In an eight-year major league career as a ballplayer, Dick Tracewski was a textbook example of the “utility man.” He played 250 games at shortstop, 202 at second base, and another 115 at third. He was never awarded an everyday job, but he was so versatile and capable that he got playing time by giving others a much needed rest or filling in when others were injured.
Later, after his playing career was over, Tracewski continued that versatility, filling in wherever the Detroit Tigers needed him.
In late September, Tracewski and his wife were injured in a car accident. The 78-year old is recuperating with family in Virginia.
Tracewski began his pro baseball career when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. He was signed out of high school in Pennsylvania in 1953 for $3,500. He joined a deep Dodger farm system that included many others who would make baseball a career: Tommy Lasorda, Gene Mauch, Larry and Norm Sherry, and Don Zimmer. It was an organization that bred baseball lifers who learned “The Dodger Way,” a certain approach to the game that stressed fundamentals and diligent practice. Tracewski would bring that methodology with him when he later was dealt to the Tigers.
In ’62, after nearly a decade toiling in the Dodger minor league system, Tracewski was finally called up to the big leagues. By this time, the Dodgers were wearing their famed blue in LA and “Trixie” joined the team in September as they were battling for the pennant, seeing action in just 15 games, mostly as a defensive replacement. The following season, Tracewski was with the Dodgers all season long, starting a three-year stretch as a valuable infielder for Walter Alston’s club. The Dodgers won the pennant in ’63, with Tracewski spelling starting shortstop Maury Wills at times, while also filling in at second base when needed. But when a hole developed at third base late in the season, Alston moved his starting second baseman to the hot corner and made Tracewski his starter at second for the World Series. It was a bold move, but cleverly designed to get Tracewski’s glove into the lineup. The Dodgers swept the New York Yankees in the World Series with Tracewski starting all four games at second base.
Two years later, Tracewski earned another World Series ring when the Dodgers won the ’65 pennant behind the pitching of aces Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. That year, Trixie was the first man off the bench, filling in primarily at third base. On September 9, he played second base when Koufax fired a perfect game. In the ’65 Series, he started the last four games at second base as the Dodgers defeated the Minnesota Twins in seven games.
But Tracewski shifted leagues after that ’65 season when he was traded by LA to the Tigers on December 15 for reliever Phil Regan. With the Tigers, Tracewski kept on being a jack of all trades in the infield, filling in where needed. Within two seasons he was on his third pennant winning team, earning a third Series ring. He had his best season with the bat in 1967 when he hit .280 in 74 games, though he had only 104 at-bats. He revised his role as ultra-utility man in ’69, but that would prove to be his last season as a player.
But the Tigers weren’t interested in losing Dick Tracewski, and they offered him a job as a manager in their minor league system. He guided the Lakeland team in the Florida State league in 1970, and the Montgomery Rebels in the Dixie Association in 1971. At that time he started instituting some of the methods he’s learned in the Dodger system. These training practices would influence the Tiger farm system for years to come. One of the young managers in the Detroit organization at the same time was Jim Leyland.
In ’72, Tracewski was promoted to the big league staff to serve under Billy Martin. It would be the first of five managers he would serve under in Detroit in a 24-year long career as a Tiger coach. No other man ever coached that long wearing the Old English D.
As general manager Jim Campbell moved three different managers through the dugout during the 1970s (Martin was followed by Joe Schultz, Ralph Houk, and Les Moss), Tracewski stayed in position as a valuable member of the coaching staff. Often he was the only “holdover” when a new manager came in and brought his own coaches with him. When Moss was fired early in the ’79 season, Tracewski skippered the club for two games while they waited for Sparky Anderson to assume the job as manager. When Sparky arrived, he and Tracewski quickly bonded. Both were serious baseball men who had a knack for leading. Tracewski would serve under Sparky for all 17 seasons that Anderson was in the dugout in Detroit. In ’89, when Sparky took a leave of absence due to exhaustion, Tracewski assumed managerial duties, though the wins and losses technically counted toward Anderson’s record.
Tracewski was the first base coach for the ’84 team that won the World Series, making him and Gates Brown the only men to win rings in uniform for both the ’68 and ’84 champions.
He retired when Sparky stepped down following the ’95 season, but the 60-year old Tracewski was not ready to completely step away from the diamond. He came back to assist the Tigers in instructional drills for several spring training camps, enjoying an expanded role when Alan Trammell was named manager. Trammell and Kirk Gibson were two of the players who grew up in the Tiger system and learned under Tracewski for most of their careers. Tracewski also made appearances at Tigers’ fantasy camps in Lakeland.
In 43 years in baseball, 30 spent with the Tigers, Tracewski was a four-time World Series champion, and served as a player, minor league instructor, coach, and manager. When the fresh-faced Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker were teamed as a double play combo as teenagers, Tracewski taught them to play together. When the Tigers needed someone to spot manage on a short notice, he was there. “Trixie” was never a superstar, and his name was rarely ever in the spotlight, but he showed up, suited up, and did the job for three decades for the Tigers. He made an important contribution to the success of the team for a long time, forging a “baseball lifer” career that is well respected in the game.