“When Dave stole that base, I knew there was some element of it that he had learned by asking a question,” Manto said. “There is no doubt. Maybe it was his lead, how to read the pitcher, checking the catcher. Maybe all of it. But that is what made him unique.”
Manto described Roberts as extremely respectful, not only to him, but also to the game and to the process of being a player and a teammate. Once, in 1999 in Buffalo, Roberts was responsible for the shoebox that contained the fine payments for the players’ kangaroo court. But he lost it, and the money inside. Some of the players told Manto, who was the judge that week, and he waited to see how Roberts would respond.
“He came up to me a couple days later and just told me the truth,” Manto said. “He said he left it on the bus. In Double-A, you use the same bus all the time. But in Triple-A, one bus leaves and another one picks you up. He was really apologetic, and I just told him to pay it back. But it showed how seriously he took it, because it was about being a part of a team.”
Roberts made an impression on many people back then, including Mark Shapiro, now the president of the Toronto Blue Jays. In 1998 Shapiro was Cleveland’s assistant general manager, and even though the two spent only a couple of years in the same organization, they remain friendly. Shapiro calls Roberts one of five or six people in his career with whom he shares a special connection.
Three years after Roberts left Cleveland, he ended up in Boston on a team that would make history in October 2004. Shapiro told Roberts at the time that his brother David, who worked for a nonprofit, lived in a modest home in Boston and that he should visit for dinner.
“And he went,” Shapiro said. “Here he is, a big major league player for the Boston Red Sox, and he goes to my brother’s little house in Jamaica Plain and plays with my brother’s little kids.”
Shapiro said he wished he could claim he always knew Roberts would make a successful manager, but he admits he never really through of it, mostly because he was focused on him as a player and later as a friend. Now, even when Roberts gets criticized for a decision that backfires, he realizes it makes perfect sense.