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Dodgers Hit Home Run With Colletti

November 20, 2005|Mike Downey | Chicago Tribune

A few days ago, word got out that Ned Colletti might be the next general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I have known Ned for nearly 30 years. It sounded too good to be true.

So, I touched base to see if it was.

"We shall see," was all he could tell me Sunday. "I have an overwhelming peace about it either way."

Wednesday, he was introduced as the Dodgers' GM.

By his side was Frank McCourt, the team's chairman since buying it for $430 million -- a major-league record price -- two years ago from Rupert Murdoch's investment-savvy, baseball-ignorant group.

McCourt is a man who makes interesting acquisitions; he also makes interesting hires.

For example, as vice chairman and president of the Dodgers he looked around and found his wife, Jamie. And as director of marketing he went with his 23-year-old son, Drew.

These are not stupid people. Jamie studied in Paris at the Sorbonne and holds degrees from U.S. universities in French and in law. Drew has one from an Ivy League school in astrophysics.

To be senior vice president of communications, the McCourts a few weeks ago turned to Camille Johnston.

WBBM-Channel 2 employees in Chicago might remember Johnston from her public-relations job there from 1997 to '99. She later worked in the White House as an aide to Tipper Gore, wife of the former vice president, Al.

Bright people all, but not exactly baseball lifers.

So for the GM job, it wasn't going to shock me if McCourt thought out of the box. I knew that Kim Ng -- an ex-White Sox exec and the Dodgers' assistant GM -- was under consideration. I thought she might become the latest thoroughly qualified pioneer to be given a chance by the organization that gave us Jackie Robinson.

I also knew names of the game such as Pat Gillick, John Hart, Gerry Hunsicker and Theo Epstein were said to be in the mix, true or false.

But as soon as Ned Colletti's name came up, I wondered if the Dodgers could be that smart. They were.

This one, they got right.

Colletti is eminently suited for a Dodger GM job that three men handled for 48 years -- Buzzie Bavasi (1950 to '68), Al Campanis (1968 to '87) and Fred Claire (1987 to '98) -- before new ownership began playing musical chairs.

It doesn't matter that Ned worked for the Cubs for 12 years and since then has been assistant GM of the Giants, sleeping with L.A.'s enemy.

Or that his background includes sportswriting and public relations because so did Claire's, and all Claire did as GM was take the Dodgers to the 1988 World Series title -- their last.

"It's interesting Ned gets tagged as a former sportswriter and PR man, even though he has nearly 20 years' experience in baseball operations," Claire told me Wednesday. "To that degree, our paths were similar.

"I had worked closely with Campanis, attending GM meetings, dealing with agents and the players' association, as well as owners meetings with the O'Malleys."

Colletti will think twice before trading the team's most popular guy, as predecessors did with fan favorites Mike Piazza and Paul Lo Duca.

For another, there aren't a lot of popular guys on a team that goes 71-91. The Dodgers had no .300 hitter, no 30-homer guy, no 15-game winner and no Eric Gagne for most of the season.

Ned was no ballplayer himself, although he did play Little League ball with Mike Shanahan, who now coaches the NFL's Denver Broncos.

He went to high school at East Leyden, college at Triton and then Northern Illinois. I first met him as a sportswriter covering high school games ... for the Danville Commercial-News, but my memory might be wrong.

Colletti needs to hire a Dodger manager now. I know he will find the right one for the job. Just as, in his case, Frank McCourt did.

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