Baseball insider Ned Colletti could talk about America’s favorite pastime for hours. He nearly did that at Malibu City Hall last Tuesday at the Malibu Library Speaker Series. His insights and behind-the-scenes take on the Dodgers and other legendary players made for a delightful evening, despite an unusually low turnout possibly due to a rare cold snap that may have kept some locals cozy at home.
The clearly diehard Dodgers fans who showed up to hear the former Major League Baseball executive and once general manager of the Blue Crew seemed rapt with attention and anxious to ask questions. Colletti, who worked in MLB for 36 years, started with his hometown team, the Chicago Cubs. The baseball veteran is known as one of the winningest executives who—beside being the Dodgers’ GM—scouted, signed and managed some of the top players in the game. Now serving as a sports analyst for broadcast networks, Colletti has brought his talents to Pepperdine University, where he teaches as an Executive in Residence in Sport Administration for the school’s highly regarded sports management program.
One of the first topics of the evening was Colletti’s tenure as GM at Chavez Ravine under the troubled ownership of Malibu residents Frank and Jamie McCourt. Ever the gentleman, he was diplomatic when speaking of his former boss, saying, “He taught me a lot. He got a rough ride in the media, but his business acumen was at its highest level. He finetuned my thought process.”
More thoughts on local sports poured out when Colletti spoke of the recent trouble getting television access to Dodger baseball and its upshot.
“I think you’re losing fans. There’s a chance young people today are going to not really have an appreciation for the sport,” Colletti said, adding, “It’s out of my jurisdiction. It’s out of the Dodgers’ jurisdiction. It’s between the cable providers and Spectrum. I’d love to get it fixed. Three years ago when I started doing TV I was glad. Now, I’d like more people to see the show and also watch baseball. That’s how I fell in love with it.”
The nuances of making calls in person versus watching on TV with technological aids also was a hot topic.
“There is some charm to having a human behind the plate,” Colletti commented. “The strike zone that people see electronically and know that somebody’s just missed a bunch of calls and somebody is using another three inches of the plate that isn’t there to throw a pitch—that’s not necessarily good.” He added: “I do like instant replay.” Saying umpires get two to three percent of calls wrong, Colletti went on, “To replay them and get them right is a big advantage to the game, but I think it’s only half the advantage. The other half why I like it—the fans in the stadium can see it too.”
Controversy surfaced when the question of “juicing” or steroid use came up. Colletti mentioned legendary hitter Barry Bonds, saying, “It hurts me that Barry’s not in the Hall. He was one of the greatest, smartest players I’ve been around —genius.”
While commenting that he never saw any drug use, Colletti did say that of course it was suspected, but that management’s hands were tied because the players’ union did not allow drug testing for athletes. He claims, though, he suspects 90 percent of players were using amphetamines to keep their energy up after long games, exhaustive plane rides and short turnarounds.
“That’s illegal, too,” Colletti pointed out. “Nobody talks about those players. I think Barry suffers because the way he treated the press.”
Continuing on players not inducted into the Hall of Fame, Colletti remarked, “It breaks my heart that [Pete Rose] is not in the Hall of Fame.” Nicknamed “Charlie Hustle,” the all-time MLB leader in hits was found to have gambled on his own team while a manager and was banned from the sport. Reminiscing with Rose on what is more difficult—pitching or hitting—Colletti said Rose responded, “In theory, I could get 3,000 hits and never win a game.” With Rose’s betting scandal 30 years ago, Colletti suggested, “How much is enough? We’re living in a forgiving society. People do a lot worse. I wish he was in, but I understand why he’s not.”
On a lighter note, Colletti had the audience laughing when relaying a story about Manny Ramirez cutting just two inches of his dreadlocks to appease Dodgers dress code.
Colletti’s key to winning: “A great regular season, health and a touch of good fortune. And patience. If you run a team and you’re impatient, the number of mistakes you’re going to make will cost you your job. You’ll be done in a heartbeat.”
Ned Colletti recently wrote “The Big Chair: The Smooth Hops and Bad Bounces from the Inside World of the Acclaimed Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager.”