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BILL PLASCHKE

Dodgers' Manager Search Ends on Their Own Bench

If you were looking for excitement, Dodger Stadium wasn't the place to be.

November 02, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

The Pittsburgh Pirates today named Jim Tracy as their new manager.

This, we would have understood.

The Cincinnati Reds announced today they are hiring Jim Tracy as their new manager.

This would have made sense.

The Dodgers today confirmed the selection of Jim Tracy as their new manager.

This?

This elicits the same reaction given those who show up at Halloween parties in plain orange sweaters.

Nice, but that's the best you can do?

Upon attending the introduction of their new manager Wednesday, your first impulse was to order Dodger executives to march back into their room and try again.

Tom Lasorda was in the stadium club seats. Walter Alston was somewhere on the walls. Charlie Dressen and Leo Durocher were in the history books.

And at the podium was Jim Tracy.

"It's a very, very stunning experience for an individual," he said.

For about 3 million individuals, we'd say.

Not that we shouldn't give the slow-talking, lower-lip-jutting, baseball-looking guy a chance.

Everybody has to start somewhere. We can't choose our big break any more than we can choose stomach flu. It is not Jim Tracy's fault that, in his case, the two things are vaguely similar.

"If you have a fear of failure, more than likely, you are going to fail," he said. "I've never taken on something when I've worried that failure was a consequence. I'm not afraid of that."

It's not Tracy who scares us. He wouldn't be the first great manager culled from the shadows of a bat rack. Sparky Anderson was one. Jim Leyland was another.

For all the legends that have grown around Lasorda and Alston, both were once untested coaches hustling to a podium just like him.

Rather, it's the idea of Tracy that scares us.

It's the notion that, while turning unknowns into stars is a noble undertaking, the Dodgers had surely moved beyond that.

They don't conduct manager searches. Managers search for them.

New bosses aren't introduced, they are anointed.

Or so we thought.

Wednesday's news conference was not the blood bath of last month, when the Dodger bosses gathered to blame everything on Davey Johnson.

It was worse.

It was an hour of nothing.

Tracy's noble proclamations aside, it was a meeting devoid of the passion and excitement that usually comes with a Dodger hiring.

There was no buzz. There was no bravado.

It was Xerox hiring a new chairman.

It was the Clippers hiring Alvin Gentry.

Lasorda showed up to bring the room history and credibility, leading some to wonder whether he had been paid an appearance fee.

The most fire was displayed not by one of the officials, but in a surprising statement by longtime Dodger clubhouse manager Dave Wright.

As part of his usual public welcome to the new manager, Wright openly complained about a breakdown of communication between the front office and the clubhouse, noting that sometimes he would hear things first from a clubhouse shoe salesmen.

It was refreshing, and true, and it is hoped Bob Daly was not too embarrassed to ignore it.

The Dodgers' biggest communication problems, however, are with the fans.

A couple of days ago, like surely others in this town, I was debating a colleague of the merits of Tracy and the other leading contender, Rick Down.

A few minutes into a discussion of the different points we realized, wait a minute, the discussion is the point.

We are talking about Tracy and Down instead of Dusty Baker and Bobby Valentine and Lou Piniella.

We are talking about two short-timer Dodger coaches instead of Davey Johnson and Felipe Alou and Leyland, the people being discussed the last time they had an opening.

What that says about the organization is more than my colleague or I could ever say.

"It wasn't about the money, it was about the best candidate," chairman Daly said.

Yet none of the 11 candidates interviewed would have commanded the sort of bucks paid an established major league winner.

From Rick Dempsey to Manny Mota to Bucky Dent--Buck Dent?--this was not the sort of list that it once was.

Surely Fox hasn't paid so much to underachieving players that it must now cut costs on the guy in charge of coaxing them to play, has it?

Tracy talked about a return to fundamentals, to defense, to hitting behind the runner, to the sort of Dodger baseball that will return interest to Chavez Ravine.

If nothing else, he talks the talk. Dodger fans desiring more nightly company should be rooting for him.

Several colleagues and I had another telling debate Wednesday morning before the Tracy news conference.

What was a bigger story on this day--the Dodgers' managerial hire or the Lakers' home opener and ring ceremony?

More important than the answer, of course, was the fact that we were even asking the question.

Good luck, Jim Tracy, whoever you are.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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