(While I am on hiatus for the next month, I am leaving behind six articles--(July 1) Jamie Brandon, the former King basketball star, (July 2) Q&A with Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, who grew up in the Chicago area, (July 3) thoughts about the 2010-11 basketball season, (July 4) the impact of head injuries on high school football players, (July 5) the rise and fall of Quincy basketball and (July 6) the release of my fourth book, "Dusty, Deek, and Mr. Do-Right: High School Football In Illinois." Please archive past articles. And enjoy the summer)
Ned Colletti, 55, general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, grew up in Franklin Park and attended East Leyden High School. He worked for me as a part-time high school sports reporter in the 1970s. In fact, Colletti had a byline story on a regional championship game in the final edition of the Chicago Daily News on March 4, 1978. It was the beginning of a journey that saw him go from Chicago to Danville to Philadelphia to Chicago to San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Your roots go back to Franklin Park and East Leyden (class of 1972). What lessons did you learn that have helped you to succeed in life?
The people of Franklin Park were hard working and family oriented. They had discipline to be on time and to work hard. Without hard work, nothing would be attainable. With hard work, everything is attainable.
Which teacher or coach at East Leyden helped to whip you into shape?
Wrestling coach Charley Farina was a great teacher and leader. Counselor Richard Smith told me as a senior that a I had a better chance of earning a living at the steel plant across the street than of going to college. It was a huge wakeup call. I graduated with honors from college.
The best advice you ever received?
From my dad. "You will get more out of life by giving and helping others than my taking," he told me.
How do you explain your ride from Chicago to Danville to Philadelphia to Chicago to San Francisco to Los Angeles?
I have been blessed beyond measure in my life. I have been placed in places that had people who offered opportunity. And I was blessed with my parents' work ethic to take those opportunities to the maximum. The number of people who have made me become better at what I do and have made me live life to a higher level is a very long list. And I've never stopped working to get better.
What do you miss about Chicago?
It's not the traffic on the Kennedy or Eisenhower or the Dan Ryan. I've got plenty oftraffic here. The people, my mom, family and my friends are what I miss most. And the Italian beef.
I made great friends in Philadelphia even though I only spent about 15 months there. Our first child was born there. Great people, tough-minded people, fanatical fans who are with you only one way--when you win.
I never thought I would live in California or San Francisco. I lived there for 11 years and loved the place. It has a small town feel with big city opportunities in a beautiful geographic location. Like the people of Philadelphia, I will have great friends there for life.
How did you and Dallas Green get together?
I was fortunate to work with Bob Ibach in Philadelphia. When Dallas was hired as the general manager of the Cubs, he brought Bob with him. A few weeks later, Bob called and offered me a chance to come home to Chicago--where my father was dying of cancer. It is amazing how life goes. I came home to Chicago for a personal tragedy and to help my mom and allow my brother Doug to stay in college. And thankfully Bob and Dallas gave me that chance. Little did I know what that one step would lead to for the next 28-plus years.
Did you once dream of being general manager of the Cubs?
Growing up as a Cubs fan and learning about baseball at Wrigley Field, it entered my mind. But I never set my sights on that position. I have felt for a long time that most of life is out of our control and so what I can control is my effort and my work ethic and prioritization. Whatever happens after that is someone else's call.
What prepared you for being a general manger?
I spent literally thousands of hours preparing and being prepared by others through increased opportunity and responsibility. I always listened more than I spoke because I wasn't going to learn as much by talking. As I said earlier, I have been blessed to be put in situations with people who were willing to give me a chance and then my work ethic gave me credibility to earn more and more responsibility. You need to communicate and you need to be clear in your expectations and decision-making and I have watched some of the best in the business from close range on my journey. Mistakes will always be part of the process. What you learn from losing and what you do with that knowledge and experience is the key.
What is the toughest aspect of being a general manager?
Two things come to mind--managing expectations and having many aspects of the position out of your control. Only people who have had these positions understand the magnitude of the position and the number of decisions that are made daily. Ninety-five percent of the decisions are not public yet. They are parts of the fundamental keys to being successful or not successful. And secondly, general managers are responsible for how other people act, perform and prioritize, yet they have no control over any of those characteristics. We only have control over what we individually do yet are measured by others who we have no control over. That's an interesting dynamic.
What makes the job so much fun?
I love to compete and problem solve. And every day there are problems to solve and opportunities to compete. Plus it's in a sport that I have loved since I was about five years old.
Do you have any superstitions?
I sit in the same seat on the plane, on the team bus and at Dodger Stadium.
Who would you choose as your partner on "Dancing With The Stars?"
Someone who knows how to dance. That would make one of us.
There are so many celebrities at Dodger Stadium. Who awes you?
