DENVER -- The Rockies brought up then-prospect first baseman Todd Helton from Triple-A in 1997, and subtly made sure then-veteran shortstop Walt Weiss would teach him the ropes."My locker was right next to his, and I think the team arranged it that way," Helton recalled. "I watched how he carried himself and tried to carry myself that way. I studied his demeanor day in and day out. What I remember was he didn't say a lot, but when he spoke, you'd better be listening.
"I didn't know he was going to be the manager, but when the job opened my wife asked me which former player would make the best manager, and his name came up."Weiss' quiet confidence impressed the Rockies' brass throughout a process that led the team to tab him this week as the sixth manager in its history. The move, which the Rockies introduced to selected season-ticket holders at a press conference Friday, was unconventional. Weiss had a 14-year Major League career, which included four seasons with the Rockies, and he worked as a special assistant for general manager Dan O'Dowd from 2002-08. But he has been coaching his sons the last few years and comes to the Rockies after one year as head baseball coach at Regis Jesuit High School. Additionally, the Rockies signed him to a one-year contract, as opposed to the multiyear deals common for managerial hires. But Weiss' no-nonsense demeanor, convictions about how the game should be played and well-thought philosophies of how to handle situations -- which he displayed in the interview process -- left the Rockies confident in their decision. Weiss, who turns 49 on Nov. 28, will be charged with turning around a club that, under Jim Tracy last season, finished with the worst record in club history, 64-98. Not even Weiss knows how he will set the atmosphere for a club that has several key veterans, most of whom spent large chunks of last season injured, and some exciting young players offensively, plus a pitching staff full of youth and questions. But there's no doubt he will have the quiet, forceful approach he had back when he was a shortstop entrusted to mentor Helton. "That's going to have to be a rhythm that I find along the way," Weiss said. "When it gets down to it, you have to be yourself. When you try to be someone else, it's fake. And fake doesn't work, especially with the players. "Players love real, they know it and they can smell it. I don't know how many meetings I'll hold, but as far as my personality, I'm not going to say a lot unless I feel it needs to be said. I'm not going to hold meetings just to have meetings. When I say something, it's because I have something to say." After Tracy resigned on Oct. 7, the Rockies interviewed Tom Runnells, who has agreed to continue in the bench-coach job he has held since 2009, and were looking internally before going outside the organization. Around that time, Weiss began informal conversations with Rockies officials that turned formal after his family agreed that he should pursue the job. When interview time came last Friday, the Rockies figured quickly they were not talking to the average high school baseball coach. "We were sitting and discussing very difficult and complex issues as a Major League manager and how we'd deal with players," said Bill Geivett, the Rockies' senior vice president of Major League operations. "With the questions coming at him, to watch him think and respond, you'd really think more along the lines of being with a more experienced Major league manager. "You didn't get a feeling that you were talking to a man with little experience in the job. But his thought process as a player knowing how he saw things and what he recognized as things he liked and didn't like in a Major League manager in respect to a player, I think he really understood the complex issues of the clubhouse. It was very, very striking." On the heels of the success of Mike Matheny of the Cardinals and Robin Ventura of the White Sox -- two recently retired players without managerial experience -- the Rockies didn't make big league managing experience a priority. Geivett said when the Rockies asked people in the industry, the advice was to hire the person the club felt best about long term, even if there was not a track record. One person within the game who could see Weiss managing was Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. Weiss was in his final season with the Rockies when Hurdle became hitting coach in 1997. Hurdle noticed Weiss' meticulous preparation, and kept that in mind after Weiss retired from the Braves in 2000. Weiss said Hurdle was instrumental in helping him land the special front-office assistant job, which was perfect for Weiss, who didn't want a full-time coaching job because he wanted more involvement with his own children. "I offered him every job but big league manager," Hurdle said, laughing. "I talked to him about jobs with the Rockies four different times -- third-base coach, first-base coach, bench coach and hitting coach. And I talked to him when I came here to Pittsburgh, so that was a fifth time, so it just wasn't meant to be. But this is a great move for the ballclub and the fan base in Colorado." Rockies owner and CEO Dick Monfort believes Weiss is the right man in the right place. "When we interviewed him, I asked him if he always wanted to be a manager," Monfort said during the press conference in a statement directed to the fans. "And he sort of looked at me and said, 'Nah, I want to be a Colorado Rockies manager.' And that's who we got." The contract is for one year, but neither Weiss nor the Rockies believe that will be an issue. Geivett cited the Rockies' history of loyalty -- Hurdle managed from early 2002 to early 2009, and Tracy was under a unique contract that would have never gone into its final year. Weiss figures to earn what he deserves, rather than engage in talk about a contract. "It's really a non-issue," Weiss said. "Like a player and until he gets into the part of his career where he gets a multiyear deal, those are some of the stripes I have to earn. "I have to get a club to play hard and play the game right. That's all I'm focused on."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.