3/26/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Debuting as skipper, Weiss discusses philosophies
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The surprise of Walt Weiss being named the sixth manager in Rockies history wore away quickly. While it's true he last worked in pro baseball in 2008 and had been coaching youth and high school sports, Weiss was able to give the Rockies what they lacked -- deep roots within the franchise.
Weiss is the first manager in Rockies history to have worn purple pinstripes as a player. He was there from 1994-97 and was a key cog on the '95 team that went to the playoffs in the franchise's third year. After retirement, Weiss worked as a special front-office assistant from 2002-08 and at the Major and Minor league levels offered instruction to many of those who played on the '07 and '09 teams that reached the postseason. Not only that, but he hired former Rockies star Dante Bichette as hitting coach and brought back former players Eric Young and Pedro Astacio into camp as instructors who will be checking in during the season.
Granted, the Rockies have just 20 seasons behind them, and just three of those have resulted in trips to the postseason. After the October departure of former manager Jim Tracy, who was the architect of the last playoff team (2009) but eventually found himself not agreeing with the direction of the franchise, the Rockies were attracted to Weiss, who lived the franchise's story as a player and knows from that perspective that any season can have a winning ending.
The Rockies and their fans need someone to restore their faith in brighter days.
W: Henderson L: Ottavino
The Rockies' 64-98 finish in 2012 was the worst in club history, and the outside perception was that the club was spinning its wheels in an attempt to define itself and figure out how to win consistently in a unique park that has historically been ultra-friendly to hitters and a challenge to pitchers, in an atmosphere that can be daunting to opponents but also is theorized to increase the risk of injury to players who play most of their games there.
The Rockies have tried all kinds of personnel plans and coaching ideas. Finally, when the team went with a four-man starting rotation with tight work limits for starters in an attempt to fundamentally change its approach to pitching, the public was left wondering where the reasons for struggles ended and the excuses began.
Enter Weiss, who played for several recognizable names -- Tony La Russa with the Athletics at the start of his career, original Rockies manager Don Baylor, Rene Lacehmann (now Weiss' first-base coach) and Braves legend Bobby Cox. Those who influenced him were innovators, but much of their success came from sound fundamentals, aggressive play and alert thinking. In Weiss' mind, it hasn't changed since he played, and it stayed with him even though he's been away from the Majors.
Last year, Weiss coached at Regis Jesuit High School in the Denver area. In many ways, managing the Rockies isn't much different, even though many of the players have wives rather than prom dates and don't have to borrow their parents' cars.
Weiss recently discussed his new job and his time-honored philosophies:
MLB.com: Will you be a little nervous when the season opens in Milwaukee on April 1?
Weiss: To an extent, sure. That's a good thing. More than anything else, I'm excited to watch our guys play. That's what I'm looking forward to. I'll be nervous just because it's competition. When you're competing, you should get a little nervous. My whole career, to the last game I played in the big leagues, I was always nervous before the game. Of course, it wasn't to the extent that I was early in my career, but I still had butterflies before every Major League game.
MLB.com: How different will you feel from last year, which was your first and only season as head coach at Regis?
Weiss: I was nervous for those games because it's competition. There's a certain level of focus and intensity you have to bring to competition. Nervous energy is a part of it.
MLB.com: At the start of your Major League career, you played for the Athletics and manager Tony La Russa, and won the 1988 American League Rookie of the Year Award. Do you believe even back then that La Russa believed you could end up a manager?
Weiss: I was just a kid there. I think he would say that I was a student of the game and there was some intent to the way I played the game. But it's tough to say he saw me as a manager when I was 23 years old.
MLB.com: Since you last played in the Majors (2000), even though you didn't know until this past winter that you had a shot at being a manager, did you watch the game with a manager's eye?
Weiss: I wouldn't say always, but I think as I got older, I certainly watched the game differently. I don't know if I could sit here and say it was through the eyes of a manager. It was probably more as a player. I put myself in situations how I would approach this pitcher or defensively what I'd be trying to do here.
