Rockies narrow managerial search, Blue Jays taking their time
The race in Colorado is undecided, and if you think we’re talking about today’s presidential election, think again. Reports last week had the Rockies whittling their list of managerial candidates to six. Today the Rockies are said to have pared their list to four, though two other names outside the original six have surfaced.
The four finalists — Jason Giambi, Tom Runnells, Walt Weiss and Matt Williams — have met with the Rockies’ upper management trio, which consists of owner and CEO Dick Monfort, general manager Dan O’Dowd and senior vice president of major league operations Bill Geivett. The only member of the quartet with major league managerial experience is Runnells, though that was 20 years ago; he had served as bench coach for the recently resigned Jim Tracy since May 29, 2009, when Tracy was promoted from bench coach to take over the team.
The lack of experience among the quartet suggests both that the team wants a manager who can grow with a rebuilding effort, and that upper management, and particularly Geivett, will be heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the team. The de facto GM alongside Dowd, Geivett oversaw the Rockies’ rotation experiment — a four-man rotation with pitch counts, hybrid relievers and stratospheric ERAs— with a level of involvement that was too much for Tracy’s liking.
At 57 years old, Runnells is by far the oldest and most experienced of the field, but he was once a managerial prodigy. After a 10-year playing career that included only 53 plate appearances at the major league level in 1985 and ’86, he retired at age 31, and immediately entered the minor league managerial ranks. After three seasons managing in the Reds’ and Expos’ minor league systems, he was promoted to Montreal’s big league staff in 1990, and took over managerial duties from the fired Buck Rodgers in June 1991, at the age of 36.
Runnells lasted less than a full year on the job, gaining notoriety for appearing at the opening of spring training dressed in military garb as General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of coalition forces during the Gulf War, “barking orders through a bullhorn,” according to Jonah Keri, a Montreal native who is working on a definitive history of the Expos. Said to be a reaction to allegations that he was too soft as a manager, Runnells’ stunt was poorly received by players and media alkie, and it began the clock on his demise; he was replaced by Felipe Alou in May 1992, having compiled a record of 68-81. Following that, he spent 11 seasons in the Tigers’ organization, including four as a manager (1993-1996), and then five-plus seasons managing in the Rockies’ organization (2004-2009) before being promoted to the big league job once Clint Hurdle was fired.
The 41-year-old Giambi is the youngest of the candidates, and still active as a major leaguer, though he will retire if he is named manager. A five-time All-Star who won the 2000 AL MVP award, he has spent the past three seasons and change as a reserve on Colorado’s bench, where he became a favorite of Tracy, and something of a coach-in-training. He doesn’t have any formal experience as a manager or coach beyond serving as manager of an intrasquad game last spring. Giambi’s connection to the BALCO steroids scandal and hard-partying reputation could work against him, but he reportedly commands a great deal of respect from his teammates.
Weiss is a 48-year-old who spent 14 years in the majors with the A’s, Marlins, Rockies and Braves from 1987-2000, more than half of them under future Hall of Fame managers Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox. He earned AL Rookie of the Year honors with Oakland in 1988, and was a starter on their three-time pennant winners. Weiss spent several years as a special assistant to O’Dowd and a part-time member of the coaching staff (he didn’t travel with the team) before leaving in 2008 to coach his sons, most recently as the varsity baseball coach at Regis Jesuit High School in Auroroa, Colo., where he led his team to the state 5A semifinals.
Williams, 46, was a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner during his 17 years in the majors with the Giants, Indians and Diamondbacks from 1987-2003. He was the runner-up in the NL MVP race in 1994, when his 43 homers put him on pace to challenge Roger Maris’ single-season record before the strike hit, and placed third in 1999, when he helped the upstart Diamondbacks make the playoffs in their second year of existence. He played in two World Series, losing with the Indians in 1997 and winning with the Diamondbacks in 2001. A cloud was cast over his accomplishments when he was named in the Mitchell Report for having purchased human growth hormone in 2002, which he claimed was to treat an ankle injury. After his playing career, he worked as a Diamondbacks broadcaster from 2005-2009, taking time out in late 2007 to serve as the interim manager of their Double-A affiliate when manager Brett Butler suffered a stroke. He spent 2010 as Arizona’s first base coach, and the past two years as its third base coach.
Williams’ name has also surfaced in connection with the Blue Jays’ managerial opening, though that process isn’t nearly so far along. Two weeks ago, the Jays traded manager John Farrell to the Red Sox to take over for the fired Bobby Valentine, and at the moment, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos is apparently in no hurry to fill the void, instead focusing on beginning his winter shopping at the GM meetings that will take place later this week. Early indications are that Anthopoulos has spoken to Williams and Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach, and names such as Demarlo Hale and Sandy Alomar Jr. — which came up in the context of searches in Boston and Cleveland — have been floated.
That said, the Jays are said to favor a more experienced manager, with Tracy, former Indians manager Manny Acta, former Padres/Cubs/Mariners/Nationals manager Jim Riggleman and former mariners manager Don Wakamatsu (currently Toronto’s bench coach) drawing mention. Former A’s and Mets manager Art Howe, who hasn’t managed since 2004, threw his hat in the ring as well, for what that’s worth. While Anthopoulos may think that he has a long time to name Farrell’s successor, it’s difficult to imagine the Blue Jays attracting free agents with the identity of their next skipper hanging in the balance.