Rugby World Cup
This Week's Issue
Life of Reilly
SI for Women
CNN/SI - TV
Golf Pro Shop
MLB Gear Store
NFL Gear Store
SI FOR KIDS
For the power-packed Rockies, success -- or failure -- is still up in the air
By Ian Thomsen
Kurt Abbott, who won the World Series with Jim Leyland and the Marlins two years ago, never believed the speculation that Leyland would be managing the Dodgers this season. "I told people if he went to L.A., I'd be really, really surprised," says Abbott. "It's just not his style. I couldn't see him making that hourlong trip to the ballpark each day, getting stuck in traffic."
Instead, in October, Leyland signed a three-year, $6 million contract to manage Colorado, where utilityman Abbott had landed after Florida's post-championship fire sale. "I liked the combination they have here," Leyland says of the Rockies. "It's similar to what we had on the Marlins, a good combination of youth and veteran players."
"You can see we have talent here," says second baseman Mike Lansing, "but until we go out and win games, that talent doesn't mean anything." That the Colorado players are repeating after their manager, who admits he was nervous before addressing them the first time, says much about the respect he commands. "When Jim Leyland talks, players shut up and listen," says rightfielder Larry Walker. "He's probably a soft little guy inside, but when he talks, he's intimidating. People take him seriously. His reputation alone scares the crap out of people."
The Rockies needed someone new to grab their attention. Don Baylor, the only manager Colorado had known in its six-year history, was replaced after three consecutive disappointing seasons. "On the field, in the dugout, in the clubhouse, we were 25 people going in 25 different directions last year," Walker says.
Besides hiring Leyland, Colorado's only big move was to sign Walker to a six-year, $75 million contract extension. Elbow, finger and lower-back ailments limited Walker's strength last season, yet he still joined Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs as the only players since 1930 to hit .360 in successive seasons. "Last year he reminded me of MacGyver," says batting coach Clint Hurdle, the only coach from Baylor's staff retained by Leyland. "With whatever he was able to bring to the park, he'd put something together on the field. Maybe it was a single and a couple of stolen bases, or maybe it was throwing somebody out at home."
Somehow, Leyland must solve the riddle of Coors Field. Last season Colorado hit .325 at home, as if in a zero-gravity chamber, but when it ventured into the real world for the rest of its games, it batted only .257. Walker's recovering his health -- and with it his 1997 MVP power numbers (49 home runs, 130 RBIs) -- would help greatly, and it would make the Rockies' murderous lineup of Dante Bichette, Walker, Vinny Castilla and Todd Helton even more punishing. Last year first baseman Helton became only the 11th player in the past 51 seasons to lead major league rookies in average, home runs and RBIs. Darryl Hamilton (.335 in 51 games after being obtained from San Francisco) gives the Rockies a leadoff threat and a true centerfielder in spacious Coors Field.
Leyland can make the biggest impact with his pitching staff. He inherits plenty of talent in the bullpen but no firm closer among Dave Veres, Mike DeJean, Jerry Dipoto and Curt Leskanic. "I want a definite closer if we can find one,'' says Leyland. "It takes a lot of worry away, a lot of questions."
"It's no secret," Leyland says, "that when someone like McGwire or Sosa or Walker or Guerrero catches hold of one, it's gone, and it doesn't matter which ballpark you're in. There's no ballpark big enough to hold guys like that. What you want to eliminate is the home run from the guy who's only going to hit five of them in a season."
Issue date: March 29, 1999
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.