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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, of Cardiff, left, and Rockies manager Bud Black, of Solana Beach, center, join Hall of Famer Tony La Russa at the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association conference at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Photo by Jay Paris
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Sports Talk: Black, Roberts lead from front at MLB alumni summit

Baseball managers Bud Black and Dave Roberts are similar to the number they represent: 711.

Both North County residents are always open.

That was evident at the recent Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association Career Summit at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. Black, a Solana Beach resident, and Roberts, of Cardiff, were on a panel which included Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa.

That 711 figure isn’t about topping off your Big Gulp. Instead it’s the number of MLB managers in the game’s history.

While the topic was baseball, the theme was leadership and that leaks into any business.

Black, the ex-San Diego Padres manager now with the Colorado Rockies, is a master of clicking with people: from his charges, to his colleagues, to the media.

Roberts, the ex-Padres player entering his fifth season as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ skipper, is the epitome of an overachiever, going from being a 28th-round draft pick to reaching his occupation’s biggest stage.

The Dodgers reached the playoffs in each of Roberts’ four seasons, but L.A. fell short of a World Series title. Disappointment and failure in the eyes of yourself, and others, comes with the job.

The manner in which Black and Roberts make a living rests in how others respond to their cajoling. A manager’s impact is limited and that’s why the best ones, according to Black and Roberts, coax players into taking ownership in the team as well.

“Let’s say you’re driving in rural America and you see a big group of cattle one morning in one spot of this huge ranch,” Black said. “Then next day you see them five miles on the other side of the ranch. Well, they got there somehow and it’s usually because a couple of lead bulls led them that way and others followed. In a clubhouse, you’re always looking for those lead bulls. They do things a certain way and others follow.”

Black said it’s no bull that he’ll help players become leaders. If that means pulling them aside before a team meeting, Black will tug at them.

“It’s hard but leaders can be developed,” he said. “But it doesn’t happen overnight and it can come with a lot of quiet encouragement. Behind the scene sometimes you are challenging guys. You’ll say, ‘Hey, I need you to say this in meeting’ because it can be a breakthrough for all the players.”

Others just have to be themselves.

“There are natural leaders and they have that personality, in that the players will follow them,” Black said. “And there are quiet leaders that say very little, but it’s just the way they do things every day.”

After Roberts’ led the Dodgers to the fall classic in 2017-18, L.A. was bounced in the first round in ‘19. In an elimination game against the Washington Nationals, Roberts’ decisions were questioned.

Roberts, a Rancho Buena Vista High product, shrugs. Things don’t always go as planned and that’s when leadership skills are challenged.

“People look to see how you respond to a lot of different circumstances,” he said. “Whether they are in really good or really tough times. For me, it’s by being relentlessly positive. When you are positive it breeds success and people’s desire to continue to push forward.”

Riding high in April and shot down in October is more than a tweak of a song’s lyrics. It explains the roller-coaster aspects of a baseball season, one that requires a steady hand on the wheel.

Black and Roberts provide it, even when the ride isn’t always smooth.