The burden of winning this October falls most heavily upon a man who does not let it show, at least not in public. He laughs easily as he strides with purpose across the field, exchanging greetings with players, coaches, agents, and even reporters.
He wears a Dodger blue wedding band, sort of. The ring looks like something you could get by dropping a quarter or two into a slot at Chuck E. Cheese, turning the knob to the right, and opening the silver prize dispenser.
A promotional company delivered a shipment of those rings to Dodger Stadium. Friedman tried one on and, the way he tells it, had an epiphany. His actual wedding ring left his finger swollen and uncomfortable. This plain band of blue rubber did not.
“This,” Friedman said, “was a game-changer.”
Yes, his wife is on board, he said, and he is happy to credit her indulgence. “I’m not really a jewelry guy to begin with,” Friedman said.
If he does not want to wear a ring, fine. If he does not bring home a ring to the Dodgers family this fall, the winter could be a mighty uncomfortable one.
This is the third season of Friedman’s administration. The resources he has been provided, financial and otherwise, have been virtually unlimited. He has turned over the roster. He has installed his own manager, coaches, front office, scouts, and athletic trainers. He has launched a heavily staffed research and development department.
It’s on him.
There is no player, manager or executive on any playoff team with more pressure than Friedman has on him.
“I don’t think pressure is a productive thing to feel,” he said. “I think all of us that do this feel it to some extent, but as much as we can we focus on the process, and on continuing to improve in the various facets of our operations. That’s a much better way to expend your energy.
“People can put themselves in position to make really bad decisions if they feel a tremendous amount of pressure. So we do everything we can to eliminate that as much as we can, knowing that we have an awesome responsibility, and there’s nothing more than we want to do than to deliver a world championship to what are, in my opinion, the best fans in professional sports.”
This is the year 29 AD (After the Dodgers’ last championship).
The Angels have won since then. So have the Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, and Oakland Athletics. The then-Florida Marlins won twice. The Boston Red Sox have won three times. So have the San Francisco Giants.
For the first time, the Dodgers have won five consecutive division championships. In six decades in Los Angeles, no Dodgers team has won more games than this one. A successful season is in the eye of the beholder.
“To this date, it’s wildly successful,” Friedman said. “I’m a believer in steps. … There is a regular-season goal, which I think we have certainly accomplished, and the ultimate goal, for which we still have our work in front of us.”
If the Dodgers do not achieve the ultimate goal yet again, they might need to evaluate the process for getting there.
In “Moneyball,” A’s general manager Billy Beane famously said, “My [crap] doesn’t work in the playoffs.” The best teams reveal themselves over 162 games, Beane believed, but a postseason series is too short and the decisive events are too random for a front office to exert any sense of control.
That theory informs the Dodgers’ strategy, with resources that dwarf those available to the A’s and just about every other team.
The Dodgers do not see why their window of contention ever should close. They believe their best chance to win a World Series is to deploy their resources toward constantly replenishing their player base from within, then win the division every year. The more entries into the postseason tournament, the better the chance to win one, or so the theory goes.
The Dodgers refuse to trade their elite prospects, and you can see why by watching Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. But the teams that did trade their elite prospects last year — the Chicago Cubs, to get Aroldis Chapman; and the Cleveland Indians, to get Andrew Miller — were the ones that competed in the World Series.
The Dodgers have not done all they can to win in any given year, in the hope of sustaining their best chance to win in every year. If they do not win this year, after five consecutive division championships, would Friedman consider whether the Dodgers’ strategy might not be the most effective after all?
“This seems like a better question if we don’t win the World Series than it is right now,” he said. “If we don’t — worst-case scenario — I think that’s a fair question.”
In some corners of the clubhouse, the constant maneuvering of the front office is not so much embraced as is it tolerated, for the sake of winning a World Series.
The tinkering for even the tiniest of advantages — repetitive round trips between Los Angeles and triple-A Oklahoma City for players on the fringes of the roster, the use of the 10-day disabled list as a taxi squad, the overcrowded September clubhouse — can exact a human toll. If the Dodgers ride in a parade, all will be forgiven.
It has not gone unnoticed that Clayton Kershaw can opt out of his contract after next year, when his hometown Texas Rangers could use a star to sell tickets to their new ballpark and their Cole Hamels contract could come off the books. The Rangers do not have any pitchers signed beyond 2018.
Dave Roberts, the Dodgers’ manager, also is unsigned beyond 2018.
Andy Green would have been, but the San Diego Padres extended the contract of their manager in August. Bob Melvin would have been, but the A’s extended the contract of their manager this week. Neither manager has his team within 25 games of first place.
Friedman spoke highly of Roberts’ work this season but said he would not discuss an extension until and unless there is an announcement of one.
“Our expectation is to work together for a long time,” Friedman said.
Friedman said he did not buy the idea that the players might be less likely to fall in line under Roberts if they knew his contract was up at the end of the season.
“We wouldn’t do anything to say, ‘Hey, look, players, he’s signed,’ ” Friedman said. “I think the players all have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Friedman said. “They expect he’ll be here for a long time. We have a great working relationship.”
The postseason is a weird time for the men in Friedman’s position. All summer long, he and his peers have one eye on the game and another on a text message about a potential trade, or a report from a minor league manager, or an injury update that might trigger a roster shuffle.
In October, the work is pretty much done, and there is not much to do besides watch, and hope.
“I don’t really sit,” Friedman said. “There is some pacing. I have such a love-hate relationship with that three-and-a-half-hour segment every game.
“It’s why we do what we do, but it’s so intense it’s probably not good for my longevity.”
This would be good for his longevity: When the World Series opens Oct. 24, let it be preceded by the sound of a child exclaiming, “It’s time for Dodger baseball!”
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin