Colletti will try to lead Dodgers out of doldrums
LOS ANGELES -- Frank McCourt knew soon into his lengthy conversation with Ned Colletti that he wanted to hire him as the Dodgers' general manager.
"There was chemistry immediately, and I thought that was a very, very good sign because chemistry is a big piece of building a baseball team," the Dodgers owner said. "This guy is a born leader. He's a baseball guy. We talked and, as a matter of fact, I think I got the whole life story. I mean literally. And it's a great story."
The 50-year-old Colletti, who spent the past nine years as assistant GM for the San Francisco Giants, brings along 24 years of experience as a baseball executive.
"Our strategy will be improve immediately, via trade or free agency, but not be too shortsighted to forget who's on the horizon," Los Angeles' new GM said Wednesday at a Dodger Stadium news conference. "There's a foundation here, but there are needs to be filled."
Asked if the Dodgers would be capable of fielding a division-championship team if opening day were today, he smiled and simply said, "No."
Then he added, "But ask me that on Opening Day."
He replaced Paul DePodesta, fired after the Dodgers went 71-91 last season. Coming on the heels of their NL West title in 2004, this year's record was the team's worst since 1992 and second-poorest since they moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958.
The Dodgers haven't advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs since they were World Series champions in 1988.
Colletti's baseball philosophy would seem markedly in contrast with that of DePodesta, who was 31 when he was hired by new Dodgers owner McCourt before the 2004 season. While DePodesta relied heavily on players' statistics, Colletti said he considers intangibles such as character may be even more important than numbers.
"He loves and respects the game, he honestly respects people," McCourt said. "These values, these character attributes really, really jumped off the page for me. The talent, the experience is clearly there, but I also wanted to emphasize the chemistry, the character, the values."
Colletti reeled off a long list -- Oscar speech-style, he joked -- of people he wanted to thank for helping him along the way. Included were current or former managers Jim Fry, Lee Elia, Don Zimmer, Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou. He also said he owed a great deal of gratitude to Giants GM Brian Sabean, his boss the past nine years.
Sabean said Colletti's getting a GM job was long overdue, and "Hopefully, it won't ruin a friendship. Obviously, he's in hated Dodger Blue now. It is an interesting twist of fate."
The new Los Angeles GM's first task will be to help the Dodgers hire a manager. Jim Tracy and the team parted company last month, and Tracy became the Pittsburgh Pirates' manager. Los Angeles is the only team in the majors without a manager.
Colletti said the new manager should be a "great leader" who is a well-rounded and can communicate with him, and with the spectrum of players from 22-year-olds to 38-year-olds. He said managerial experience was preferred, but not absolutely necessary.
Getting to know the Dodgers' staff and acclimating himself with the club also is high on the to-do list of Colletti, who was given a four-year contract.
Saying he's very familiar with the Dodgers from the outside, he added, "It's like getting married. You can date somebody for years, but until you marry them, you don't really know who you have."
Asked if he could provide a brief summary of his life story that McCourt had alluded to, Colletti explained how he grew up poor in Chicago, where he, his parents and his brother first lived in a remodeled garage, then finally moved to a small house that was constantly rattled by passing trains or planes taking off and landing at nearby O'Hare International Airport.
After delivering the abbreviated version of his life story, Colletti smiled and said, "That's 50 years in three minutes."
His background obviously played a big part in molding his philosophy.
"I take nothing for granted. I know the value of finances, I know the value of people. I've had to be street-smart since I was a little kid," Colletti said. "I've had to know who's right, who's wrong, who's pulling my leg, who's lying to me, who's got integrity, who I can trust.
"I've had to live that way my entire life. Because of that, I've been able to separate the good from the bad, the true from the false, the winners from the losers, the champions from the also-rans."
Colletti and Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng were believed the two main candidates for the job. There have been no women GMs in the major leagues.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press