Tracewski Holds Special Place in Tigers’ History

No one wore the Olde English D longer than “Trixie.”

For 24 years from 1972 to 1995 Dick Tracewski served as a coach for Tiger managers Billy Martin, Joe Schultz, Ralph Houk, Les Moss, and for all seventeen years of Sparky Anderson’s tenure as Detroit’s skipper.

Tracewski proved to be an invaluable coach retained through five managerial changes who also helped Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker excel as one of the game’s greatest, (and in fact longest) double play combination in major league history. (Some also say he may have also been an invaluable eyes and ears for Tiger GM Jim Campbell.)

He also happens to be one of the nicest people you could ever meet in baseball.

Surprisingly, despite his baseball acumen, Trixie was never given the opportunity to manage the Tigers except for two games that he won after Les Moss was fired before Sparky Anderson was hired in June of 1979.

At age 60 he left baseball in 1996 along with Sparky Anderson when the Hall of Fame manager resigned from the Tigers following the 1995 season.

Tracewski was not really thrilled when he first arrived in Detroit in 1966.

After winning two world championships with the Dodgers as the starting second baseman in the ’63 and ’65 World Series, and playing in three of roommate Sandy Koufax’s four no-hitters, he was traded to Detroit for pitcher Phil Regan in December, 1965.

“At the time I was disappointed,” he told me a couple of years ago. “But when I went to the ’66 spring training and looked at the Tigers with Al Kaline, Norm Cash, and Dick McAuliffe, I thought ‘this team is going to win it all shortly’ because it was loaded with good players. As it turned out it was a great move for me because I stayed in the organization for 30 years.”

As a utility infielder behind Don Wert at third, Ray Oyler at shortstop, and McAuliffe at second base, Tracewski understood his role and performed well with his glove although he was a weak hitter who finished with a .213 lifetime batting average in his eight year major league playing career.

Member of 1968 World Champions

But like everyone on the ’68, every player contributed in a big way at some point during that magical season.

Although Tracewski only hit 8 home runs in his career, four of them were for the World Champion ’68 Tigers and three of the four were game winners.

Manager Mayo Smith once said that Tracewski’s dramatic game winning three run homer in Cleveland on June 23 following three consecutive losses was the turning point of the season for the Tigers as they went on to win 9 of their next 10 games.

At the end of the 1969 campaign Tiger GM Jim Campbell told Tracewski he was going to go with younger players and asked if he would like to be traded or remain in the organization as a minor league coach. Tracewski took the latter offer and managed two years in the Florida State League before Billy Martin asked him to join his staff in 1971.

Tracewski Critiques Tiger Managers

I once asked Tracewski to briefly share his thoughts on coaching for the legendary managers Billy Martin, Ralph Houk, and Sparky Anderson.

Billy Martin: “Billy ran the ballclub hard. He was a very good manager once the game started but the problem was before and after the game. He liked some players and didn’t like others, some players liked him and others didn’t.”

Ralph Houk: “He was a very good manager but was at a disadvantage when he came to Detroit because we were rebuilding and bringing in busloads of kids. At the end of his career he put these young guys together, Trammell, Whitaker, Morris, Petry, and the like and I was shocked when he decided to leave with all those good young players.”

Sparky Anderson: “No one handled pitchers better than Sparky Anderson, no one. He was ahead of his time. He knew his players. The players idolized him and they knew where they stood with him. “

It was surprising that Tracewski was never given the opportunity to manage in the big leagues and one could hear the disappointment in his voice when he told me: “I thought that I could have managed but no one ever talked to me about it.”

Tracewski had remained loyal to Anderson, and had turned down coaching offers from Roger Craig in San Francisco and Dick Williams in Montreal and later decided to end his career with Anderson’s resignation at the end of the ’95 season.

But at one point after leaving the Tigers, Tracewski said that Anderson called him saying that  Cincinnati was interested in bringing him back and asked if he would go with him. Tracewski agreed but he said that Sparky and the Reds could never come to terms.

Somehow, I just can’t picture seeing Dick Tracewski wearing another jersey without the Olde English D on it.

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