And sometimes, I watched as a manager, trying to predict what a manager might do here or looking at matchups later in the game, to think along those terms. But I don't think I sat there and watched the game completely from a manager's perspective.
MLB.com: How has the player changed since you played?
Weiss: I think the players are better, generally speaking. That's just the way it is. Twenty years from now, they'll be better [than now]. A lot of that is just advances in training and information. The talent level is real high. There are other factors you can argue about. Certainly, money changes the approach to the game, the amount of money that's in the game now. Then again, 20 years ago, they were saying the same thing about money. There's a lot more caution because of the money that's at stake -- from the front-office standpoint and from a player's standpoint. That's just a product of where the game is at financially.
But it's hard to say how different the players are. You hate to hear old-timers say, "The game was better when I played." I don't think that's the case.
MLB.com: But you hit on something there by mentioning the word "caution." Throughout Spring Training, you have wanted to defeat caution. Why is that?
Weiss: I just want to make sure when we take the field there's not a fear of failure, not a safety-first mentality. I don't think you can thrive at this level with that type of mindset. Regardless of the sport, the guy or the team with the aggressive mindset usually wins.
We've got to find a balance. We're preaching, "Play the game hard and play the game right." And you've got to do both. If you're always playing the game hard and you hit a single, and you try to run to second and you're out by 10 feet, you're playing hard, but you're not playing the game right.
We're going to err on the side of aggression. We'll run into some outs. But for me, it's more important that the league knows we will push the tempo.
MLB.com: How important was reaching back to past Rockies, in building your staff and in adding special instructors?
Weiss: Maybe there's some credibility because of where we play. It's a little unique in the game. But at the same time, we don't have all the answers because we played here. There have been a lot of smart people that have tried to manage this club and been on the coaching staff, really smart baseball men. I'm not so naive to think that because we play here, we've got it all figured out.
MLB.com: At times in talking to the players, you've mentioned that what you're emphasizing is being emphasized by 29 other teams. Was that important, particularly after the Rockies were accused of trying to reinvent the game last year?
Weiss: At this point in the game's history, there's no reinventing the game. Our goal is creating awareness about the things that are effective in the game and fine-tuning our focus on certain aspects of the game. It actually simplifies our approach to the game. What happens is you leave camp and guys tend to fall back on things they've always fallen back on in competition, and get away from some of the common-sensical things that help you win games. We're trying to create that awareness and that focus of certain things to simplify their approach to competition.
MLB.com: Do you believe your pitchers are good enough to win now?
Weiss: I do. I'll also say some of those guys need to take the next step in their development to make a serious run at our division. I do think the talent is there.
MLB.com: After a team loses 98 games, often the culture is part of the problem. Yet the Rockies have made few changes, and on the inside, there is a belief that the team's attitude is not a problem.
Weiss: There are a lot of good things in place already. It's a good bunch of guys that play hard, that prepare well, that compete well. It was one of those years that, anything that could have gone wrong went wrong. We've got to make sure we focus on the right thing and play the game the right way. I don't think effort has ever been a question for this club.
And it's not having an environment where there's a fear of failure. There's pressure built into this game no matter what your situation is individually or collectively as a team. The stakes are high. But we're creating an environment where these guys have the freedom to go out there and be athletes, let their ability shine. Fear of failure can be something that drives you, but you don't want it to be something that inhibits your ability. I want to make sure they feel the freedom to go out there and let it fly.
MLB.com: Is it important for you to prove yourself as a manager?
Weiss: "I haven't really focused on that. I'm looking at it a lot as I did as a player. I prepare myself every day. I go out there and compete and take my best shot. The next day, I do that again. At the end of the year, you look up and see where you're at.
Failure to me is not taking your best shot. I'm confident in the people around me. [Veteran bench coach] Tommy [Runnells] has been great helping me with this process. I've leaned on him a lot this spring. I'm looking forward to the competition. That's how I want our team to be identified. I want other teams to look at us and say, "These guys like to compete."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.