Baseball used to be the most thoughtful of industries when it came to recycling, at least where managers are concerned. But the Rockies’ surprise decision to hand the job to former shortstop Walt Weiss is the latest instance of a baseball team choosing someone that nobody else might have considered. Much like Robin Ventura with the White Sox or Mike Matheny of the Cardinals last season, Weiss is an idiosyncratic organizational choice.
That’s because Weiss, however much he wasn’t going to be on anybody else’s radar, is no mystery to the Rockies -- he’s someone they’re very familiar with from his work within the organization as a special assistant to former head honcho Dan O’Dowd. Even so, as reported, the circumstances read like a dare trumped by a double dare topped by a double-dog dare. The reason Weiss was under consideration at all? Not because the Rockies had thought of him, but because he picked up the phone. Having retired to the area and keeping busy coaching high school baseball, Weiss apparently suggested himself for the job.
Call that equal parts chutzpah or self-confidence from Weiss, but it’s the first big product of the Rockies’ newly shaken-up front office now that Bill Geivett is calling the shots, with Dan O’Dowd kicked in a direction to be named later to serve in an advisory capacity. (Jonah Keri’s interview with Geivett, in two parts, is worth reading if you missed it at the tail end of the regular season.)
If you’re looking for Moneyball-style drama, where the executive and his skipper argue over who’s playing and how often, you can wonder if this isn’t designed to circumvent that, reflecting a desire to craft a leadership team that integrates front-office and dugout decision-making. Geivett has already taken a fairly active role as the newfangled “director of major league operations,” right down to planting his office within the clubhouse and taking on some of the field manager’s duties. Maybe that’s what motivated Jim Tracy’s resignation, maybe not; a veteran skipper used to being a lone wolf “decider” might just not see the job the same way, or care for seeing his role changed.
Ventura and Matheny represented in-house hires of younger guys and former stars with their respective teams, and if you think of them and only them, this might sound like a pretty good setup. Ventura guided a White Sox rebound that almost produced an AL Central title, while Matheny’s Cardinals made it to the NLCS. Like them, Weiss has no pro managing experience going into his rookie season on the job. But not all of these insular, collaborative designs work out so well. Remember how Arizona's decision to hire A.J. Hinch turned out? A smart guy and former big-league catcher with a strong player development record within the organization, Hinch was seen as a disaster in the dugout in his two partial seasons before being replaced by Kirk Gibson.
So you’ve got a brazen self-selected skipper and an activist GM. Stroke of genius or crazy? Well, here’s where the Rockies really take it up a notch: They’re giving this leadership mix exactly one year to prove that it’s going to work. Having talked his way into the job, that’s how long Weiss’ contract reportedly runs. That’s about as conditional an endorsement as you could imagine, like Geivett and friends said, “So you really think you can run this team? OK, you’re on, show me, starting now.”
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.