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Jim Tracy has given Dodgers stability, direction

By John Nadel, The Associated Press
Saturday June 22, 2002


Dodgers have been near  

the top most of this season


LOS ANGELES — Jim Tracy is no Tom Lasorda, that’s for sure. It’s just not in his nature to be that boisterous. 

But like the Hall of Famer who managed the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1977 to 1996, Tracy seems to have a way with people and a strong feel for the game. 

When Davey Johnson was fired as Dodgers manager following the 2000 season, he thought enough of Tracy, his bench coach for two years, to recommend the team hire him even though he’d never managed in the big leagues. 

Tracy has unified one of baseball’s most fractious clubhouses in less than 1 1/2 seasons on the job and his team is contending for its first playoff berth since 1996. 

“He’s fantastic, I’ll say it over and over,” said 45-year-old Dodgers reliever Jesse Orosco, whose first manager in a career that began in 1979 was current New York Yankees skipper Joe Torre. “I rank him right there with the best I’ve ever played for.” 

Dodgers bench coach Jim Riggleman, a one-time big-league manager who has worked with the likes of Torre and Whitey Herzog, said Tracy is as good as he’s seen when it comes to in-game managing. 

“That gets overlooked a lot in today’s game,” Riggleman said. “When the umpire says, ’Play ball,’ Jim understands the game. He doesn’t overlook anything. His attention to detail is one of his greatest qualities. He’s able to convey the importance of that to the players.” 

Just like Lasorda, a one-time pitcher, and Walter Alston, another Hall of Famer who managed the Dodgers from 1954-76, the 46-year-old Tracy had an undistinguished career as a player. 

“Alston had one big-league at-bat, I had 186,” Tracy said with a smile. 

Tracy was an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs in 1980-81 and also played in Japan before calling it quits after the 1984 season. 

“I felt my chances of getting back to the big leagues were remote at best,” he recalled. “There was little left for me to achieve in the minor leagues.” 

He was also married and beginning a family — he and wife Debra have three sons — so moving on seemed the prudent thing to do. 

“I worked in sales and delivered newspapers for two years,” Tracy said. 

The Cubs called twice to ask if Tracy was interested in managing in the low minors. He rejected the first opportunity because he would have had to take a pay cut, but accepted the second — a job managing the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League in 1987. 

Tracy managed seven years in the minors, was bench coach in Montreal under Felipe Alou for four years, and had the same job under Johnson with the Dodgers before getting his shot. 

“When they hired him, I was tickled to death,” Johnson said by telephone from his home in Florida. “I don’t think anybody could have done a better job than Jim Tracy’s done.” 

One of the first things Tracy faced was Gary Sheffield’s anger over being refused a contract extension, and the verbal storm that made headlines for several weeks. 

“I thought he handled that great,” Johnson said. “The sign of a great leader is when you can bring stability through chaos. I thought that’s what he did.” 

Sheffield was eventually traded to Atlanta. 

“I have the utmost respect for Jim. He hasn’t done a good job, he’s done a great job,” Johnson said. 

The Dodgers went 86-76 in Tracy’s first season despite numerous player injuries, and the team has been near the top most of this season after being pummeled by San Francisco in its first three games. 

Tracy said he learned a lot from Alou and Johnson, and profited greatly from all those years managing in the minors. 

“Every single game was necessary,” he said. 

Now the bench coach for the Detroit Tigers, Alou said he’s not surprised with Tracy’s success. 

“I expect it,” Alou said. “He’s always been a good baseball man. He has all the qualities you like to see in a person.” 

Tracy’s players swear by him. 

“I think first and foremost, he’s a good person,” pitcher Kevin Brown said. “He’s very honest, very straightforward. You respect somebody like that.” 

Catcher Paul Lo Duca said Tracy has probably been the most honest person he’s been around in all his years in baseball. 

“He gave me my first real shot, he believed in me,” Lo Duca said. “He believes in all 25 guys and we believe in him. He believes we’re going to win the World Series. 

“You can talk to him about life, not just baseball. Morale around here is really good, the mood in the clubhouse is great. This is by far the best I’ve seen the clubhouse in the five, six years I’ve been here.” 

Outfielder Shawn Green called Tracy a player’s manager. 

Green was mired in a slump last month when Tracy approached him and suggested he take a day off. Green took it, and a hot streak, including a four-homer game in Milwaukee, wasn’t long in coming. 

“We talked about it together,” Green said. 

Former Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone believes Tracy is one of the best in baseball. 

“As time goes on, I think that will bear itself out,” Malone said. “He knows how to get everyone on the same page. He’s a man who has paid his dues, is a tremendous communicator, passionate about doing the best job he can.” 

Tracy said he believes his biggest strengths are his communication skills and attention to detail. 

“I feel like I see things at times that other people don’t see,” he said. “I read a lot, I have a tendency to log things I see. I think I have an ability to anticipate what’s going to happen before it does. 

“I’m not bashful about matching wits with whoever I encounter.”