BILL DWYRE

After stormy days, skies are blue again for Dodgers and Ned Colletti

A year after betting big on talent, the team is in a double-digit lead for the first time since 1977.

Ned Colletti

Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti has seen his fair share of nightmares and fairy tales during his eight-year tenure with the team. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / April 20, 2011)

The chair on which General Manager Ned Colletti sits, night after night, at Dodgers home games, once came with a very high temperature. Now, the hot seat is more like a throne.

Colletti has lasted, persevered. He has gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel and walked away, marched through a jungle of snakes and never been bitten. Television has its "Survivor" show. Colletti's face ought to be the logo.

This doesn't take much explanation. Colletti was Frank McCourt's general manager. Dodgers fans expected — demanded — Oriental rugs. McCourt was willing to give them linoleum. Colletti was the man in the middle, the guy with the caulking gun and Scotch tape.

This is his eighth season in the seat in the mezzanine-level booth with no number on the door. It is not for sale. The inside lights never go on. Light from the TV is enough.

"It's 30 feet to the back," he says, implying ample pacing room.

He always watches from here, never from down in the low seats, often the choice of other baseball officials.

"I need my space," he says. "There is room to think, room to vent."

The McCourt years weren't all that unsuccessful in the standings, just painful to get there.

Colletti showed up for the '06 season and his first trade was Milton Bradley for an Oakland A's minor leaguer named Andre Ethier. Ethier was up to the big leagues by May and has never come close to going back down. Bradley, a troubled person, has seemed to fulfill his potential by being sentenced last month to three years in prison for spousal abuse.

Colletti's teams managed to win the division three times in seven seasons. But his customers, Los Angeles fans with Los Angeles expectations, wanted more. They had champagne tastes and his budget was Miller Lite.

Now, of course, the world has turned right-side up for those fans and for Colletti. The new owners, the Guggenheim Group, overpaid McCourt for the team, overreached for the players they could obtain, and Los Angeles, always infatuated with unexplainable excess, loved it.

Sunday is the one-year anniversary of the trade that brought Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox to the Dodgers. The trade was huge, almost shocking.

"I was sitting right here on a Thursday night, and about the fourth inning, it actually started to look like we were going to do this trade," Colletti says.

In about a day and a half, the paperwork was done, physicals were exchanged and passed, Beckett and Crawford had waived their no-trade clauses and it was happening. About $250 million was changing hands, and the new owners weren't even blinking.

"They were pushing to go," Colletti says. "I had my staff with me, standing there, right in the back of this booth. They looked at me, kind of stunned, and said, 'Can we really do this?'"

We flash forward to Friday night.

Same booth, same general manager, different world.

"It's good to see people so happy to come to the ballpark," Colletti says. "It's nice when they come, smiling."

The Dodgers are the toast of baseball. Once 9 1/2 games out of first place and 12 below .500, they have now gone 29-5 since the All-Star break and are in a double-digit lead for the first time since 1977. No, that's not a typo.

It is a fairy tale kind of day, right from the start. It begins with Vin Scully's official announcement that he will be back in the broadcast booth for his 65th year. That's not a typo either.

CHICAGO

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