During the early seasons of the Colorado Rockies, those of us covering the team spotted several potential future managers on the roster.
The most obvious was catcher Joe Girardi, who had the right mix of smarts, steadiness and determination. Some thought ever-popular outfielder Dante Bichette might have a chance someday. Another catcher, Eric Wedge, impressed everybody who knew him. Yet another catcher and utility player, Danny Sheaffer (who had played here with the Sky Sox), also seemed like a possibility.
Then there was shortstop Walt Weiss, who ranked near the top of my list. He played hard, he knew the game, his fundamentals were solid, his attitude always superlative — and he stood out as a quiet leader.
Girardi, of course, would go on to lead the New York Yankees to championships, first on the field and then as skipper. Wedge managed Cleveland for seven years (he was American League Manager of the Year in 2007) and now oversees the Seattle Mariners. Sheaffer, after a handful of years as a successful Triple-A manager, now is a roving minor-league instructor for Houston. Bichette was content raising his family in Orlando — until a few weeks ago.
Weiss had served the Rockies in several capacities, but never on the field staff, remaining in Denver and most recently coaching at Regis High School.
So, many folks didn't take it too seriously when the Rockies interviewed Weiss as a possible replacement for Jim Tracy. After all, if the hire would be an inside promotion, bench coach Tom Runnells (who managed in Colorado Springs from 2006 to mid-2009) looked to be first in line, and totally deserving.
Instead, Weiss got the job. Skeptics saw it as a recipe for failure, buying time with a guy whom the fans undoubtedly will like. Until the Rockies can reinvent their pitching, it's not realistic to expect anything but mediocrity at best.
Before everyone gives up on 2013, though, Weiss is making some smart moves putting together his staff. Fully admitting his need for on-the-job learning, he convinced Runnells to stay on as bench coach. Weiss also hired Bichette as hitting coach, which might seem like another stretch except that the new staff also includes Rene Lachemann as first-base coach.
Lachemann has been around forever, with three stints as a major-league manager, including the Florida Marlins when Weiss played there before coming to Colorado in 1994. Lachemann has spent the past five seasons as the Rockies' Triple-A hitting coach here in Colorado Springs, and since he already has worked with nearly all of the team's hitters, you can be sure he'll be mentoring Bichette.
Weiss made two other good choices: Jim Wright as pitching coach and Stu Cole as third-base coach. Wright had been the bullpen coach, definitely a thankless job last year, but he's been in the organization since the 1990s and actually was pitching coach in 2002. Cole managed the Sky Sox from mid-2009 through 2012, somehow maintaining the team's equilibrium amid constant roster maneuverings.
Granted, this has to be a low-budget staff for the Rockies, with so many having come up through the organization. But they aren't planning on more years like the franchise's 64-98 nightmare last season. Even before Weiss became manager, Colorado hired a longtime major-league pitching coach, Mark Wiley, as director of pitching operations, putting him in charge of developing pitchers at all levels. The clear intent is to create a new philosophy, and not make excuses as in recent years (for instance, the altitude).
Let's also remember that the Rockies have the makings of a decent everyday lineup, anchored by Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Wilin Rosario and, of course, Todd Helton. If he isn't traded, Michael Cuddyer could share time at first with Helton as well as in the outfield. And young guys like Tyler Colvin, Jordan Pacheco, Josh Rutledge and perhaps Charlie Blackmon will have every chance to make it.
We'll have to see how fast the Rockies can stabilize, and how soon their pitching can come around.
But don't waste your time worrying about Walt Weiss. He'll be fine.
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