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With Trade Completed, It’s All Tracy’s Team Now

This trade wasn’t only about payroll wars.

It’s also about clubhouse peace.

Looking at the deal that sent the burdensome contracts of Dodgers Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek to the Chicago Cubs for Todd Hundley and Chad Hermansen, fans see only green.

But the Dodgers are also seeing red.

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That was the color of Manager Jim Tracy’s face when dealing with an unhappy Grudzielanek, who challenged Tracy often last year about decreased playing time and lower spots in the batting order.

The Dodgers are also seeing black.

That was their mood when Karros was unhappy with how Tracy was running the club, and unafraid to tell the manager about it.

Nobody will say it, but the front office believes it.

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Karros and Grudzielanek were considered two of the three players who represented the greatest challenge to Tracy’s authority.

After enduring the daily wrath of Raul Mondesi and Gary Sheffield, the Dodgers were weary of such challenges.

The third worrisome player, Kevin Brown, has a contract that cannot be dealt.

But when the Dodgers found someone to take the other two guys, even for a couple of role players, they were thrilled.

Not only does this give them the payroll space to purchase a free-agent hitter like Jeff Kent or Cliff Floyd, but they also feel they bought more time for Tracy to earn the clubhouse respect that is essential for a championship.

If Karros hits 30 homers and Grudzielanek bats .300 in Chicago while Tracy struggles as he did during the last two Septembers, the perspective may change.

But for now, the Dodgers’ aim is to give peace -- and their still-growing manager -- a chance.

While Grudzielanek wasn’t here long enough to make a lasting impact -- many folks still can’t even spell his name -- the concern is that management’s view will taint Karros’ legacy.

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It should not.

In 12 years here, he did nothing to publicly diminish himself or the Dodger image.

When I first met him in the spring of 1992, he was a rookie who took every long bus trip, who attended every late-afternoon session of Lasorda University, who never publicly complained.

When I last saw him last fall, struggling at the plate and booed nightly, he was the same person.

Always affable, always approachable, always willing to talk about the Dodger Way, even long after the Dodger Way had disappeared.

Even though he never won a playoff game, he was old-fashioned Dodger, maybe the last Dodger, with a club career home run record that could last forever and a portrait that belongs on the outfield wall.

The Dodger officials know this, and respect it, and would love to have him return to the organization after his playing days are finished.

“He represents so many good things about the Dodgers,” said Dan Evans, general manager.

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It’s just that, well, they thought he had worn out his welcome in the clubhouse.

And maybe he had.

When he wasn’t in the lineup, he burned. And when Tracy didn’t manage the way he might have managed, he seethed.

Though publicly a prince, privately he was admittedly tough on management, a fresh young face who slowly became a bit of a curmudgeon.

When Mike Piazza was traded in 1998, the clubhouse should have belonged to Karros, but Sheffield showed up, and it became a clubhouse divided.

Sheffield accused Karros of not playing hard, Karros scowled back, and the team lost.

Then, when Sheffield was traded, Tracy made certain everyone knew that it was his team, and Karros buckled a little more.

Last season, Karros and Tracy had several loud meetings in the manager’s office about everything from playing time to lineups.

This winter, as a sign of Karros’ discomfort with Dodger management, he gave up a $9-million option for 2004 based on playing time, and settled for a $1-million buyout. He was worried that the threat of a big payday would make the Dodgers bench him.

Karros and Tracy ended their time together as friends, but the stage had been set for bigger problems this season, especially with Karros possibly being platooned for the first time in his career.

“I had a very honest relationship with Jim, we were both very candid,” said Karros. “But there is nobody I respected more.”

Karros did not deny that they had several discussions about the club.

“He was very honest with me, and I was very honest with him,” Karros said. “But did I ever influence a decision or make out a lineup for him? Saying that is an insult to Tracy.”

The manager was hunting in Ohio on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

But he will certainly have more control of the clubhouse culture without Karros and Grudzielanek.

And, in Chicago, both players will have chances to reinvent themselves at the end of their careers.

Meanwhile, Evans has the money to find a hitter who Karros could no longer be, and the Dodgers can throw him a nice home-plate party on the Cubs’ first trip into town.

Everyone involved in trades, fearful of insulting the other party, always claims that the deal is good for both sides.

This time, amazingly, they’re right.

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com


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