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‘Put it on record’ — Dave Roberts’ 2022 World Series guarantee fell flat

Or “Overpromised, underdelivered, but Dave Roberts’ words are not responsible for this mess.”

Division Series - San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game One
Photo from the only win of The One-Win Team
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I saved the analysis of Dave Roberts for the back end of this series, because, at the end of the day, the next two essays are both the most cathartic and yet the most futile in this series. The Dodgers have already confirmed that Dave Roberts is coming back to manage the team shortly after The One-Win Team engaged in its historic collapse.

Truthfully, I did not expect any other outcome regarding Roberts’ return to the manager’s seat in 2023, which frankly is a bit of a problem at this point. I know that I am in the minority position regarding Roberts’ ongoing tenure as manager of the Dodgers. Knowing how I feel and what I have and will argue, I say the following in clear, definitive terms so that there is no misunderstanding.

With everything laid out, when I say the following, you know that I am being utterly sincere:

Dave Roberts is NOT the one who is primarily responsible for this trainwreck. If he were, I would be proclaiming that assertion with every fiber of my being.

Roberts may be done with analyzing what happened, but I am not. Moreover, if he actually has the gall to blame the bye the team earned (at 1:19 in the video) and say that the Dodgers do not have a postseason problem (at 1:44), yet acknowledge that the Padres wanted it more, that the Dodgers have only played their best baseball in the postseason one out of seven postseasons at the helm just baffles the mind.

But this interview and where the team goes from here is a 2023 problem, outside the scope of this essay. These comments do nothing to answer the question of how the Dodgers failed in 2022 and this essay will not take the position that Roberts is blameless. Frankly, he is not.

Truthfully, I have more of an issue with what he did leading up to the NLDS and during the NLDS rather than what he said at any point from March 2022 to now. But there are those that will blame Roberts for the Dodgers’ misfortunes based on what he said and did.

This essay is about what Dave Roberts has said; the second half of this finale is about what Dave Roberts did. For context, we return to a now-infamous guarantee Roberts made at the beginning of the year.

The Dan Patrick Show, March 24

Dave Roberts appeared on The Dan Patrick Show, fourteen days after the 2022 Lockout ended, seven days after Spring Training had begun. What followed was about ten minutes of a friendly conservational interview between Roberts and Patrick, who clearly are friends outside of sports, which makes for an entertaining interview.

At 10:52 of the interview, Dan Patrick asks the following question without any prompt:

Dan Patrick: The Dodgers will win the World Series if...?

Dave Roberts: [after about five seconds] We play a full season and there is a postseason.

Patrick: [after about two seconds] Wait —

Roberts: We are going to win the World Series in 2022. [crosstalk] But I know where you are going with that. We are going to win the World Series this year. Put it on record.

Patrick: You are winning the World Series?

Roberts: We are winning the World Series. That’s our focus, that’s our goal. Um, but to your question, we are winning the World Series...if...if...um, our starting staff stays healthy. I know that’s vague, but that’s my answer.

[emphasis added.]

The interview continued after discussing rotations, specifically the Mets having the best rotation in the league per Roberts, the Dodgers rotation being in the top ten, and talking in-depth about Jacob deGrom. Patrick did seem taken aback by Roberts’ declaration guaranteeing a title in 2022. Roberts did confirm to Patrick that he was guaranteeing a title and that he was putting that thought into the universe.

Roberts has the right to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, just as you do, just as I do. Like you and me, he is not immune from criticism for what he said.

However, I am not stating in any way, shape, or form that this interview had any impact on the Dodgers throughout the year or the NLDS. Considering what happened months later, I can see how the more irrational among us would say “well, Roberts tempted fate — that is why the Dodgers lost.” It is beyond a stretch to make that argument. It is bad faith to make that argument.

If anything, if all Roberts had said to Patrick that “We are trying to win the World Series. That’s our focus, that’s our goal,” no one even remembers this interview.

Guarantees to win it all are generally a bad idea, especially if one is not an active participant, especially when you are more than six months away from the actual event in question. But as Roberts did not take the field, the most umbrage I can muster to this interview is an eye roll. But the interview does serve as the context for what happened later.

Ask me in October — the Plaschke column on October 2

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wrote a hyperbolic column before the NLDS with the Padres even started. Plaschke has one passage in particular where he basically discounts everything that the Dodgers did in 2020 to wallow in past postseason misery.

