Dylan Hernandez: Dave Roberts and Gabe Kapler’s shared history extends beyond Dodgers-Giants rivalry
SAN FRANCISCO — Farhan Zaidi once chose the opposing manager over his own.
“The organization made that decision,” Zaidi clarified.
“I think our guy’s going to win manager of the year, so he’s pretty good,” Zaidi said.
Before he was the San Francisco Giants’ president of baseball operations, Zaidi was the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and part of the brain trust that hired Dave Roberts.
The other finalist whom the Dodgers considered was Gabe Kapler.
Zaidi’s current and former employers will open a National League Division Series on Friday at Oracle Park, with Kapler leading the 107-win Giants and Roberts the 106-win Dodgers.
Still giggling, Zaidi made a lighthearted attempt to reframe the discussion.
“Let me ask the question that a decent human being would ask,” Zaidi said. “They would say, ‘Well, Gabe was part of your interview process in L.A. and you ultimately went with Doc, so …’”
I interrupted Zaidi, but he ignored me and carried on with his self-interview.
“Dave Roberts was the right choice for the Dodgers at the time and he’s done a great job,” Zaidi said. “I know they’ve been very happy with him.
“Even then, it was close. The guys were the final two candidates and they both did a great job in the interview process. Sometimes you have multiple good candidates. You ultimately get to choose only one guy.”
Roberts and Kapler now manage the two best teams in baseball. But their shared history extends back to when they were teammates in the Detroit Tigers’ double-A affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Very good teammate, very good preparer, competitor,” Roberts said of Kapler.
Referring to Kapler’s sculpted reference, Roberts chuckled and said, “Always been good with his diet.”
Roberts continued, “Yeah, I mean, I like to think that we maximized the most out of our talents in our baseball careers.”
Kapler went on to play 12 seasons in the major leagues and Roberts 10. They were together again in 2004 when they were reserves on the World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
“I really like Doc,” Kapler said. “I just think he works really hard and cares a lot.”
Kapler finished his major league career with the Tampa Bay Rays. The team was run by Andrew Friedman, who later became the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations. When Friedman was hired by the Dodgers after the 2014 season, he hired Kapler as the organization’s farm director.
A year later, Don Mattingly departed from the organization and the Dodgers opened a managerial search. Kapler was a leading candidate from the start. In the first round of interviews, Dodgers management was also impressed by Roberts, who at the time was the San Diego Padres’ bench coach.
Roberts was hired and went on to be named the NL manager of the year in his rookie season, in which he guided the Dodgers to the NL Championship Series. He won three pennants over the next four years, the most recent of which resulted in their first World Series championship in 32 years.
“I think the one thing that stands out to me is when I watch Doc managing games, he’s very intense and very emotional and very invested,” Kapler said. “And I respect all of that.”
Kapler remained the Dodgers’ farm director until he was chosen to manage the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2018 season. He was fired after two years but was promptly picked up by Zaidi and the Giants.
In his second season in San Francisco, Kapler stopped the Dodgers’ streak of consecutive division titles at eight. He did it with traits that Zaidi also observed in Roberts.
He used the team’s entire roster, switching lineups depending on who was pitching for the opponents. He emphasized communication.
“He’s been awesome,” pitcher Logan Webb said. “He does such a good job at making you feel comfortable. There were times this year where I got sent to the bullpen and he’s the first one to say, ‘Hey, this isn’t the last time you’re going to start for us.’”
Kapler wasn’t kidding. Webb will be the Giants’ starter Friday.
Like the Dodgers, the Giants rely heavily on analytics to make decisions. However, third baseman Evan Longoria said there isn’t much talk about them in the clubhouse.
“I think that’s part of the reason why there’s a lot of buy-in because it’s not like this cookie-cutter approach,” Longoria said. “There’s like a more human aspect to it that has been easier for the group to buy into.”
Kapler also used his relievers liberally this year and was effective doing so. The Giants bullpen was the first in history to pitch more than 600 innings and post an earned-run average of less than 3.00.
Except Roberts has done this in the postseason, most recently in a 3-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL wild-card game on Wednesday. Roberts used five relievers to cover the final 42/3 innings.
Kapler will be looking to match his old friend again, the paths of two historical managers intersecting this time in the first postseason series between two historical franchises since their 1962 best-of-three tiebreaker series.