Dodgers' return to NLCS 'special' for Colletti
GM perseveres through challenges and changes to restore success of club
LOS ANGELES -- Ned Colletti envisioned taking the Dodgers to the World Series when he took the general manager's job. He didn't envision going through bankruptcy first to do it.
But you play the hand you're dealt. Colletti has assembled four playoff teams, survived a change in ownership and taken the brunt of criticism from fans -- fair or not -- during the down years. Now, he again has the Dodgers within four wins of the World Series.
Colletti and his staff have made the most of Guggenheim Baseball Management's deep pockets, the ownership group that bought the team from Frank McCourt in 2012, skillfully utilizing the trade and free-agent markets.
"We're able to do what Guggenheim wanted us to do, which is make it as good as you can as fast as you can for as long as you can," Colletti said Wednesday, as the Dodgers prepared for their third National League Championship Series in the last six years. "They were obviously very supportive in a number of ways. To be back here is special."
In 2006, Colletti's first year as a general manager, the Dodgers tied for the NL West title and reached the postseason as the NL Wild Card. The club finished fourth in the division the following year, and then rebounded with consecutive trips to the NLCS.
But the 2009 postseason was blemished by the announcement of Frank and Jamie McCourt's divorce, which came on the eve of the NLCS against the Phillies.
From there, the Dodgers finished fourth in the West in 2010, third in '11 under new manager Don Mattingly and second in '12.
"We took a step back for a while," Colletti said. "It wasn't like we were level and trying to win. We took a step back for a couple years at least."
Colletti took all the bullets during the lean years, although it was never clear whether he had the authority, or resources, to make the moves he believed were needed or hire the support staff he wanted. But Colletti persevered through those difficult seasons.
"It was a challenging time in a lot of ways," he said. "Educational, very educational. To have the opportunity that we now have is wonderful."
With Magic Johnson lending a winning reputation to the ownership group, and billionaire Mark Walter assuring there won't be any more debtor-in-possession loans needed to make payroll, Colletti has overloaded the roster with talent. The city has embraced Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig. The stands are packed, authentic apparel is flying out of the team store and Chavez Ravine is again the place to be.
"It's cool for this city," Colletti said. "The city waited. The city went through a tough time as well. It's a positive for a lot of people, not just me, not just ownership, not just Donnie or the players."
The Dodgers were No. 1 in home and road attendance for MLB this year, but the level of excitement surrounding the club at home reached new heights in October during the NL Division Series against the Braves, when Juan Uribe -- a November 2010 free-agent signing who was a forgotten man until this year -- delivered a game-winning home run in Game 4 to clinch the series.
"The stadium was as loud as I've ever heard it," Colletti said.
Mattingly also went through those trying times following the 2009 season, first as a member of Joe Torre's coaching staff, then as his successor. But he has been reinvigorated by the current vibe.
"It seems like there is more of a buzz about this club," Mattingly said. "There's a lot of energy out there. You really can feel a difference. Maybe it's the whole circumstances of our new ownership group and what's gone on here the last few years. There's definitely an energy about what's going on out there."