As much as one can cling to the weird memory of the abbreviated 2020 bubble title, one remembers the crushing by the Atlanta Braves, the collapse against the Washington Nationals, the cratering against the Boston Red Sox, the cheating by the Houston Astros, and all those sucker punches by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Over the last decade the Dodgers have won so much, but ultimately failed so often, and so many have understandably become so weary of it all.

“Weird memory” of the 2020 title — what on Earth is he talking about? That statement is a far different tune than what Plaschke wrote on October 27, 2020, in an essay titled “Dodgers’ sixth World Series title since moving to L.A. might be the sweetest.”

We’ll write it again, with feeling, for all the times in the last three decades you thought you’d never read it again.

The Dodgers are World Series champions!

The weight is over, the burden has been lifted, the dream deferred has become a reality embraced.

The proffered positions are contradictory and mutually exclusive; to express both is to be either disingenuous then and/or disingenuous now. You might be asking: why discuss Plaschke at all? It is a fair question. Unfortunately, the column published some remarks from Roberts that are ripe and worthy of legitimate good-faith criticism.

After Plaschke’s bloviating stopped, he asked the following rhetorical question in his essay: “Considering this is the greatest run of sustained success in franchise history, at least one Dodger openly wonders, why can’t fans just enjoy the ride?” Roberts remarks to writers, including Plaschke, followed:

“Fans are fans for a reason, they’ve never put on a big league uniform,” Roberts said. “We want to win a championship just as much as they do. If not more, our jobs depend on it. We’re in the grind every single day from Feb.15, every single day.”

Roberts separated the fans into two groups, those who judge the team only by October, and those who appreciate the entire summer.

“So there are fans, some subset that feel that they don’t get interested until the postseason and the season is defined by that. That’s their prerogative,” he said. “There’s another subset of fans that can appreciate what goes into winning, having the season we’re having and understanding that there’s a lot of things that happen that play out in a postseason that are unpredictable … that subset that’s in it with us and really appreciates that this is a great team. And they’re prepared to handle any result.”

[emphasis added.]

Remember, I pointed out that ownership wants to make money.

I did not question the motivation of the front office (in that they want to win under the marching orders of ownership) nor did I question the motivation of the players themselves. I have no criticism of these remarks because Roberts is factually right.

We are fans. We do not suit up. We are not playing. We are not fighting for our jobs.

There is a reason that I say the Dodgers won, not “I” won, not “we” won. My presence did not affect the outcome of any of the 49 games that I have been present for during the past two seasons. I do not shy away about how I feel about Roberts, but I cannot and will not criticize a man unnecessarily when he is mostly right.

If I were to quibble, I would point out that regular-season baseball and postseason baseball are two halves of a whole. The postseason provides context for what happened during the summer. If a team flops at the end, does it really matter what happened in the summer? And conversely, if a team does unexpectedly well in the postseason, does it really matter if the focus remains on the sugar-high of ending versus figuring out what went right to be in a position to excel moving forward?

And had Roberts stopped talking, I could end the essay here.

When asked by Plaschke a loaded question about whether he “ever longed for more unbridled regular-season joy around Chavez Ravine like in Seattle last week when the Mariners made the playoffs for the first time in 21 years,” Roberts said the following:

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “Unfortunately, the world has gone very cynical, which is sad. ... Are certain fans, not all, jaded? Absolutely. And [they] don’t realize what it takes, what this team, in particular, has had to overcome, to get to this point.”

[emphasis added.]

Yes, cynicism is bad, but I’m sorry — what? If Roberts had said the above statement about the 2021 team, again — I would have no notes.

From Kershaw’s injury to Bellinger’s ineffectiveness and injuries, to the Trevor Bauer fiasco, to Dustin May’s injury, and so on. The 2021 team was fun, but good grief was it a grind to be a fan of it sometimes. I can just say “#SaveEli” or “5 and 15” and most readers know exactly what I am talking about.

The 2022 team? It was a historic bacchanal of fun and winning. Nitpicking the 2021 team was easy (for example, it had Trevor Bauer on it). To truly criticize the 2022 Dodgers, I had to dig deep for nitpicks about the statistics with the bases loaded, the struggles with extra-inning games, etc., apart from pointing at Cody Bellinger and asking “why is this man still here?”

Moreover, even with the injuries and the minor valleys that the team had, the team’s longest losing streak was four games all season. Unless you were a team from Pennsylvania, if the 2022 Dodgers came to your town, the home team likely had a bad time. The Dodgers won more games without Walker Buehler than they did with him.

