MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Weiss has rich history with storied managers

Ringolsby: Weiss has rich history with managers

Walt Weiss has yet to manage a professional baseball game.

He, however, does have a Hall of Fame managerial pedigree.

Weiss, the new manager of the Colorado Rockies, had a big league playing career that began and ended by playing for future Hall of Fame managers Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox.

He broke in with La Russa and Oakland in a September 1987 pennant race and spent his first five full seasons with A's. He spent the final three years of his 13 full big league seasons in Atlanta, under the guidance of Cox.

"I am so pleased he wants to stay in the game," said La Russa. "The game is better because of people like him. He's in the same mold as Mike Matheny, Robin Ventura and Kirk Gibson. I know Gibson coached some, but none of them had managed before and they have taken that step and done a good job.

"All of them are real good competitors. They were good teammates and leaders on a club. And they understood the challenge of each situation."

In between, Weiss played for a year for Rene Lachemann with the expansion Florida Marlins in 1993 and four years in Colorado for Don Baylor.

The fact that both Lachemann and Baylor jumped at the opportunity to have Weiss on their rosters speaks volumes. Lachemann had been the third-base coach in Oakland when Weiss played for the A's and lobbied for his acquisition for the first-year Marlins. Baylor was a teammate in Oakland in 1988 and pushed hard for the Rockies to sign Weiss as a free agent for the second-year Rockies in 1994.

"In Oakland [in 1989] he was a quiet reason we won the World Series," said Lachemann. "He worked very hard at his trade. He did the little things to help a team win. He was an intelligent player.

"When we started the team in Florida, he was one guy I wanted. He was a guy who could provide a point of stability for a team made up of players from all over."

The Rockies are looking at Weiss to provide a point of stability for their franchise, which will enter its 21st season of competition in April with the sixth manager in its history. Recently, Weiss has coached Regis High School, where his youngest son, Brody, is a student. Before that, he was a special assistant to Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd.

And before that he was a player, where he admits he was blessed by the four managers he played for, starting with La Russa.

"Tony taught me the finer points, foremost how to prepare," said Weiss. "I see the game through his eyes. I've read his books over the last few years. He's knowledgeable in baseball and even more than that in real life. We just see the game in very similar terms."

It is not a coincidence that in 13 full big league seasons, Weiss was on a postseason team eight times, played in three World Series and enjoyed being a part of that 1989 Oakland World Series championship team in his second big league season.

"Walter is one of those guys that when you have a good club, you have guys like that, guys who excel at the right time," said La Russa. "In September of 1987 we were battling the Twins for the division, and [shortstop Alfredo] Griffin was hurt a little so we played Walt. We didn't catch the Twins, but Walt made such an impression with his maturity and cool under pressure that when the season was over, we traded Alfredo in the deal for Bobby Welch."

Weiss developed a reputation for being a hard-nosed player who had a feel for the game.

"One thing that is a disservice to a guy like Walt is the perception that he was so prepared he couldn't fail," said La Russa. "He excelled, he prepared, and then, more importantly, he competed at a level higher than a lot of guys. It's like studying for a test. Everybody can study for the test. Not everybody can take the test. He was a guy who really set the tone for the club."

The focus, said La Russa, is what was so impressive.

"In the second game of the `88 ALCS with Boston, we've got the winning run on base in the ninth against Lonnie Smith, and I let him hit," said La Russa. "We had some good hitters on the bench, but we're in a tie game on the road. I wanted his defense in the game, and I knew he wasn't going to give the at-bat away. He came up with the game-winning hit. He could get tough RBIs."

His true ability, however, was greater than people remember, said La Russa, pointing out that Weiss was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1988 and later missed major chunks of both the 1989 and 1991 seasons with a broken ankle and aching knee.

"You'll never know what the injuries took away from him, but when he came up, he was a real good hitter from both sides of the plate," said La Russa. "He could run, too. He was awful good in his career, but if he had stayed healthy, he would have been up the list of all-time shortstops."

Weiss has told the story of his days in Atlanta when he made a mental mistake, which led to the one time that Cox called him into the manager's office.

"I'm thinking I am in for it," said Weiss. "I walked in and sat down and Bobby looked at me and said, 'We don't do that here.' That was it. He didn't have to say any more."

Cox laughed at the memory.

"Walt wasn't the kind of guy you had to say things to," said Cox. "He knew the game. He knew his job. And he did what needed to be done."

Cox rarely had meetings with the team or individuals. Atlanta was known for a clubhouse where the players policed each other.

"Bobby is the best at creating loyalty on a ballclub," said Weiss. "Bobby is a special man and the players all felt that he genuinely wanted them to do well. I learned a lot about the importance of that type of atmosphere. You don't do that on Day 1, but it's a blueprint for me to look at."

Baylor understood baseball at altitude and turning Coors Field into a home-field advantage, something that Weiss has said he wants to re-emphasize with the Rockies. With a roster built around an expansion team, Baylor took the Rockies to the postseason in their third year of existence. The public image of the Rockies in Baylor's era was the Blake Street Bombers. What's overlooked was that in 1996 the Rockies not only became the first team to surpass 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases in a season, but also led the National League in sacrifice bunts.

"Groove had an aura about him that commanded respect, both for how he handled himself during his career and as a manager," said Weiss. "I won't have the presence of Don Baylor when I walk into the clubhouse, but it is something to look at and strive toward."

There is a possibility that Weiss could be reunited with Lachemann, the Rockies' Triple-A Colorado Springs hitting coach the last five years and a likely candidate for a big league coaching job in 2013.

"The thing I took away from Lach was he's as honest a guy as I've ever been around in the game, and that goes a long way with a ballclub toward creating trust," said Weiss. "... I've been around some pretty special people over the course of my career and I take a little bit from everybody."

The Rockies are giving Weiss a chance to put what he has learned to use as a big league manager.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.