Robinson proud of Baker-Roberts matchup

Hall of Famer hopes historic series leads to more African-American managers

Robinson proud of Baker-Roberts matchup

LOS ANGELES -- Suite 212 at Dodger Stadium sits across the hall from a large poster of a framed commemorative program celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier. Inside the suite, 81-year-old Frank Robinson -- no relation to fellow Hall of Famer Jackie -- sits surrounded by his family to watch Monday's Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Nationals and Dodgers.

Forty-one years after Frank Robinson was named player-manager of the Cleveland Indians -- becoming the first African-American manager in the Major Leagues -- here was the first postseason matchup in MLB history between two African-American managers, as Washington's Dusty Baker squared off against Los Angeles' Dave Roberts. Robinson paused and leaned back in his chair as he considered the relevance of this particular NLDS.

"These two guys are doing what needs to be done for there to be more of us in the game," Robinson said.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 LAD 4, WAS 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 9 WSH 5, LAD 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 WAS 8, LAD 3 video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 LAD 6, WAS 5 video
Gm 5 Oct. 13 LAD 4, WSH 3 video

This historic matchup -- which concludes tonight at Nationals Park with a decisive Game 5 at 8 p.m. ET/5 PT on FS1 -- comes while Roberts and Baker are the only two African-American managers in baseball. This is the first postseason series in MLB history featuring two minority managers.

"I'm very proud of both of them, but I'm also kind of saddened by the lack of the numbers," Robinson said. "It just goes to show you, if they get the right people and they get the opportunity and give them the talent, they can perform."

Robinson kept going back to how proud he was of Roberts and Baker, both in their first seasons with their respective teams.

Baker spent the previous two seasons out of the game after he was dismissed by the Reds in 2013. Before taking the job, Baker reached out to Robinson, who served as the team's first manager when the franchise moved from Montreal to D.C. in 2005. The two have known each other since 1984, when Baker played on a Giants team managed by Robinson.

And in his first season, Baker has been a steady force for the Nationals en route to the NL East championship.

"Dusty is Dusty," Robinson said. "Dusty is a very good manager, and he doesn't get the credit for it. Dusty is an outstanding manager, and he has been for a long time, and I'm glad he's back in and managing a very talented ballclub."

Roberts had been a bench coach with the Padres in 2015, and the Dodgers were swept off their feet last season by the then-43-year-old during the interview process while looking to fill their vacancy.

Robinson, who lives in Los Angeles, has gotten to know Roberts this year. He put his support behind Roberts for NL Manager of the Year Award honors for leading the Dodgers to the NL West title despite a plethora of injuries to their pitching staff, including ace Clayton Kershaw.

"He's done a terrific job of juggling his pitching staff and his hitters," Robinson said. "They've performed for him. He's a very loose guy."

Before the series began, Robinson considered how rare it must be to have two African-American men matching up in a postseason series, and he was surprised to learn that it was the first time.

"Hopefully, it motivates other organizations to get some African-American managers, also to motivate other players that are playing right now and former players that have managerial aspirations," Baker said. "It probably brings a lot of pride across America, and not only African-American people, but everybody."

Roberts said: "Obviously, it's important, and it doesn't go unnoticed or underappreciated. I think speaking for Dusty, myself, what it means to the game of baseball, to society. … I think that when we look back, it's really -- it's going to be more special."

During batting practice prior to Monday's game, Robinson met with Roberts and Baker on the field. The three men posed for a photo to commemorate the occasion, one they all hope will become far less rare in the years ahead.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.