The Dodgers had annihilated the franchise season record for victories, essentially had clinched the division by Labor Day, and had every advantage earned for the playoffs in the sports. Again, what on Earth is Roberts talking about?

Also, I’m sorry, speaking wistfully about the Mariners — what?!?

The Mariners had not made the playoffs in literally 20 years. Their situation and the Dodgers' situation are not comparable. You do not get brownie points or gratitude for doing what you are supposed to be doing. You could legitimately make the argument that the Dodgers underachieved a bit in 2021 and that team still won 106 games.

The Dodgers have a mix of a flexible, top-three payroll and a rich farm system. The expectations are there for success. Based on the strength of the roster, the almost-limitless nature of the payroll, and the depth of the farm system, the Dodgers are supposed to be winning.

If the Dodgers did not consistently advance in the playoffs with the resources that the Dodgers have, that outcome would be unacceptable and Roberts would likely be fired. After all, this organization moved on from Don Mattingly.

Dodgers defeat the Rockies in their final game of the season
It was hugs all around.
Photo by David Crane/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

What the Dodgers have done is make the difficult appear easy.

Doing which is very hard to do — that statement is a testament to the hard work of the front office, the coaching staff, and the players. Frankly, the Dodgers have nothing left to prove in the regular season. Therefore, I can understand that segment of the fanbase that only pays attention to the ending of the season. Those that just do “playoffs only” do miss the fun and the joy of the slow burn of the marathon story that plays out every summer.

Read uncharitably, it could be argued that Roberts is chafing under the weight of expectations. In large part, the joy that was emanating out of Philadelphia, out of Seattle was a joy of simply being happy to be there. For a broader example, look at the joy that emanated from the United States making it to the knockout round of the World Cup. That example is what diminished expectations look like.

These teams had no expectations of winning a championship. Yes, the Phillies ended up with a pennant. The Mariners were a fun story until they caused more generational trauma to their fanbase. But to the larger point, no one knows what is in Dave Roberts’ head apart from Dave Roberts and I am not going to suggest anything as I am not him.

The Plaschke piece concluded with Roberts’ resigning himself to hearing it from the Dodgers’ faithful if the Dodgers came up short in the playoffs:

“If the Dodgers don’t win this season, there’s a subset that’s going to feel that we choked. We aren’t a good team. It was a lost season,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. That factual narrative isn’t going change for some people. But again, that’s just noise for our guys.”

Had Roberts not made the statement to Dan Patrick earlier in the year, I would have no issue with what Roberts said here. But as Plaschke pointed out, Roberts stoked this mindset by making the declaration to Patrick at the beginning of the year.

If Roberts is going to guarantee a title, he can not credibly play the victim if the Dodgers fall short. Especially, if the team falls flat on its face in a generational collapse.

Personally, if the Dodgers lost in the World Series or the NLCS — again — I would probably be disappointed but we would not be here. While it is probably unreasonable to expect the Dodgers to win the World Series every year, the Dodgers failing to win in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018, or 2021 ultimately does not change the good and the bad that each season’s story developed.

Generally, the adage is that success has 1000 fathers but failure is an orphan. In actuality, both success and failure have multiple sources; generally, with failure, the fathers are absent. But there are exceptions to this assertion related to the Dodgers.

2015 — Seriously, who forgets to cover third base?

2017 — Does anything else need to be said at this point?

2019 — I will give you my view in the finale of this series.

2022 — The 2022 Dodgers, whom I have nicknamed The One-Win Team, this team had the most inept, most disappointing, most pathetic playoff performance in team history. It was an organizational failure. It was a generational failure. This incarnation of the Dodgers serves as a cautionary tale, much like the 2001 Seattle Mariners and the 1906 Cubs for being inept victims of their own success.

And the fact that the Dodgers are seemingly charging ahead, refusing to learn anything from this failure is probably what is most frustrating and distressing about the aftermath of the failure. But as the roster turnover of December 6 will tell you, it does feel like a page is being turned.

The only thing left to discuss is what Roberts did during the playoffs, in relation to who bears the lion’s share of the blame for early playoff exit: a Dodgers’ offense that left for vacation early and seemed like it was playing a sleepy series in Kansas City in August rather than a playoff series against a division opponent in October. As previously mentioned, Roberts has commented on the increased motivation coming out of the San Diego bench during the NLDS.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not about what Dave Roberts said; it’s about what Dave Roberts and the Dodgers did and did not do.