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Rockies peak

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

Over the last month, Dan O'Dowd has not morphed from idiot to savant.

His IQ is no higher, his baseball acumen no greater and his cerebrum no larger. He remains the general manager who helmed the Colorado Rockies through the franchise's most miserable period. Now, he also happens to be the general manager who led the Rockies to their first World Series.

And how the latter happened in spite of the former is a rare tale told in sports: a testament to patience, an encomium to faith and an affirmation that great accomplishment can accompany both.

"The mother of invention is sometimes the obstacles and the position you're in," said O'Dowd, 48. "Three years ago, we were at rock bottom. I personally was at rock bottom. Totally humbled by this job.

"When you do things that don't work out and put your franchise in an awful predicament, you feel that to the core of your being."

Before he oversaw the construction of the team that has won 21 of 22 games – before anyone knew of Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki, Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez and Manny Corpas, all integral parts of today's Rockies, all 28 years old and younger – O'Dowd tried to build a winner around someone everyone knew.

Mike Hampton's eight-year, $121 million contract was baseball's version of "Heaven's Gate" – an absolute bomb set in the old West. O'Dowd, brought to Colorado after an apprenticeship in Cleveland under Hank Peters and John Hart, had been on the job a year when the crazy offseason of 2000 rolled around. A month before Texas gave Alex Rodriguez $252 million, O'Dowd went headlong into the free-agent pool for Hampton and left-hander Denny Neagle, another boondoggle at $51 million over five years.

Even today, O'Dowd quivers at the damage done from Dec. 4-12, 2000. Hampton lasted two years in Colorado before O'Dowd dealt him to Florida, and each of his 21 victories cost the Rockies $2.33 million. Neagle's exit was nearly as ignominious: In December 2004, he got pinched paying a hooker $40 for oral sex, and the Rockies released him.

By that point, O'Dowd was presumed a goner. In his first five seasons, the Rockies finished in fourth place in the NL West four times and last place once. They vacillated between personalities: Could they still afford to build through free agency, or would talent development need to take precedent?

Attendance waned through the lean years, and the Rockies' owners, Charlie and Dick Monfort, kept a kung-fu grip on their Black Cards starting in 2001. The solution wasn't so much a choice.

"When you're a mid-market club, your vision can't be split between two things," O'Dowd said. "It's impossible. You're constantly caught in the middle of making a short-term decision and balancing it with long-term results."

So the Rockies committed young. Their payroll dropped from $65 million to $48 million amid the arrival of Atkins, Francis and Hawpe to complement Holliday. And they played like a cut-rate team, going a franchise-worst 67-95.

Yet the Monforts and team president Keli McGregor continued to foist praise on O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle. O'Dowd believed in his plan. The brass believed in O'Dowd.

"They are loyal people, and they saw enough qualities in the group I put together to understand we were trying to get things right," he said. "They saw enough signs in the system to realize that if they did stay patient, we would turn this thing around.

"If I was in 29 other jobs, I would have been fired three years ago. I'm blessed to work for people who have the courage to stand up to the criticism. It was absolutely as intense as anything can be."

Well, the market in Denver is more Crock Pot than the pressure cooker of New York, but the point is well taken. O'Dowd continued to get panned, even as trade acquisitions Brian Fuentes and Kaz Matsui panned out, Tulowitzki and Jimenez leapt through the minor leagues and the Rockies played above .500 for the first half of 2006.

"We were so far off-shore," O'Dowd said, "it was going to take major paddling to get back."

Instead of rowing by himself on one side and continuing in a circle, O'Dowd had reached out to right-hand men Bill Geivett, the Rockies' assistant GM, and Bill Schmidt, their scouting director. They needed to rejigger their philosophy toward procuring talent and did so by setting specific attributes for players to sign and draft.

Focus points, O'Dowd calls them. This year, the Rockies have 14, none of which he'll name. Though, from how O'Dowd talks about it, character surely tops the list.

And that, he said, is the stitch that weaves the 2007 Rockies' tapestry. He genuinely enjoys watching them, and not just because of their enthralling run. O'Dowd sees Todd Helton, the long-suffering star, getting his shot. He sees Atkins and Hawpe, gems unearthed in the draft's fifth and 11th rounds, respectively, by Schmidt's scouts. He sees Tulowitzki, the franchise's new face, a leader at 22 in both words and actions. And he sees Holliday, chin still bruised from the face-first slide that landed the Rockies in the playoffs, hands ever calloused from hitting the ball as hard as anyone in baseball.

"There were many more dark days here than bright ones," O'Dowd said, "so I can appreciate this. I didn't know when it was going to happen. I did believe it would, though."

Of course he did. No GM would neuter his power and emasculate his franchise by giving up hope. Sure, O'Dowd lived with a heavy conscience from the $100 million he spent on Hampton and Neagle, but those deals taught him how not to build a team.

And so here they are. The Colorado Rockies, NL champions, by the grace of God, or at least Tony Gwynn Jr.'s bat. So hot they could crisp a crème brulee. Ready to take on Boston.

"I'm sure whoever we play," O'Dowd said, "we'll be the underdog again."

Nothing wrong with that. All of a sudden, in Dan O'Dowd's tale, the underdog seems to be winning.

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