Ventura, Matheny paved route for eager Weiss
With no prior big league coaching experience, Rox's new skipper eyes success
On Monday afternoon, Rockies manager Walt Weiss will walk out to home plate at Miller Park, exchange lineup cards with Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, and take a deep breath.
The reality will hit. Weiss is back in the big leagues, ready or not. And this time, he's a manager.
Weiss has never coached or managed on the pro level, which is rare for a big league manager. It is not unprecedented, though.
A year ago, both the Chicago White Sox, with Robin Ventura, and the St. Louis Cardinals, with Mike Matheny, went with the non-experienced approach for their new skippers. And both teams were pleased with the results.
In the first year of the post-Tony La Russa era, the Cardinals claimed a National League Wild Card spot. After beating Atlanta in the NL Wild Card game and Washington in the NL Division Series, St. Louis lost to the eventual World Series champion Giants in the NL Championship Series.
Ventura helped calm things in the Windy City after the Ozzie Guillen managerial tenure, and had the White Sox very much a factor in the American League Central, eventually finishing three games back of division winner Detroit, which advanced to the World Series.
Now comes Weiss, who like Matheny and Ventura, returns to manage a team he played for during his career.
Weiss inherits what is arguably a bigger challenge than his colleagues.
The Rockies are coming off their worst season in franchise history, losing 98 games. They then saw former manager Jim Tracy walk away from the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $1.4 million. Their bullpen was required to work a Major League-record 657 innings.
Weiss welcomes the challenge.
Ventura and Matheny both feel Weiss can handle it, even if he spent the last four years coaching at Regis Jesuit High School in suburban Denver. He served as an assistant coach for three years before taking on head-coaching duties in 2012.
"It doesn't take that long to get back to where you feel comfortable," said Ventura. "It's a novelty that people will talk about, but how the players react is more important than what it looks like from outside. Walt is somebody I played against, and I respect him. I know the guy he is."
It is not like the hiring of Weiss is similar to when former Braves owner Ted Turner appointed himself to replace Dave Bristol with two games remaining in the 1977 season, only to have Commissioner Bowie Kuhn overrule that decision in "the best interest of baseball," ending Turner's managerial career at one game -- a 6-2 loss at Cincinnati.
Weiss played in the big leagues from September 1987 through 2000. He spent four years (1994-97) as Colorado's shortstop in a career that began in Oakland and included time with the Marlins in their inaugural season in 1993. Weiss' career ended with two years in Atlanta. He had only four managers with those four stops -- La Russa, Rene Lachemann, Don Baylor and Bobby Cox.
Weiss worked with the Rockies as a special assistant to general manager Dan O'Dowd from 2002-08 before stepping down to spend more time with his family.
Ventura retired as a player following the 2004 season and was out of the game at a professional level until mid-June 2011, when White Sox director of player development Buddy Bell hired Ventura as a special assistant. Less than four months later, he became the big league manager.
"When I retired, I didn't think I'd miss the game, but I did," Ventura said. "There's something about the grind, the competition."
Matheny is a former catcher who retired following the 2006 season, with repeated concussions forcing a premature end to his career. He remained involved with the game as a special assistant in the Cards' player-development department.
"A key is the coaching staff," said Matheny. "With the Cardinals, we had all good baseball people. You have to trust them. They have experience in the areas they coach. You have to give them the chance to do their job."
And like Weiss, Matheny had a chance to watch La Russa run a club, up close and personal, having played for La Russa in St. Louis for five years (2000-04).
"With Tony, everything was under control," said Matheny. "I have the utmost respect for him. He knew what were strengths and weaknesses of players. He wouldn't ask players to do things they weren't capable of doing. He'd put them in positions to succeed."
A year ago, there was curiosity about whether Ventura and Matheny were being asked to do something they weren't capable of doing. They showed they were capable. They did succeed.
This year, it's Weiss who has become the subject of the curiosity. On Monday, he takes the first regular-season step in his effort to follow the path of Ventura and Matheny.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.