in left.

Baker dropped the first ball hit to him. In the outfield stands were patients from a mental institution, Baker was informed after the game, who began to call him every racial slur they could think of. The then-18-year-old had never been subjected to this kind of abuse, and when the game was over, Baker called his mother.

He told her he wanted to come home. Gaston, who was 23 at the time, took the phone from Baker, and explained to his mother that he would watch over him and nothing else like this would occur.

“Cito told her he would take care of me as if I was his little brother, so from then on I was with Cito almost every day,” Baker recalled.

The veteran would inform the rookie of where to go and not go around town. When the pair made it to Braves spring training camp in 1968, they tended to hang out together along with Garr and with former home-run king Henry “Hank” Aaron.

The duo was separated for six seasons when Gaston went over to the San Diego Padres, but when he returned in 1975, Baker, Garr and Dave May all lived in the same complex together.

Even after Gaston’s and Baker’s playing careers finished, fate brought them together on a 1989 coaching card. Gaston, who took over as Toronto’s manager on June 1, 1989, was on one side of the card, while Baker, who was a hitting coach for the Giants that season, was on the other side.

“That was one of the best things I had ever seen,” Baker said. “They sent me about 100 cards, and I signed mine and I sent it to Cito and he signed his half of the card. We’ve stayed in contact. He’s helped me throughout my career. Helped me deal with a lot of political things as far as getting along with management but also maintaining your dignity.

“They talk about one of the prereqs of getting in the Hall of Fame is to win, when the whole thing with Cito is he won twice. You never hear of Cito after.”

Jimy Williams had Toronto off to a 12-24 start when Blue Jays management decided it was time to cut him loose as manager. Gaston, who had come to the team with former Blue Jays manager Bobby Cox as a hitting coach in 1982, took over as interim manager on May 15, 1989.

And only 26 days after being named the permanent manager, Gaston was a part of history when he and his Blue Jays traveled to Baltimore to face Frank Robinson’s Orioles on June 27, 1989. Robinson broke the color barrier for black managers when the Cleveland Indians named him a player-manager on Oct. 3, 1974, and he took over as just a manager three years later.

When the two American League East teams met, it was the first time in MLB history that two black managers would coach against one another. Robinson bested Gaston, 2-1, in that series.

Robinson would also beat out Gaston in the AL manager of the year voting, but Gaston would get the last laugh as Toronto turned its season around and made the playoffs. Coincidentally, the Blue Jays edged Baltimore by two games to punch their ticket to the ALCS and make Gaston the first black manager to lead his team to the playoffs on Oct. 3, 1989.

The Oakland Athletics would finish Toronto in five games, but that would be the Blue Jays’ first of four trips in five years to the ALCS. After missing the playoffs in 1990 and being bounced from the ALCS by the Minnesota Twins in five games in 1991, Gaston and the team finally broke through in 1992.

Facing off against his friend, mentor and the man who brought him to Toronto, Gaston outdueled Cox as a manager. All four of the Blue Jays wins that series were by a single run, including Game 6, when Toronto scored two runs in the top of the 11th and held Atlanta to a single run to win the game, 4-3, and the World Series in six.

Gaston didn’t actually see Joe Carter’s famous three-run, two-out, 2-2 home run in 1993 that gave the Blue Jays back-to-back championships. When Carter took Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Mitch Williams to deep left field, it was the first time in MLB history that a team hit a come-from-behind, walk-off homer to win the World Series.

And Gaston missed it all because he was looking down and players were jumping up and down in front of him. But he knew the team would only do such a thing if something really good had just happened.

For the first time since the 1977-78 New York Yankees, a team had repeated as World Series champions. The 1993 World Series was also the last time a black manager won the title.

Manager Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during batting practice before the Los Angeles Dodgers Vs New York Mets regular season MLB game at Citi Field on August 06, 2017 in New York City.

Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Roberts is well aware of the Dodgers’ history as it relates to diversity in baseball; it’s part of what attracted him to the team. He has it in the back of his mind that this is the 70th anniversary of Robinson integrating baseball.

Robinson also became the first African-American to play in a World Series 70 years ago, though his Brooklyn Dodgers lost to the Yankees that series. Nothing would make Roberts happier than to bring the organization its first title since 1988, sixth overall and in the process become the second black manager to win a World Series.

“It would mean a lot for me personally, of course,” Roberts said. “But for the Dodgers organization, the franchise where they’ve always been forward-thinking and groundbreaking as far as race and color barriers. So for the Dodgers and for me to be the manager of this ballclub to bring a championship back to Los Angeles, I think it’s well beyond bigger than me.”

