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Senior Baseball Columnist

Weiss hiring latest indication Rockies are thinking way outside the box


Walt Weiss becomes the Rockies manager after being lured off a high school field. (Getty Images)  
Walt Weiss becomes the Rockies manager after being lured off a high school field. (Getty Images)  

The good folks of Colorado voted on Tuesday to legalize marijuana.

The baseball club of Colorado has been way out in front of that curve for months now.

Pick any team in baseball these days most likely to wake up in the morning not quite sure what happened the night before, and it's the Rockies. Right now, only the Marlins are a close second. Forget OBP and WAR. The Rockies surely lead the league in empty Cheetos bags littering the offices.

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And now they go and pluck Walt Weiss off a high school field and install him as their manager.

Cheech and Chong would be proud.

What are they, high?

Matter of fact, yes ... in a manner of speaking.

Here's the deal: Two decades after the birth of the franchise, the Rockies STILL are trying to solve the Coors Field altitude problem.

Since midsummer, en route to a franchise-worst 64-98 season, nobody in the game has gone more full-blown, bat-crap crazy than the Rockies.

They went to a four-man rotation. They slapped a limit of 75 pitches per outing on their starters. They accepted the resignation of longtime pitching coach Bob Apodaca, last seen fleeing into the Rocky Mountains, gasping for breath, blood seeping from his eyeballs.

They revamped their front office, promoting vice president Bill Geivett to oversee baseball operations. Geivett took a desk in one of the conference rooms off the clubhouse. Unusual for the guy in charge of player personnel to breathe the same clubhouse oxygen as the field manager? Why no, not at all ... if you believe lions and grizzly bears can peacefully cohabitate in the same cave.

They accepted the resignation of manager Jim Tracy, last seen fleeing toward Pike's Peak, heart racing, vocal cords apparently ruptured. Few have heard a peep from him since (he didn't return calls for this column).

Highly respected throughout the game, Tracy was so adamant that he could no longer work alongside these people that he left $1.4 million sitting on the table. How's that for a statement? Usually, only rock stars tossing furniture from hotel balconies voluntarily throw away that kind of dough.

So here the Rockies are, feverishly planning for 2013, and weeks of searching lead them to the baseball office at Regis Jesuit High School, where Weiss led the Raiders to the Colorado Class 5A semifinals last spring.

You almost hate to think about worst-case scenarios if this doesn't work. Who's on the short list to succeed Weiss? Willie Nelson?

You can't blame the Rockies for being at wit's end, given how far they've backslid since their lighting-in-a-bottle 2007 World Series appearance.

And it is completely understandable that they've slammed on the brakes and are re-examining, again, their approach to the altitude.

Basically, they've decided they must do things differently from everybody else, because nobody else faces their unique set of oxygen-deprived challenges.

It's why they assigned Geivett such a hands-on role. It's why every one of the four managerial candidates they interviewed -- Matt Williams, Tom Runnells, Jason Giambi, Weiss -- have experience either playing or coaching in altitude.

It's why the hiring of longtime baseball man Mark Wiley as Colorado's director of pitching operations probably is going to be far more important than that of Weiss in the long run.

Wiley will oversee pitching throughout the organization, with an emphasis on developing arms on the farm to thrive in the dastardly Denver air.

Right now, as one baseball person told me Thursday, the Rockies are "going in a bunch of different directions nobody's gone before."

They will return to a five-man rotation in 2013. Gone will be the universal 75-pitch limit. Instead, each starter will have his own individual pitch limit.

The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, and two decades in, the Rockies have circled back to admitting the altitude is still slamming them harder than they realized.

Questions are: Will they get it right this time? And are they even capable of getting it right?

What they want out of a manager is someone who will work willingly -- and closely -- with Geivett. Someone who can read the oxygen levels and understand when players need a day off.

Instead of finding a scientist or a weatherman, they fingered Weiss.

Beyond his high school coaching, of course, he was a major-league infielder for 14 seasons. Then he did some minor-league scouting and worked in an advisory capacity for the Rockies for a stretch. For a handful of years, he was in uniform in the dugout during home games.

This is not the White Sox hiring an inexperienced Robin Ventura, or the Cardinals hiring an inexperienced Mike Matheny. The needs and culture of those clubs are vastly different from that of the Rockies.

Look at Marco Scutaro's time in Coors Field before he moved on to become an October hero with the Giants: He batted .302 in Coors Field, and .238 on the road.

You would think after all these years, they would have an app for that. Or a medication for that (Tuesday's vote in Colorado, ahem, notwithstanding).

But here the Rockies are, again admitting that so much of what they've done have not made sense, again re-assessing everything from what type of free agents they should sign to how the manager should operate within the latest new structure they're creating.

The fact that they waited until midnight eastern Wednesday to formally announce Weiss' hiring, and the fact that they gave him a one-year contract, says much more about the Rockies than it even does about Weiss.

Those moves scream that they're still making things up as they go. That there is still far more unknown than known to them.

Talk about thinking outside the box.

"They're so far outside the box," one baseball person said, "that they're in the on-deck circle."

Through the haze, it's hard to tell.


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