Humble Tracy hasn’t forgotten
his days in Expos’ organization
By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
Jim Tracy’s dad used to always tell him: ‘Hey listen, don’t forget where you came from.’
Tracy hailed from Hamilton, Ohio, home of many famous people, including Canadian Football League coaching guru Frank Clair and famed Cincinnati Reds player/broadcaster Joe Nuxhall. Just like Tracy’s dad would say, Nuxhall passed along the same advice: ‘Hey listen, don’t forget where you came from.’
But what developed about 8 p.m. July 13 certainly shocked this veteran of close to 45 years of typing stories.
Let’s go back to early morning that day when U.S. team media officer Cameron Harris was gung-ho from the get-go when I emailed him to see if I could talk with Pan Am manager Tracy, a stalwart in the Montreal Expos’ organization for seven seasons, the first two in the minor leagues and then five on the bench with the major-league team, alongside the fabled manager Felipe Alou.
As a freelancer, I couldn’t obtain any credentials to the Pan Am Games even though I live in the Toronto suburb of Pickering, located maybe two miles from the Pan Am Ballpark in Ajax. But here was Tracy telling Harris that he would talk with me on the phone.
Talk about class. A phone interview in the midst of a major international tournament? It told me how down to earth and humble Tracy is.
After the U.S. team bus made its way from Ajax to the athletes’ village in downtown Toronto about 45 minutes away, Tracy was on the phone talking about his days with the Expos’ organization.
“That’s my trademark,’’ Tracy was telling me about his humility.
Yes, Tracy has always been accommodating writers and people in the game, who have been extra-special good to him.
Of course, he hasn’t forgotten he grew up in smalltown Ohio.
Tracy managed for years in the majors with the Dodgers, Pirates and Rockies but his time with the Expos’ chain will never be forgotten. Take that Harrisburg, Pa. team he managed called the Senators in 1993. Some team that was.
Before Expos general manager Dan Duquette came calling, wondering if Tracy would be interested in managing the Senators, Tracy said he would have been ‘’perfectly content’’ coming back for a fourth season with the Reds in Double A Chattanouga.
Things didn’t work out with the Reds so the slick Duquette chatted up Tracy and what do the Senators do: they win the Easterrn League championship with a special group of players that included Cliff Floyd, Rondell White, Gabe White and Shane Andrews.
“Dan was very influential in convincing me in what they were doing with that Harrisburg team,’’ Tracy said. “Including the playoffs, we won 100 games and lost 47 that season. That’s what really stands out from that season.
The other noteworthy thing is that we lost 16 players from that team. There was something very special about that team. I managed a lot of prospects. In the minors, it’s our job to develop the players and get them promoted.
“In the league final, we played Akron, the Reds’ farm team and they took the first two games from us in Harrisburg in the best-of-five series but we went back to Akron and swept them to win the league championship. It was a wonderful season for the kids and for me. Very, very special.’’
From there, Duquette promoted Tracy to become manager of the Expos Triple-A squad in Ottawa for the 1994 season in one of his last deeds with the Expos before he became the Red Sox GM. That Ottawa Lynx squad included many of the Harrisburg players although the team finished at 70-72, just missing the playoffs on the second last day of the season.
Then new GM Kevin Malone gave Tracy another promotion for the 1995 season after the debacle that was the 1994 strike that cancelled the last portion of the season. Tracy became an Expos’ coach for five seasons until the conclusion of the 1999 season when he went to Los Angeles following Malone’s beckoning.
“When you get right down to it, coaching for Felipe was a privilege. He was a teacher. He was extremely influential, a springboard to other things,’’ Tracy said. “I felt bad for Felipe in 1994 because un-interrupted without a strike, the Expos would have won the division. That was some team in 1994. It was a wonderful job he did.’’
Before the strike was settled in April of 1995 with court order by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, there was chaos at spring training.
“It was tough to come to spring training. We were dealing with replacement guys,’’ Tracy said. “We had two spring trainings, one for replacement players, one for the regular guys. Felipe never complained. He never put his head down. He never felt sorry for himself. He just started over.’’
Under Alou, Tracy got more and more comfortable with how a team at the major-league level was managed. Did Tracy ever envisioned in Harrisburg or Ottawa that he might be a big-league skipper some day?
“No sir, I did not. To be quite honest, I never entertained any thoughts of managing in the major leagues,’’ he said. “I was not a household name by any means. But my times in the Expos’ organization lay the foundation for what occurred. I had seven years with the Expos. I’ve managed some 18 years professionally and I’m very proud and very thankful for the opportunity.’’
And to be in charge of the American Pan Am team is another feather in Tracy’s cap.
Just think, he could be back managing a major-league team next season.
Maybe the Blue Jays?
It could happen. You never know.