SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Some very fine men have managed the Colorado Rockies. Many of them did not, for one reason or another, resign.
More than half, in fact, stuck it out long enough to leave the way managers in most organizations leave – rumors of front-office displeasure, followed by unkind homemade bleacher signs, followed by front-office exasperation with rumors and signs, followed by front-office no-comments, followed by a news conference heavily attended by the front office but usually not the manager.
It's not like managing the Rockies is always an impossible job. They did almost win the NL West a couple times. The 2007 season was cool. There have been rainouts.
Certainly, the job is unlike any other. The games are different up there, and so must be the man who runs them, surfs them, survives them and recovers from them. Sometimes, the Rockies win. Sometimes, it's simply a race to the bottom of the Pepto-Bismol bottle. The game leans to incendiary.
Now, just months since Jim Tracy resigned following a 98-loss season, it's Walt Weiss' to manage. He's 49 and, excluding a nice run at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, has not done this before. (In that regard, he furthers a current trend. Holding similar résumés, Mike Matheny was hired in St. Louis and Robin Ventura in Chicago.)
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Weiss is under contract for one season, this one. That seems to bother no one, certainly not Weiss, who claimed he accepted the job without any conversation about the length of his contract.
"My feeling is the same as it was as a player," he said. "If you don't do well, they go get somebody else."
In fact, he said, he did not know his contract was for one year until well after the handshake.
"I couldn't care less," he said. "They'll let me know when they want somebody else, you know?"
He played 14 seasons before retiring in 2000. That's his résumé. That, and the kind of player he was. That, and the managers – among them Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox – he played for. That, and the years he spent as a Rockies instructor and adviser. Like Matheny and Ventura, Weiss was revered as a player for his highly professional temperament. He attacked the game. He was smart about it. Teammates liked him. He won a lot. Then he was the same guy, the same player, the next day, almost without fail.
"That," La Russa said, "earns you a lot of points. I will tell you, I think he's got a chance to be very special. I won't even say he has 'a chance.' I believe he will be very special."
They've spent some time on the phone, La Russa and Weiss. They've talked about the team, what it requires, how it should be run, the parts that make a hardball life in the Rockies unique. Specifically, how it should be led. Weiss, La Russa said, has done most of the talking.
"Tony had probably the greatest impact on me," Weiss said. "I look at the game in a lot of ways through his eyes. Or at least I try to. Bobby Cox did too. Bobby's impact on me was more in the way he dealt with people. For me, he was the best I'd been around at creating loyalty."
The Rockies finished in last place. Because of various issues, Troy Tulowitzki played in 47 games, Todd Helton in 69, Michael Cuddyer in 101, Carlos Gonzalez in 135. Jhoulys Chacin made 14 starts, Juan Nicasio made 11, Jorge De La Rosa made three.
As a result, the Rockies that won 92 games in '09, 83 in '10 and 73 in '11, won 64 in '12. The pitching staff was a wreck, partly because of the injuries. Management stepped in. Tracy walked. And suddenly Walt Weiss is standing on the top step, no net, and no second thoughts.
The plan is for healthy players, groundball pitchers and a relentless offense. That is the plan everywhere, of course. But, this is Colorado, where the smallest deviation means the other guy just put up six runs, gassed your starter and blew up your bullpen. It's just as likely to happen to the visitors, too, or almost as likely, except they get to leave.
Weiss played four seasons in Colorado. He knows. The job will be about showing up, patience, believing, moving on. Stuff happens there, some of it remarkable and some of it seemingly unfair. The wins are in the middle ground, in between the unavoidable and the ridiculous, which, coincidentally, is where Walt Weiss prefers to be.
"He'll just make it clear," La Russa said. "Take care of your own business. I'm sure he's going to get that message across to the guys."
Said Helton: "Everybody likes Walt. You know, he doesn't say that much, but when he does, everybody listens. He's real."
They're all real when they walk in. Perhaps Weiss has the best chance then to stay real, for the same reason he believes in a one-year contract. See, because sometimes the outcome in Denver won't reflect the effort or even the execution. Sometimes it just happens and the only explanation is a cranky humidor.
It's certainly one thing to play in that and another to be responsible for it, and this is what awaits Weiss. He seems OK with it. Really, he has no choice. It's a tough job, for all its variables among the toughest in the league, and Weiss has volunteered. The qualities that made him a big-leaguer remain. He has the temperament, he'll attack, he'll be smart, and the players presumably will respect him for it.
The Rockies will respond or they won't. They'll win or they won't. And then they can be reasonably sure Weiss will be there the next day, the same guy as yesterday, asking the same of them, asking the same of himself.
"In the end," he said, "it's gotta be real."
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