Friday, 1 July 2011

Dick Tracewski keeps tabs on Tigers, shares memories of ex-manager Sparky Anderson

dick-tracewski-bobble-30.jpgThese days, Dick Tracewski spends the majority of his retirement at his home near Scranton, Pa., or visiting his two grandchildren in Virginia, but the past week has helped him get reacquainted with his strong ties to Michigan.

Last weekend, the former player and coach joined other Detroit Tigers legends as part of Sparky Anderson’s jersey retirement ceremony at Comerica Park.

On Friday, Tracewski will be at Fifth Third Ballpark for the latest Tiger Fridays promotion hosted by the West Michigan Whitecaps.

It will be his first time in the Grand Rapids area since 1966, when he first was traded to the Tigers and traveled to Sullivan’s Carpet & Furniture to furnish his house.

"I’m looking forward to the trip," Tracewski said during a phone interview this week. "It’s been years since I’ve been in Grand Rapids."

Tracewski, 76, said he was thrilled when the Tigers asked him to be a part of the Anderson ceremony.

"We worked together for 17 years, and even before that I was a friend of Sparky’s when we were in the Dodgers organization together," he said.

"There were a number of games when we were just kids playing baseball where I played shortstop and he played second base. We were old friends."

• Dick Tracewski: Friday
• Richie Hebner: July 22
• Jake Wood: July 29
• Steve Kemp: Aug. 12
• Mickey Tettleton: Aug. 26
Autographs: The autograph session starts at 6 p.m. and the former Tigers will sign and meet with fans until 6:45 p.m., when he will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The session will resume after the first pitch and will last 90 minutes. One autograph item per person.

Dick Tracewski

• Age: 76
• Hometown: Scranton, Pa.
• Playing career: Los Angeles Dodgers (1962-65), Detroit Tigers (’66-69)
• Positions: Shortstop, second base, third base
• Coaching career: Detroit, ’72-95
• Notable: Won World Series as player with Dodgers in ’65, Tigers in ’68, and as third base coach with Tigers in ’84

Tracewski especially relished the opportunity to catch up with former teammates, players he once coached and Anderson’s three children. He made a point to visit the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull, the site of old Tiger Stadium which was his "home for 30 years."

Tracewski also echoed the sentiments of several critics, who felt that Anderson’s number should have been retired when the legendary former manager still was alive.

"The bottom line is we honored Sparky and he certainly deserved it," he said. "I think we should have honored him a few years prior to what we did. As soon as he went into the hall of fame, I think they should have retired his number, but that wasn’t my call. But it was a very nice affair, and they did it first class."

Tracewski still keeps a close watch on baseball, following games on TV and box scores in the newspaper, especially when it comes to the Tigers.

He thinks this year’s team is doing well and improving, in part because they are incorporating more athletic players.

"You can’t win in any sport if you don’t have an athletic team and they’re getting a little more athletic," he said. "I like those two left-handed hitters they have, (Brennan) Boesch and (Andy) Dirks. They’re going to be pretty good players. They’re the kind of kids that can go from first to third, second to home, run a little bit, play a little defense, all the little things.

"You can’t have one-dimensional players, and I think the Tigers have moved from that direction."

He doesn’t keep quite as close an eye on the Dodgers, who first signed him as an 18-year-old infielder in 1953.

"I think they’ve kind of lost their identity as far as I’m concerned," he said. "Obviously, financially they lost their way, but I’m disappointed when I see them play and they don’t have any of their own players. They have a few here and there, but when I was with the Dodgers every player came out of the farm system. Now they have journeyman players here and there. They have to get back to what they used to be."

Tracewski said he has plenty of fond recollections from his time in Detroit, from the 1968 World Series team, to the Mark Fidrych years, to even losing 19 in a row with manager Ralph Houk.

"There are many memories," Tracewski said. "Just the idea of first playing with Al Kaline and Dick McAuliffe and Denny McLain in the ’60s, and then of course watching Jack Morris and Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker and being part of their development was a big thrill for me."

As much as Tracewski is enjoying a retirement filled with golf and working in the garden, he acknowledges that he misses being around the game, the players and even -- strangely enough, he acknowledges -- the travel.

"I do miss it," he said. "I would never ever consider going back to it at my age, but the point is I do miss it -- and I particularly enjoy going back to Detroit."

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