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Merilatt: Save your snickers on Weiss’ hiring

Today, the Colorado Rockies will introduce Walt Weiss as the sixth manager in franchise history. And in the process, they’ll open themselves up to another hefty dose of criticism.

Let’s just say the hiring of Weiss, even in a sport that has seen untested skippers like Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny succeed in recent years, has raised some eyebrows. And when the move is made by a franchise that is already skating on thin ice when it comes to credibility, it opens the floodgates.

That’s understandable. But it’s also unfair.

It’s easy to snicker at the idea that Colorado hired a guy who was most recently coaching high school baseball. After all, that’s the truth. While the Rockies were limping their way through the worst year in franchise history, Weiss was leading the Regis Jesuit Raiders to the semifinals of the 5A state playoffs.

But that would also be a gross mischaracterization of the situation. Truth be told, Weiss is far from being just a “high school coach” – not that there’s anything wrong with that; it just doesn’t qualify someone to be a manager at the major league level. He played in the big leagues for 14 seasons, worked in the Rockies front office after he retired in 2000 and is widely considered an astute “baseball man.”

In other words, Weiss isn’t going to be overwhelmed by the situation. He’s seen virtually everything that can happen in Major League Baseball, he knows the ins and outs of dealing with things like travel, the media and other aspects of being a “pro,” and he’s been plugged into the game since walking away a dozen years ago.

The most important thing for a big league manager is to have the respect of the players in the clubhouse. If they think he’s incapable, incompetent or unqualified, they’ll know it immediately, and things will derail quickly. That won’t be the case with Weiss; the players know his background, résumé and knowledge.

His path to the Rockies wasn’t Little League to JV to varsity; he was coaching the Raiders because he wanted to be with his son, Brody, who is a senior at Regis. So let’s just get over the “high school” argument. It’s silly, juvenile and inaccurate.

It’s also easy to snicker at the idea that Colorado only gave Weiss a one-year contract. If they really thought he was the skipper of the future, it seems odd that the franchise wouldn’t give him a multi-year deal, which is almost always the norm for any professional coach. Or so one would think.

But that would be failing to look deeper into the situation. That would simply be taking a swipe at the low-hanging fruit in an effort to make a quick joke, rather than searching for the context of the story.

Why would the Rockies do something as unorthodox as give their new manager a one-year deal? Because it puts everyone in the same boat together.

As general manager Dan O’Dowd told Troy Renck of the Denver Post yesterday, “Don’t read too much into the one-year deal; we’re all on one-year deals.”

While speaking more figuratively than literally, that comment would suggest that O’Dowd, the beleaguered leader of Colorado’s front office, and Bill Geivett, the team’s newly minted director of major league operations, only have the 2013 season to prove themselves, as well. And that’s a good thing. In fact, that’s a great thing.

People have been screaming from every mountaintop that O’Dowd needs to go. They’ve had enough with his 13-year run of (mostly) ineptitude. They’re tired of his poor draft choices, head-scratching trades and penchant for excuses.

Fair enough. Now, O’Dowd appears to only have one season left to show that what he produced in 2007 and ’09 can be the norm, and the other 11 seasons were an aberration.

And people have been up in arms about the ascension of Geivett, especially the fact that his role within the organization is unique in Major League Baseball. In some ways he’s the GM, handing the team’s day-to-day operations at the big league level, and in some ways he’s the on-field manager, even having an office near the clubhouse. It’s a formula no one thinks will work.

Fair enough. Now, Geivett appears to only have one more year to show that this formula can produce success; he only has one season to show that reinventing the way a baseball team’s front office operates is a good idea.

If the 2013 season is as bad as the one that just ended, O’Dowd and Geivett will be out on their ear – at least that’s the impression. And if that’s the case, whoever replaces them should have the ability to hire his own people, including the manager he wants.

 

Thus, it makes no sense to give Weiss more than a one-year deal. If the Rockies start heading in the right direction, he – along with O’Dowd and Geivett – will be retained. If the downward spiral continues, he’ll be axed right along with the guys who hired him.

That seems reasonable enough; it’s a one-year audition for everyone involved. Why is it so ludicrous for the Rockies not to guarantee Weiss a paycheck beyond the period in which they are sure he’ll have a job? It may be unusual in baseball, or any other sport, but it’s not odd in the real world. Frankly, it’s kind of refreshing that common sense finally is playing a role in a professional sports contract.

When Weiss stands up in front of the media, holds up a Rockies jersey and smiles for the cameras, it would be easy to roll your eyes and scoff at the direction the franchise is taking. But before you do, consider the whole story, think about the big picture and really try to understand what the team is doing with the hire.

Right here, right now, Walt Weiss is an interesting choice. In the next 12 months, we’ll find out if he’s the right man for the job.

If he is, that’s great. If he’s not, we can all move on.

Save your snickers until we know for sure.

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