Tracy Leads Through Motivation
Talk to Jim Tracy for 20 minutes and you will want to put on a Dodger uniform, lay down a sacrifice bunt, run out a ground ball, hit the wall making a running catch, then come back to the clubhouse and give credit to everybody else--from the man who crafted the Farmer John product that became a Dodger Dog to the woman who served it, to the young lady who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” to the man who directed traffic out of Dodger Stadium--to everybody but yourself.
Talk to Tracy, manager of the Dodgers, and you will want to run wind sprints until you puke, just in case you’re asked to steal a base; chart every pitch of every pitcher on every team just in case that pitcher parachutes onto the field on this very day.
Talk to Tracy and you will do whatever it takes, whenever you must, because that, my friends, is how baseball should be played.
“We play baseball here in its purest sense,” Tracy says. “It allows everybody in the clubhouse to be in a situation to succeed. And it’s a beautiful thing to watch. It’s pretty special to watch unfold.”
This sounds so cornball.
When you read Tracy’s words-- like when he says that if you have a player standing at the plate and that player is being asked to put down a bunt, you not only want him to be able to do it, you want him to want to do it--it just sounds so 1950s.
Don’t you want to say, “C’mon, Jim, no major leaguer wants to put down a bunt now. His agent isn’t going to be able to use ‘successful sacrifice bunter’ in arbitration.” A good sacrifice isn’t going to earn another couple of million for anybody.
You imagine the Dodgers giggling behind their hands when Tracy speaks from his heart about admiring what it is Dodger blue stands for, you imagine them snickering when Tracy does what he does.
“I talk out loud about being unselfish,” Tracy says. “I make no bones about it. I make it important and necessary and I talk out loud about it.”
You imagine them guffawing if Tracy ever tells them earnestly, “My mother and father did a good job of raising me to be unselfish and humble.”
Except there is no snickering. There is no giggling. There is most certainly is no guffawing.
But there is winning.
These are your National League West-leading Dodgers. Your first-place Dodgers. Your clean-sweep-of-the-Boston Red Sox Dodgers.
Last weekend, the Dodgers took two of three from the American League’s hottest team, the Angels. This weekend, they swept what had been the AL’s winningest team, the Red Sox. This is no accident. This is no fluke.
Tracy will gently remind you that since opening day 2001, the Dodgers are 28 games over .500. Tracy will slip into an explanation of foundation-laying and confidence-building that it is not an accident the Dodgers are now 18 games over .500 for the first time in nearly five years. “We just picked up where we left off last year,” Tracy says.
This is Tracy’s team. Make no mistake. And if it’s trendy to say that today’s professional team coaches and managers need to be young, hip and able to relate to all the pressures and hardships that today’s multimillionaire athletes must endure every day, maybe the truth is that players don’t mind listening to a tough, principled man who is not afraid to have values, flaunt those values and, because he’s the boss, expect his players to have the same values.
As much as Tracy loves Shawn Green and Green’s 22 home runs and the way Green has hit over .400 on this homestand, Tracy loves talking about how Dave Roberts, despite predictions to the contrary, has become a nice leadoff hitter.
And Green goes so well with Tracy. Green does not want, or expect, to be applauded, celebrated, patted on the back, hero-worshipped or fawned over. Green dresses to be anonymous and speaks softly.
Pitcher Kevin Brown, who is often criticized for being sullen, grumpy, angry, cranky and many other unpleasant things, hurried back to his team last week as soon as he could stand upright after having back surgery. Brown can’t pitch, may not pitch again this season, but there he was, patting Sunday’s winning pitcher, Andy Ashby, on the back and offering congratulations.
Boston’s star hitter, Manny Ramirez, has been injured this year and high-tailed it home to South Florida to rehab in private. Maybe that’s not wrong, but whatever you think of Brown, his teammates certainly know that he wants to support them, even if he sits gingerly on the bench.
Tracy will talk as long as anybody wants about the value of unselfish team play and the beauty of a well-turned double play or a well-placed bunt. He will explain well and long how important it is to put every player--the star and man No. 25--in a position to succeed and not fail. Don’t use a singles hitter to do a power-hitter’s job. Don’t ask Chad Kreuter to steal second if you can help it.
“It’s real easy for me to talk about these things,” Tracy says, “because there is nothing hypocritical about me saying these things.
“I look at myself in the mirror every day and know I’ve lived the way I teach.”
There’s something right with having values and being proud of them and talking about them and living them. There are 25 Dodgers right now who can look at themselves in the mirror and say, “I’m in first place.”
Then they might add, “Thanks, Jim.”
Diane Pucin can be reached at email@example.com.