Walt Weiss was a decent ballplayer, more renowned for smarts than stats. As the sixth manager in Rockies history, he faces a challenge unlike any of the previous five. Can Weiss' baseball IQ surmount the Rockies' front office chaos?
Walt Weiss had himself a decent major league career, in which he was good enough to win a Rookie of the Year award and make an All-Star team but never good enough to win a Gold Glove or post an OPS+ over 100 in a full season. Weiss himself was considered one of the smarter players in the game during his 14-year career, in which he was the starting shortstop for three playoff teams and a contributor to three others in three different cities. Though he never hit better than .282 or more than eight home runs - both career highs coming in Colorado, naturally, in 1996 - Weiss hung around thanks to his savvy glove work and baseball IQ.
Add it all up, and Walt Weiss was a pretty OK ballplayer. If he is merely an OK tactician and game manager, he will represent a sizable upgrade over the man he's replacing as soon as he opens the 2013 season as the sixth manager in Colorado Rockies history. He's got a chance to be better than that, if it's possible to glean in-game strategy through osmosis. Weiss broke in under Tony LaRussa in Oakland, and finished his career under Bobby Cox in Atlanta. Both managers were well regarded for their ability to coax the very best out of their rosters in a yearly basis. If Weiss was taking any mental notes, hopefully they had to do with how to maximize the potential of the team and the individual (and not how to stretch games to an interminable length with innumerable pitching changes and squabbles with umpires). And at the very least, Weiss's attention to detail will be a welcome addition in an organization that has played some truly awful fundamental baseball over the last two seasons.
Alas, if only it were that easy. If only all Weiss had to be was a smart guy to make all things well at the corner of 20th and Blake Streets. But the challenge Weiss faces as he makes the unthinkable leap from the dugout of Aurora's Regis Jesuit High School to the Rockies dugout stretches far beyond his in-game capabilities. In the end, Weiss may turn out to be the winner of a contest in which the prize is a no-win situation.
As a managerial candidate, Weiss was a virtual cipher, with only his reputation as a player and connection to the Rockies as a player and former assistant to general manager Dan O'Dowd lending any credibility to his addition to the list of names for Jim Tracy's replacement. The search seemed to be leaning in the direction of Jason Giambi from the very start, after he was one of the first people to be interviewed. Giambi had plenty of familiarity with the Rockies' current regime and players, after all, and his continued presence on the team's roster over the last two years pointed to an obvious mutual respect between player and franchise.
Giambi also had his own reputation, that of clubhouse 'big brother', to lend credence to his candidacy, though how much is certainly debatable. After all, you'd think if he were such a unifying leadership presence in the clubhouse, maybe he would have had more to say about the team's downward spiral over the last three seasons.
But the buzz surrounding Giambi cooled, as did buzz around current bench coach Tim Runnells, who would have been the absolute least inspiring choice possible among people with a pulse. Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach Matt Williams made a strong surge and was reportedly one of two names under consideration at the very end.
In the end, though, the Rockies front office, in whatever order their chain of command currently exists, decided to hire Weiss, despite his lack of coaching experience in any league but the 5A Centennial League. And given the perception left by Tracy's surprising resignation - that the Rockies wanted a toady for the buddy-buddy shot-callers from general manager on up - the fact that they went outside the organization, or at least the current iteration of the organization, has to be considered a positive. Still, how can any manager expected to be operate under the Rockies' unique organizational philosophy? Especially one that's never managed before? (On the flip side, perhaps Weiss's lack of experience means he'll be more amenable to any restrictions placed upon him by Dan O'Dowd, Bill Geivett, and the Monfort brothers.)
It's all a mystery, in the hands of an organizational braintrust that's rapidly lost the good faith of the fan base as they continue to insist they can fix a problem that they created. But the chaos of the front office will seem very small if the players on the field can play better baseball. There are no guarantees there, especially given the uncertainty about the Rockies' young pitchers who, as a group, dramatically disappointed last season. But if the Rockies adopt the personality of their new manager, perhaps they'll be a mentally tougher, more fundamentally sound ballclub next season and in years to come. That's the hope, anyway. The front office regime may not have a direction, but on the field, Walt Weiss gives the Rockies a new one, and it's one to be optimistic about.