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Sat Mar 23 2002
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"Unless you're leading the Dog, the view never changes." - sign just outside the Yankees spring training clubhouse, Legends Field, Tampa, Florida



by modernerabaseball.com

There are few givens in life but here’s one of them: If Dodgers skipper Jim Tracy isn’t Manager of the Year, then the apocalypse really is upon us.

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From dealing with master moron Gary Sheffield to Kevin Malone’s big mouth and countless injuries across the board, Tracy has still managed to keep Smell A in the post-season hunt. Just hand him the damn trophy already will ‘ya!

When you first meet Tracy, you feel like you’re taking to your next door neighbor.

He is subdued, friendly, articulate and open.

And a man with a vision.

Back in spring training and April, the Dodgers were the laughing stock of Major League Baseball. Sheffield’s ridiculous behavior coupled with Malone’s own childish antics weren’t exactly on the Tracy agenda when he set his goals for the 2001 season.

Tracy’s agenda? Simple: win now – and with a balanced attack.

“I’ll go back as far as spring training when I started preaching about it,” said the skipper. “The offense has to complement the pitching and the defense has to complement both. It’s a vital part of our success. And if we can get all three of those things going in the same direction together, we are very capable of the talent we have on this ball club of being successful over an extended period of time.”

But not only did Sheffield and Malone cause disruption, so too did the injury bug, which quickly shelved starting pitcher Andy Ashby for the season while also sending Darren Dreifort down for the count as well, among others on a temporary basis including Kevin Brown. Yet when Dreifort refused to come out of his last game earlier this season, that may have just been a turning point that ignited the boys in blue.

Up until this point, Dreifort had been ripped in the Los Angeles press for being an unemotional, over-priced hack who wasn’t pitching up to his potential. Well, don’t tell that to Tracy, or even Paul Lo Duca who witnessed firsthand just how competitive Dreifort is – dangerously too competitive.

“I approached him a couple of times and he told me he was fine and he showed more guts than I’ve ever seen from anybody out there. Amazing,” said Lo Doca, who has been one of the biggest surprise stars for the Dodgers this season. “I call a fastball and he throws it 74 miles per hour. He didn’t want to come out of the game. Finally, I went out there in the fifth inning and I said, ‘You’re done.’ I said, ‘You need to worry about your career. This is just one game.’ And he said, ‘No, I’m staying out here’ and I said, ‘Well I’m not going back without you. I’m staying right here,’ so he finally said, ‘Ok.’”

“You know, you lose a person like that and he’s been taking a lot of heat,” Lo Duca continued. “Everyone’s saying ‘$55 million.’ Well, he’s been pitching hurt all year and hasn’t said a word. He showed me a lot of guts and he’s shown a lot of guts all year and he’s taken a lot of heat and hasn’t said a word.”

Added Tracy: “When you have a starting pitcher who apologizes to you for having to come out of the game is there anything more that needs to be said about what he is all about?”

Tracy slowly began to well up and lose his composure, paused briefly, then regained his composure and added: “I’ll just leave it at that.”

Since that night, the Dodgers have appeared anything than there perception of the last several years: Undisciplined underachievers who couldn’t wait for the season to end.

Now Smell A is trying to continue its season – well into October. And there’s little reason to see why it can’t. With Brown back in the fold, and renewed vigor from Eric Gagne and newcomer James Baldwin, the sky’s the limit for the hitter heavy Dodgers who also now have a complete lineup on the same field with the likes of Sheffield, Shawn Green, Eric Karros, Adrian Beltre and Mark Grudzielanek.

“It’s very uplifting for us to see, you know, the lineup is stronger offensively. There’s no question,” Tracy explained. “We knew it was going to be fairly strong coming into the season but then you add in the arrival in that equation of Paul Lo Duca and what he’s done. It just helps make it that much deeper.”

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Mar 23 2002, 13:56:13
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