For Rockies, new manager was change for the better

CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/Getty Images
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/Getty Images
Posted: October 05, 2009

LOS ANGELES - Rockies bench coach Jim Tracy wanted to manage. That wasn't the issue. The question was whether he wanted the position that general manager Dan O'Dowd offered to him on the morning of May 29.

After all, Colorado was off to an 18-28 start. Clint Hurdle had been fired. A season that had started with such high hopes had, seemingly, already crashed and burned. And Tracy, who had previously managed the Dodgers and Pirates, had to be honest with himself. Did he really think he could make a difference? Or would he be tying himself to an anchor that would drag him down and just maybe take his last chance to succeed with it?

"The crossroads was, 'Could I make them play better?' If in fact I didn't, would that opportunity ever come along again? Because I definitely wanted to do this again," he explained.

He asked for 60 minutes to think about it. O'Dowd agreed and returned to his office at Coors Field. "But you can't have 61 because I've got to have somebody down in the dugout to manage tonight," he added before he left.

Tracy was sitting in the visitors' dugout at Dodger Stadium when he told that story last weekend so, obviously, he decided to take the leap. The fact that the Rockies will be the Phillies opponent in the National League Division Series beginning Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park suggests he made the right call.

It's always difficult to determine exactly the impact of changing managers in midseason. Even O'Dowd, even now, can't be sure.

"I don't think you can ever explain the dynamics of a managerial change," he mused. "Historically, it's one or two games in the standings or the won-lost record. I thought we were better than what we were. I never imagined when we made the change that we'd end up sitting where we are today. But baseball is like life. It's very unpredictable."

This much is certain: After the switch, Colorado took two out of three against the Padres, lost three straight at Houston then reeled off 11 straight wins. Following the All-Star break, the Rockies had the best record in the National League.

It's clear that something changed, though.

Before that first game against the Padres, Tracy called the obligatory meeting.

Point No. 1: Don't be passive.

"And along those same lines, the idea of playing the game and not being afraid to fail. I strongly stressed that," he said. "I really felt as I watched the first 46 games that we were waiting for something not to go our way and have that be the reason why we got beat tonight. I don't like that because I think good teams make mistakes every once in a while, but they figure out a way to get beyond that and win in spite of it. And that's the mentality we have right now."

He also recognized that he couldn't just preach, that he had to back it up with his actions.

"You have to follow up on the message you delivered or they're going to call BS to that," he said. "When you say, 'Make things happen,' I do things that I think are sensible. If the opportunity is there to push the envelope a little bit, yeah, I'm not shy about doing that."

Point No. 2: The little things count.

"I do demand that the game be played right," he said. "Sometimes that message gets heard loudly. And sometimes it's heard and not adhered to. But I'm not backing off when I feel like it's not being adhered to. I'll continue to push."

Point No. 3: They would be able to breathe.

"I think the last thing was I got out of their way. I have an office, they have a clubhouse. There's a wall between there. That's their space and this office over here is my space. I said, 'If I need you, I'll call for you.' I said, 'I'm hopeful this is the last time I'll come in here. And unless you guys draw me out, I won't come out.' Now, they've drawn me out a couple times and I've shown up. But, you know, [Ryan] Spilborghs thinks I'm Punxsutawney Phil because I only come out of my hole every once in a while to see if the sun is shining."

Hurdle was more omnipresent. That approach worked in 2007 when the Rockies went to the World Series but, it seemed, it was no longer effective.

"I just really believe that with the veteran leadership we have on this team and the youth we have, I needed to create space," said Tracy, who had the advantage of being able to get a sense of the club as the bench coach since the start of spring training. "I needed to let them be who they are."

Apparently, the message resonated.

"I don't have the exact answer," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "I know we got off to a slow start and obviously that's tough to take. Any time a manager gets fired it's tough to take, but it's a wake-up call. You kind of feel guilty. 'We, this team, got this guy fired.' And we wanted to respond and show that we're a good team. We looked around and we didn't know why we were losing. We saw all these great players. We saw all the potential that we had. We were just not getting it done on the field."

Added righthander Aaron Cook: "We were a good baseball team that was playing bad baseball early. We realized that we weren't as bad a team as we were showing on the field and we just had to take it on ourselves to turn it around and play better baseball."

Now the challenge facing the Phillies is that the Rockies are a good team that has been playing as well as anybody for the last 3 months.

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