Fifteen years after experiencing his first trip to the World Series as a manager, Baker was desperate to get back before falling to the Cubs in the NLDS. He wanted to rinse the taste of his Giants surrendering a 3-2 lead to the Anaheim Angels, who eventually won the 2002 World Series in seven games. Gaston was prepared to call Baker in advance of Game 7 to congratulate him on his championship victory. He thanks God he decided not to and opted, instead, to watch how things played out.

Washington, D.C., has the second-longest sports championship drought of cities with the four major sports. Baker came to D.C. for a reason, and words cannot describe how much it would have meant for him as a black manager to bring Chocolate City its first title in 25 years.

He managed this postseason without a contract extension from the Nationals, so at the minimum, he was trying to lead Washington to an NLCS and the World Series as incentive for the front office to commit to him long term.

“I love D.C.,” Baker said. “When I came here, I would love nothing more than to bring a championship here, and that’s why I think the Lord opened a way for me to come here. I honestly believe that we have to believe it, work for it – it’s not going to be given to you – in my heart, I honestly believe it’s already been written, we just have to believe it.

“That would be awesome, and especially some day, I’d like to be a part of the organization for awhile in an adviser staff, even after I’m finished and hopefully go into the Hall of Fame in a Nationals uniform. … My wife and my son convinced me, you don’t know how close you are sometimes, and to never stop persevering.”

Since Gaston’s first World Series championship in 1992, 11 black men have managed an MLB team, with the year they first became a manager below:

  • Don Baylor — Colorado Rockies, 1993
  • Dusty Baker — San Francisco Giants, 1993
  • Jerry Manuel — Chicago White Sox, 1998
  • Davey Lopes — Milwaukee Brewers, 2000
  • Lloyd McClendon — Pittsburgh Pirates, 2001
  • Jerry Royster — Milwaukee Brewers, 2002
  • Willie Randolph — New York Mets, 2005
  • Cecil Cooper — Houston Astros, 2007
  • Ron Washington — Texas Rangers, 2007
  • Bo Porter — Houston Astros, 2013
  • Dave Roberts — Los Angeles Dodgers, 2016

Asked why MLB is seeing so few black coaches become managers in the big leagues, Gaston said coaches getting passed over, not enough African-Americans getting shots at the position coaching level, and the lack of black players who would then enter the coaching pipeline after their playing careers ended, are all contributing factors.

Implementing a Rooney Rule, similar to the one in the NFL, which requires teams to interview a candidate of color, isn’t a sure fix. Coaches of color have complained for years that teams only bring in a person of color to meet the quota and not for an honest interview.

“It’s one of those things where I do see in our industry minorities and African-American men are going to get more opportunities,” Roberts said. “And even across baseball in player development and baseball operations with women and minorities, I think across the board Major League Baseball has an initiative to give minorities and women more opportunities.

“This gap in World Series [appearances from black managers], I think it’ll start to be more narrow.”

Dates of relevance

  • Oct. 3, 1974 – Cleveland Indians announce Frank Robinson as a manager/coach, making him the first black manager in baseball.
  • May 15, 1989 – Blue Jays dismiss Jimy Williams as manager and Cito Gaston takes over as the interim manager, though for two weeks, the team says Gaston isn’t being considered for the permanent job. The team begins its pursuit of former Yankees manager Lou Piniella, who was still under a three-year, $1.2 million contract with the Yankees. Toronto was also tied to Chicago White Sox first-base coach Terry Bevington and the team’s Class AAA manager and former Blue Jay Bob Bailor.
  • June 1, 1989 – Blue Jays’ general manager Paul Gillick officially announces that Cito Gaston was offered and accepted the full-time managerial job. After interviewing Piniella on May 22, Gillick sought permission from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to offer him the job. Steinbrenner wanted young pitching prospects, with big-league experience, Toronto countered with a minor-league pitcher, and that ended the talks.
  • June 27, 1989 – The Blue Jays’ Cito Gaston and the Baltimore Orioles’ Frank Robinson become the first black managers to face one another in MLB history.
  • Oct. 24, 1992 – Cito Gaston becomes the first black manager to win a World Series.
  • Oct. 23, 1993 – Cito Gaston guides Blue Jays to back-to-back World Series victories. He becomes first and only black manager to win consecutive titles.
  • Oct. 19, 2002 – Dusty Baker becomes the second black manager to lead his team to the World Series. His San Francisco Giants lost to the Anaheim Angels in Game 7.
  • Oct. 27, 2010 – Ron Washington becomes the third black manager in the World Series. His Texas Rangers lose to the San Francisco Giants in Game 5.
  • Oct. 19, 2011 – Ron Washington becomes second black manager to reach back-to-back World Series. His Rangers lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7.
  • Oct, 7, 2016 – The Washington Nationals’ Dusty Baker and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts become the first black managers to face one another in the postseason.
  • Oct. 19, 2017 – Dave Roberts becomes the fourth black manager to lead his team to a World Series.

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.