I can't say I'm in awe of anyone. I have known Mark Harmon for a long time and have always found him to be a very grounded and kind person. I've had the pleasure to sit with Al Pacino a couple of times and I've met Ron Howard and Tom Hanks. I would like to spend more time with Al.
What was the first thing you did when you were named general manager of the Dodgers?
After telling my immediate family, I called my mom and my uncle Frank, my dad's youngest brother whose love for baseball helped fuel my love for the game at a very young age.
Do you miss Dodgertown in Vero Beach?
The history of Dodgertown was poignant for anyone who loves baseball. That it was located so far from Los Angeles and the fan base was a detriment. I am glad I had the opportunity to work there for three springs. But I'm glad that we now train in Glendale, Arizona.
As a successful general manager, what gives you an edge?
Intuition on people. But at the same time I'm still working on being a successful general manager.
You mashed your teeth on contract negotiations and arbitration with players. Do you like agents?
I have been dealing with agents for almost 25 years. They are part of the fabric of the game--like it or not. Many help their players and many help themselves. I have never had an agent represent me.
Your favorite restaurant in Los Angeles?
Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills. Italian food with a great group of people.
The airport you like to avoid?
Dallas and Atlanta.
The best player you have ever seen?
Barry Bonds as a position player, Greg Maddux as a pitcher. Both were geniuses at their craft. As a kid, my favorite players were Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams. One of my all-time favorites since I began to work in the game is Andre Dawson.
Your biggest disappointment in baseball?
Losing the deciding game of the 1984 LCS between the Cubs and the Padres after holding a 3-0 lead until the second half of the game. And right next to it was losing the sixth game of the 2002 World Series when I was with the Giants and holding a 5-0 lead in the late stages of that game. It would have been the first World Series championship for the city of San Francisco. And we all know the Cubs' story.
Your most exciting and rewarding moment?
Too many to list one--being hired by the Cubs, being an assistant general manager in San Francisco when the Giants beat St. Louis in the NLCS on a walkoff single by Kenny Lofton in Game 5 and went to the World Series, helping assemble a team that beat the Cubs in the DCS in 2008 and beat the Cardinals in the DSC in 2009 as general manager of the Dodgers.
If you could have dinner with three great baseball minds, they would be...
Brancy Rickey, Babe Ruth and Greg Maddux.
What didn't you know about Los Angeles until you got there?
The passion of the fans. People think LA is laid back and people come late to the games and leave early. The truth is people drive for hours to come to games and traffic is such a major part of every day that it just takes time to get from one place to another. But I put Dodger fans on par with Cub fans. They love their team.
Is Vin Scully as good as they say he is?
For the last 100 years and for the next 100 years, Vin Scully tops them all. Plus, he is one of the classiest people I have ever met.
Or would you prefer Jack Brickhouse and Harry Carey?
Jack taught me and many others baseball in Chicago. As did Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau. Having the chance to work with them was a thrill after growing up listening to them. And Harry...well, there isn't a might be, a could be, there is and only will be one Harry Carey.
The first thing you do in the morning?
Read my e-mails.
How have you kept in shape?
I live near the ocean. So I walk most days. It's perfect because I don't have cell phone coverage when I'm walking.
What is on your Ipod?
More than half of the songs on my Ipod are by Fernando Ortega, Chicago, Stevie Wonder, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and the Four Tops.
If I wasn't a general manager, I'd like to work...
In the National Hockey League.
Who do you admire most in baseball--players, managers, general managers or owners?
Tough question. I have great admiration for the players, especially the star players who perform at the highest level of the sport nearly every day. From a GM standpoint, I admire John Schuerholz and others like John who were and are very successful over an extended period of time.
Who would you rather sit with during the World Series, Jack Nicholson or Kate Hudson?
I'd ratherbe sitting with our scouts and baseball operations staff watching the Dodgers play. No offense to Jack or Kate.
Are you into the Los Angeles scene?
I'm not into the scene so to speak. I've been to a few Lakers games but most of my outside-of-baseball sporting events involve hockey. I have some great friends in the NHL. Whenever I have the opportunity, I will spend time exchanging ideas.
Is it true that after you signed your long-term extension, you inquired about the cost of buying San Simeon and Pickfair?
No, I went outside, hailed a cab and had the cab driver take me to the ballpark in Philadelphia.
The book you are currently reading?
"Veeck as in Wreck." I have read it many times and I find it interesting every time I read it.
You talk frequently with former Chicago sports columnists Mike Downey, John Schulian and Ron Rappaport, who now live in Los Angeles. What do you talk about?
Baseball. Old-time baseball or current events. John, Ron and I spent a couple of hours last winter talking about the Pacific Coast League prior to the National League expanding westward. Being that they are so much older than I am, it saves me reading the history books.
As an old Cubs fan, what advice do you have for long-suffering fans who have been waiting 100 years for their reward?
Well, I can't say be patient. When it happens, it will be an incredible moment.