As a Pirates fan, I have surprisingly little resentment towards the managers that have guided my team through seventeen consecutive losing seasons. Counting Jim Leyland, who came on board well before the run of futility started, the Bucs have burned through five managers during their streak. That’s actually fewer than I thought, although I guess it also explains my mindset with regards to these skippers: it’s hard to blame the manager when the talent on the field is so gosh darn awful. And still, even with this healthy perspective, there was one man I thought had no business filling out the line-up card at PNC Park: your 2009 NL Manager of the Year, Jim Tracy.
It wasn’t that Jim Tracy was a poor strategist, per se. He rode his young starters a little too hard (ask Tom Gorzelanny) and probably sacrificed bunted a little too much, but his in-game decisions were never the problem. Everything else was.
For starters, Tracy talked too much. I still remember the “PirateFest” in 2006 when Tracy was introduced to fans for the first time. It was a Q&A session with Pirates management, and I really wanted to like him. He had won a division title in Los Angeles. He had been hired based on credentials, not because he came cheaply, or because he was from Pittsburgh, or had some tenuous connection to Pirates teams of the past. But then the audience started asking questions, and things got very scary. No Tracy response actually answered what was posed. It wasn’t like he was consciously trying to evade a difficult inquiry, but rather, he just wasn’t savvy or quick enough to follow what was going on. He was all over the map too, ranting every chance he got about growing up, or his playing days at Marietta College, or that he knew how to “spot the moxie” necessary to win a championship. I remember walking away afterward feeling exactly like I had the time I got stuck sitting next to a schizophrenic patient on a Greyhound bus.
He also had this bizarre obsession with the 2004 Los Angeles Dodgers. Tracy had guided them to the NL West title that year, and I believe he really thought they were the greatest team ever assembled. He urged GM Dave Littlefield to acquire bit pieces from the squad (Cesar Izturis, Franquelis Osoria to name two), and lorded his association with that team as though it was an Ivy League education. Instead of “trust me, I went to Harvard” it was “that’s how we did it when I managed the 2004 Los Angeles Dodgers.”
Tracy was also very good at taking credit for his team’s successes and passing off blame when things went wrong (which was most of the time). A hot hitting streak or string of quality starts was the result of an adjustment made in the batting cages, or of better pitch calling from the dugout. Prolonged slumps or blunders were met with a shrug of the shoulders or even hostility, especially in the case of Zach Duke. Pitching coach Jim Colborn supposedly altered Duke’s delivery after a fantastic rookie season, a fact which Tracy refused to ever acknowledge as a potential problem following Duke’s subsequent struggles under his watch.
All of this added up to a guy who annoyed the hell out of me, even coming into very mediated contact with him for a couple of minutes every night during the summer. I only thought it had to be torture dealing with such a character almost nonstop for six months of the calendar. When he was fired after the 2007 season, I told a friend that Jim Tracy shouldn’t be managing an Orange Julius, let alone a major league baseball team.
Shows what I know. But hey, in my defense, what can I know about baseball? I, of course, was never involved with the 2004 Los Angeles Dodgers.