“The Big Chair” by the former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ned Colletti, allows baseball fans to understand the nuances of putting together a team: What goes into team chemistry, farm system versus free agency and how to handle a younger player.
His professional life has been connected to baseball as he worked for the front office with his childhood team the Chicago Cubs, the San Francisco Giants and ended with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The first-hand experiences, a behind-the-scenes look, as told by Colletti is a great read for any baseball fan.
Elise Cooper: Why did you write the book?
Ned Colletti: I wanted to illustrate the different dynamics of my jobs and used specific examples so people can understand what happened. I started this project to clear out my thoughts, almost like a journal. I wanted to put my life’s work on paper for my children and grandchildren. But then a friend introduced me to an agent who wanted to know if I would even write a book. I sent him the first five chapters, he asked for the others, and the rest is history.
EC: Since the Chicago Cubs was your childhood team and they were playing the LA Dodgers who you were GM for in the championship game, which did you root for?
NC: It was 100 to zero I was rooting for the Dodgers. Yet, an hour after the Cubs won the pennant, I went back rooting for the Cubs. Ironically, I worked for all these teams that were in the NL post-season. I had feelings and attachments for all these three teams: Cubs, Giants and Dodgers. It was also my final game as a Dodger GM. It was not lost on me that I grew up in Wrigley Field and was an executive with the other ball clubs they had to beat to win.
EC: In the book, you commented how important the scouts are. Please comment.
NC: Scouting is so vital to any organization, and it is the lifeblood. They help with acquiring players and developing them. I had to learn how to scout a scout. How do the scouts evaluate, are they an easy grader or a tough one; do they like everybody or nobody; are they more attuned to older pitching or younger pitching; and do they take into consideration if a hitter is using an aluminum or wood bat. They set the tone, the DNA of the team.
EC: Please explain how important chemistry is for a team.
NC: You always hope anyone who is acquired will fit in with the team. It doesn’t matter if it is someone you acquire late in the season, during the winter or during the draft. Sometimes it is done to change the culture of the team. It is one of the litmus tests for how good a franchise will be.
I think it really develops when teams early in a season have come back wins, or walk-off wins. This is what brings people together. The job is not like fantasy baseball where you sit at a table and pick names to put a team together, which is the fun part.
EC: Baseball is a team sport?
NC: It is a hard sport for everyone. There are only 21 off days in a 163 game schedule with most of the off days travel ones. A player is with the same group of people day in and day out from April 1 to Oct. 1. There are maybe five days where you don’t see a teammate. It is not like in football that mostly plays on Sundays or basketball that plays two to three times a week. The baseball season exposes greatness, weakness and injuries.
EC: What happened with the Dodgers when they had that August losing streak?
NC: I do not think the winning streak for the Dodgers was derailed by anyone brought to the team, such as Curtis Granderson and Adrian Gonzalez. It was almost impossible to maintain the pace of the winning streak. The last time it was done was in 1906 and 1912.
It is natural to take your foot off the gas for a minute when you have such a tremendous lead after three months of historic play. It just took them awhile to get it back. They are back in the dance, but now have to figure out how to win more games than in the past.
EC: You discuss in the book the controversy of manager Don Mattingly with his young player Yasiel Puig. Can you compare the current Dodger manager Dave Roberts to Don Mattingly?
NC: Both were first-year managers that are very hard working with a great understanding of the game. Mattingly does not platoon like Roberts, who puts in different players in different positions.
Regarding Puig, the timing was very important. The decision to send him to Triple A was a vital one. It wasn’t time to do it earlier. Puig had lost his focus. By sending him down, it showed him that accountability is needed. He is a proud player. Sending him down and the trade rumors showed him he needed to get his game in order. Both were a wake-up call.
I also think that Roberts deciding to hit him eighth helped him. Suddenly the expectation is that anything he did was a bonus. Now they have a Gold Glove right fielder hitting 25 home runs and 70 RBIs.
EC: A very interesting piece in the book was the discussion of how the LA Dodgers went into bankruptcy. Please explain.
NC: It was a very unique experience, to say the least. Joe Torre and Don Mattingly were managers and I was the GM. We all figured out we had nothing to do with this. We figured out what we had control over and then focused on it in a positive way. The rest we had to let go.
It was a drumbeat every day that we could never get away from and knew we could not change one thing. What we focused on was how to make the team a little better, something we had an impact on. I did not spin my wheels, become fearful or become angry because I knew it was a waste of time.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book?
NC: It is OK to dream big. Keep standing at the door until someone opens it, be persistent and never give up. Working in baseball has been a deep passion for me. It has never left me for a day. I think of myself as blessed for what I was able to do, make a living watching baseball. Baseball and myself are joined at the hip.