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Dodgers' Manager Search Ends on Their Own Bench

Baseball: Tracy picked over Down as choice who can get along with Malone and players.

November 02, 2000|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers began the Jim Tracy era Wednesday, introducing the new manager at a Dodger Stadium news conference, hoping the former coach will restore their Fox-tarnished reputation.

Tracy--who has no major league managerial experience--focused on improving the mind-set of the team in his first meeting with reporters after becoming the Dodgers' sixth manager since 1954 but the fourth since the middle of the 1996 season.

The Dodger bench coach the last two seasons under Davey Johnson, Tracy plans to emphasize communication, execution and team goals, pleasing Chairman Bob Daly, President Bob Graziano and General Manager Kevin Malone, who selected Tracy over batting coach Rick Down, the other finalist.

The club's top three executives decided that Tracy, 44, was the right person to succeed Johnson, fired Sept. 29, ignoring high-profile candidates and downplaying Tracy's inexperience in a high-pressure role.

"Quite frankly, we didn't feel any of those people would be available," Daly said, alluding to Dusty Baker of the San Francisco Giants, Lou Piniella of the Seattle Mariners and Bobby Valentine of the New York Mets.

"We thought they would all sign where they were, and we didn't go down that road. Had Dusty Baker never signed with San Francisco, and was a total free agent, would we have talked to him? Absolutely. But we feel, of all the people available, we got the best possible man."

Tom Lasorda, senior vice president, strongly endorsed Tracy, and Tracy, with Daly's encouragement, said he will rely on the Hall of Fame manager, increasing Lasorda's role.

"I was 100% in favor of [Tracy]," said Lasorda, who did not rule out returning to the dugout as Tracy's bench coach. "This guy will do an outstanding job, and we're all going to be behind him."

During the one-hour gathering, Tracy frequently used catch phrases Daly enjoys, stressing "Dodger tradition" and "reestablishing pride," acknowledging that the Dodgers have work to do.

The Dodgers want Tracy to work quickly, giving him only a two-year contract, plus two club options, instead of an industry-common three-year deal.

The Dodgers--paying Johnson $1.5 million under the final year of his contract--did not release terms of Tracy's package, but baseball sources said Tracy will make about $500,000 per season.

Tracy said that he and Malone are working on selecting a coaching staff, but team sources said third base coach Glenn Hoffman, first base coach John Shelby and special-assignment coach Manny Mota are expected to return.

The Dodgers do not plan to retain pitching coach Claude Osteen or bullpen coach Rick Dempsey. Down, whom some players endorsed for the managerial position, said he will seek a position elsewhere.

The Dodgers put Tracy in the spotlight, and now it's showtime.

"The main thing I'm going to make them understand is that there are priorities in this game," Tracy said of the Dodgers. "If you're going to have a pitching staff like we're in the process of putting together, [defense] has to be a priority, that has to be understood. A message has to be sent.

"And there are times when it's all about 'us' and not about 'me.' That pronoun 'I,' when that starts to get in the way all the time, you're not going to get where you want to go."

The Dodgers were considered to have underachieved again in 2000, going 86-76 and finishing second in the National League West.

Daly expected more after increasing the payroll to $98 million, but the Dodgers were one of the majors' worst fielding clubs, too dependent on home runs and inconsistent offensively.

Tracy said a roster overhaul is not necessary and that modifying the team's attitude should suffice.

"I'm not here to resurrect this team and transform it from something that I didn't think it was the year before," said Tracy, a bench coach for six seasons, serving the first four under Montreal Expo Manager Felipe Alou.

"Regardless of how people want to look at it, this team was successful last year. Are there some holes that I feel need to be addressed? Sure there are, but we won 86 games with the holes we had. It's a matter of the mind-set of the players. You want to come out every day and play with passion.

"A question was asked at one of our [team] meetings this past year, 'Can anybody in [the clubhouse] raise their hand and say that they've given everything they've got, every single day they've walked in here?' We didn't have unanimous attendance as far as that was concerned.

"What I'm getting at is that they [the players] are aware of that. They know. . . . Players respond to what their leader feels is important. If they feel something is important because you make sure, and mandate that it's important, they will respond to that in a positive manner. No doubt in my mind."

How players will respond to Tracy remains to be seen.

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