2. Los Angeles Dodgers
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A lot of quality pitchers, but good karma seems to be in short supply
By Stephen Cannella
At that point in spring training outfielder Gary Sheffield's schizophrenic I-want-an-extension/I-want-a-trade/I-want-to-stay saga was in full swing and third baseman Adrian Beltre had yet to eat his first solid food since suffering a ruptured appendix in January (he will likely be out until May). Things would get worse a day later, when rightfielder Shawn Green sprained his right thumb (he is due to return this week) and Hansen, the team's best bench player and Beltre's fill-in, broke a bone in his left hand. That injury all but killed Hansen's chances of being ready for Opening Day -- and his guitar playing for the time being. "I've never seen a team have such ugly body language," one longtime National League scout says. "It's as if all their hopes and dreams of having a good season have gone down the drain."
All this tumult for a team that wasn't exactly renowned for a stable clubhouse in the first place. Tracy inherits a squad with baseball's fattest payroll ($110 million) and a black cloud not unlike the one that perpetually hung over the Addams family's mansion. The Dodgers haven't won a playoff game since 1988, the franchise's longest drought in 60 years, and the new skipper is their fifth since 1996. Welcome to your first major league managing job, Mr. Tracy.
Tracy will attack this mess with a relentlessly upbeat presence. After spending seven seasons as a minor league manager, he latched on as a member of Felipe Alou's Montreal staff in 1995. In '99 Dodgers G.M. Kevin Malone brought Tracy to Los Angeles to be Davey Johnson's bench coach. "I believe you can build a good foundation for yourself when you spend time in the minor leagues," says Tracy. "Plus, I've been here for two years, so I know the personnel very well."
That means he's aware that the 2000 Dodgers played a brand of baseball that surely had Walter Alston spinning in his grave. Only the Padres committed more errors than L.A.'s 135. If a Dodger crossed the plate, it was likely at a trot: 43.1% of the club's runs came on homers, the second-highest percentage in the league. "To me there's a game within the game," says Tracy. "I want our team to know what it has to do to win."
To that end he preached a back-to-basics message in camp. Defense and baserunning were stressed, and drills included bunting contests in which everyone on the roster took part. "I can't remember the last time we had a bunting contest around here," says first baseman Eric Karros, an 11-year veteran.
Despite their plodding style, the Dodgers can't be dismissed as contenders, not with starting pitchers such as Kevin Brown, Chan Ho Park, Darren Dreifort and Andy Ashby. But good pitching alone isn't going to cut it in what may be baseball's toughest division. If injuries continue to dog the every-day players, all the successful hit-and-runs and well-executed bunts in the world won't be enough to prop up the offense.
Most important, Tracy must find a way to keep a semblance of harmony. "I told the club what my expectations were before the first workout," he says. "To come together and play the game unselfishly."
That's a tune the Dodgers may not be able to carry.
Issue date: March 26, 2001