ARLINGTON, Texas — The word Andrew Friedman used, in a text at 3:32 Monday morning after the date became official, was “crazy.”
“Ironic” also would work. “Appropriate,” too.
And, as he said later Monday, “surreal.”
Friedman had a major hand in transforming the Rays from among baseball’s worst to one of the best, and now they’re playing in the World Series against a Dodgers team he took over in late 2014 and has run incredibly successfully.
“Andrew Friedman was the one who set this locomotive in motion,” ex-Ray Carlos Pena said. “So, in a sense, he is facing the monster he created. That’s an awesome story line.”
“And only fitting,” former Ray James Shields said.
As the Series is decided by the players on the field, many of the philosophies and strategies — and much of the culture and foundation — that Friedman, 43, helped implement with the Rays will be evident among the Dodgers.
“He left a lasting footprint in Tampa Bay; he’s doing the same thing with the Dodgers now,” said David Price, the former Rays and current (though inactive) Dodgers pitcher. "He a very highly-respected guy. He’s still the same personable guy, he’s got that little smile on his face, he’s got his little wisecracks that he always has.
“He’s got a different relationship with all the players on the roster, all the staff members. He hasn’t changed. He really hasn’t. And that’s very cool to see. He’s one of the people that I really enjoy talking about baseball with because his mind kind of works differently in that aspect.”
Hired with no previous experience to run baseball operations when new owner Stuart Sternberg took control of the then-Devil Rays after the 2005 season, Friedman — working with team president Matt Silverman and manager Joe Maddon — turned the Rays into a team that made a remarkable run to the World Series in 2008, and the playoffs three more times in the next five years.
Much stood out, from what they did on the field to how much fun they seemed to have doing it.
“It took a few years to build but he did an amazing job drafting and bringing in veteran talent to complement us young players,” former Ray Evan Longoria said. “Andrew is easy to get along with, and him and Joe were exactly what players like myself needed. We felt comfortable going out and playing without them putting a ton of external pressure on us.”
Other teams noticed. After rejecting overtures from the Angels, Astros and maybe others, Friedman took a lucrative offer from the Dodgers, who wanted to see him implement the same roster building and strategic moves that worked in Tampa Bay with the benefit of massively expanded resources, like three times the payroll.
“There are some things that he believes in that works, and he would be the same guy, no matter where he is,” Dodgers president Stan Kasten said. “He would find the path that was necessary to achieve success. He did it there, he has done it here.”
Some of the similarities are obvious and distinctive, said Pena, a member of the 2008 Rays and now an MLB Network analyst.
“It’s pretty much the same style play,” he said. “And as I’ve often said, the Rays and the Dodgers are both playing chess while the rest of the league is playing checkers. Except the Rays are playing on a wooden board and Dodgers are playing on a golden one.”
For all the good Friedman has done since going Hollywood, the Dodgers are still chasing their first championship since 1988. They have won the National League West in each of his six seasons (and the two before he was hired), and twice made the Series, but the title remains elusive. It is a longer drought technically than for the Rays, who began play in 1998.
They’re trying, too, of course. Sternberg said the initial conversations with Friedman when they took over were about making the team better, that it wasn’t until they unexpectedly made the postseason in 2008 that they started talking about championships.
“Our goal was always about being competitive,” he said. “When can we be competitive and have an opportunity to beat the Yankees and Red Sox. It really didn’t go past that until we actually beat the Red Sox in (the ALCS) in 2008.”
If and when there was a championship to be celebrated, Sternberg expected they would do it as a group.
“I thought it would be ours,” he said. “I had all the confidence in the world in what we were doing together.”
Sternberg didn’t want to talk Monday about his feelings about Friedman’s departure.
“I understand why he left, but I don’t understand why anybody ever doesn’t want to be part of what we’re doing. So it goes both ways,” Sternberg said. "It’s not fair to the people who have been with me since 2004 (when he started the purchase process) who are incredibly responsible for all this. And they’ve chosen to stay and be part of things.
“So I don’t want to feel great for somebody who’s left when I’ve got people here. I understand it. I’m just one of those guys I don’t understand why people leave. Right? But they do and I get it. I get it. It’s just hard for me to fathom sometimes.”
Sternberg added: “At the end of the day, and I could say this definitively, there’s nobody more responsible for our successes than Matt Silverman (who initially took over baseball operations when Friedman left, then when Erik Neander was promoted to general manager went back to the team presidency). Period. There’s not even a doubt. And also (the other team president) Brian Auld’s outsized role in creating, nurturing and pounding in our culture."
Sternberg said the Series is not about beating Friedman, that they have too much “great, great history together” to make it personal. Friedman said he credits Sternberg for much of his professional growth, such as the emphasis on culture, considers him a mentor and noted “he has done an immeasurable amount for me and my family.”
All of which makes this matchup even more interesting, and the bragging rights richer.
“It kind of hit me today waking up, and processing all the text messages and questions about it‚” Friedman said Monday. “Some of my best friends in life are there. We joked when I left the team that we were going to meet up in the World Series one day, and for it actually to happen is surreal.”