Dodgers being chased by old manager
Tracy has surging Rockies on doorstep of NL West lead
DENVER -- When the Dodgers finished sweeping their last three-game series at Coors Field, the Rockies manager was finished and got swept out, too.
Colorado dismissed Clint Hurdle the next day and replaced him with a former Dodgers manager -- then-bench coach Jim Tracy. That was May 29. The Rockies had sunk to last, 14 games back, while the Dodgers' National League West lead had swelled to nine games.
The teams re-engage for a three-game series Tuesday night in Denver and things have changed. A leading candidate for Manager of the Year will be there, and we're not necessarily talking about Joe Torre.
Since Tracy took over, the Rockies are 53-26 and 28-11 at home. Since June 4, they have the best record in the Major Leagues. They've won seven of their past eight games and have climbed to second place, only three games behind the Dodgers, who are 10-2 against Colorado this year.
"I'm sure the irony of closing in on the Dodgers is something satisfying to him," said Dodgers pitcher Jeff Weaver, who won 27 games for Tracy in 2004-05. "At any level of competition, you're always looking for the chance to say, 'I told you so.' Of course, we'll try to prevent that from happening."
The Dodgers cut Tracy loose Oct. 3, 2005, in what was described as a "mutual" parting, although not a friendly one. Tracy was looking for a multiyear extension from owner Frank McCourt and general manager Paul DePodesta after compiling a 427-383 record in five seasons. The Dodgers wanted Tracy to fulfill the final year of a two-year extension. Instead, Tracy exercised his opt-out and left, citing philosophical differences after following up a 2004 division title with a 91-loss injury-plagued disaster in 2005.
Within a month, Tracy was hired to manage the Pirates, DePodesta had been dismissed after a messy managerial search that zeroed in on farm director Terry Collins and McCourt suddenly had to rebuild his management team when other clubs were rebuilding their rosters, eventually hiring general manager Ned Colletti, who hired Grady Little as manager.
Tracy's time in Pittsburgh was short and not sweet. He was dismissed after losing 189 games in two seasons, took a year off to decompress and watch his sons play in the Minor Leagues and resurfaced this year on Hurdle's staff as a bench coach with managerial experience, making him the de facto heir apparent should the Rockies falter, which they did.
But a funny thing happened when Tracy took over the beaten-down Rockies. One week into his reign, they took off on a ridiculous run, winning 11 straight and 17 of 18. In six weeks, they went from fifth place to second, and they haven't slowed down.
"I'm the same guy, I really believe that," Tracy said. "In no way, shape or form am I doing anything much differently than the manner in which I believe from Day 1. I have a philosophy that I've believed in for a long period of time. I believe it's about the people in the clubhouse. I get criticized sometimes because they suggest, 'Well, he's very laid-back.' It's the way I choose to do it. If I have issues I have to deal with, with specific players, there are times I don't want the whole world to know about it.
"There's two pretty special places up to this point, that market in L.A. and here in Denver, where it has worked. I take a lot of pride in this job and I have since I tried it for the first time in 2001. I'm hopeful to do this for a while longer. And when it's all said and done, I want to tell you I want to be known as somebody that prided himself in caring about his players and was one of those guys that they sat down and talked about and said, 'You know what? He's a winner.' That's very important to me."
The team across the field from Tracy on Tuesday night looks nothing like the one he once managed. Only four current Dodgers played for Tracy -- Weaver, Guillermo Mota, Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo. The latter two played for Tracy only in brief callups. The former pair played full seasons for Tracy, left the Dodgers, and have returned.
Weaver credits Tracy's supportive handling as instrumental in his rebound from a sour experience with the Yankees.
"I can say, coming from New York to a new team, I started off with my typically slow Spring Training and he made an effort to let me know not to worry about anything, I would get the ball every five days, and I was able to adapt without feeling I had somebody looking over my shoulder," Weaver said. "That's why you hear players say he is a player's manager. For everyone from one to 25, he was always positive and there were a lot of situations when he stuck with me for seven or eight innings and let me work my way out of tough situations. He always did things to build the player's confidence. That's what he does to get the most out of a player. He isn't afraid to be confident."
And Weaver said not only is he not surprised that the Rockies have responded, but he predicted it.
"I said before he even got the job, back when the talk about Hurdle was just starting, that if Tracy got the opportunity he'd make the best of it," said Weaver. "He has a lot to do with that turnaround."
Mota said Tracy "gave me the opportunity. I remember him telling me, 'You're my leader.' He was counting on me. That makes you get confidence in yourself."
And Dodgers institution Manny Mota coached on Tracy's staff.
"I don't want to beat him, I want to beat his team," Manny Mota said. "I'm sure he's trying to do the same to us. To me, he's a great person. He's a good communicator. He had a lot of trust in his coaching staff.
"I'm not surprised at what's happening. He knows how to motivate players. I managed against him in Mexico in 1994. I saw how he managed and he's doing some of those things now, getting the most out of his players. I knew when he took over he would do something to make those players believe in themselves."