Walt Weiss

This article was written by Ken Reed

Walter William Weiss was a tough player — physically and mentally.

“The look in his eye always said, ‘Don’t even think about taking me out of the lineup unless the bone’s sticking out and maybe not even then,’” said Weiss’s coach at the University of North Carolina, Mike Roberts.1

His first big-league manager, Tony La Russa, concurred. “He has always had the physical and mental toughness you look for in a champion,” said La Russa.2 While not an outstanding hitter — either for average or power — he regularly came through in the clutch — at the plate and in the field. “Nothing unsettled him,” La Russa said.3

Walt Weiss’s toughness and grit was cultivated in his youth. Born in Tuxedo, New York, on November 28, 1963, he was raised in nearby Suffern, a village 35 miles north of Manhattan. His parents owned a video store in Mahwah, New Jersey, and his father had a second job running a newsstand kiosk in Grand Central Terminal.4

Growing up, Weiss enjoyed playing a lot of sports. On the baseball diamond, he was considered a field rat and a grinder. Weiss never wanted to leave the field. He begged his dad, Bill, to hit him groundball after groundball.5 In short, Weiss was a kid who loved to play, consistently put the team above himself, and didn’t mind diving all over the field for balls.

Once, as a child, Weiss attended a New York Yankees game and had the chance to stroll on the warning track. He scooped up some dirt and saved it in a Ziploc bag. He displayed an unusual confidence and belief in himself by telling his dad that one day he would play at Yankee Stadium.

“Yeah, I put that dirt in my scrapbook,” said Weiss with a smile. “It’s all I ever wanted, to be in the big leagues. I was a little scrawny kid and my ignorance was probably bliss.”6

Scrawny indeed. Weiss packed 105 pounds on his 5-foot-3 frame as a freshman at Suffern High School.

Despite his lack of size at the time, his sports idol was a football player, the Miami Dolphins’ Mercury Morris. Weiss’s first youth football team was named the Dolphins. Morris wore number 22 on his Dolphins jersey and Weiss would adopt that jersey number throughout his career.7

As a teenager, Weiss’s work ethic matched his mental and physical toughness. His high-school baseball coach at Suffern, Jerry Magurno, said he didn’t remember having any player more dedicated than Weiss.8

That dedication served Weiss well in other sports as well. He was Suffern’s quarterback his senior season and he also excelled on the track, where he was part of the Mounties’ county-championship 4X400 relay team.

But it was on the Suffern High School baseball field (named Walt Weiss Field in 1999) that Weiss was at his best.9 He was the Rockland County (New York) player of the year in 1982. After his high-school career, the Baltimore Orioles drafted him in the 10th round of the 1982 amateur draft.10

However, instead of turning pro and joining the Orioles organization, Weiss chose to attend the University of North Carolina, the first on either side of his family to go to college.

Weiss had other interests besides sports as a young man, one of which was music. He had become a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. His favorite Springsteen album was Darkness on the Edge of Town and his favorite song from that album was “Prove It All Night.”11

“He had a huge impact on me as a young adult,” said Weiss. “That’s the power of Springsteen. Everyone thinks the songs were written for them.”12 

After three all-conference seasons at North Carolina, the Oakland A’s drafted Weiss in the first round with the 11th overall pick in the 1985 draft.13 Weiss hit a combined .261 in 1985, splitting time between Modesto of the California League and Pocatello of the Pioneer League. In 1986, after hitting .301 through 84 games at Madison in the Class-A Midwest League, Weiss jumped to Double-A Huntsville in the Southern League, where he hit .250.

In 1987 he had successful stints with Huntsville and Tacoma of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League before making his major-league debut on July 12, 1987, at age 23. His first big-league action was as a pinch-runner for Mark McGwire. He was promptly picked off and tagged out at second base.14

Nevertheless, Weiss impressed the A’s brass enough in that first stint in the big leagues that the team traded incumbent shortstop Alfredo Griffin in December of 1987, opening up the starting shortstop job for Weiss.

The next season, 1988, he was a key player on the Oakland A’s team that won 104 regular-season games. Weiss had only a decent season at the plate, hitting .250 with an OBP of .312. However, he was rock-solid in the field with a .979 fielding percentage in 700 chances. He was named American League Rookie of the Year after that campaign, the third A’s player in a row to win the honor (following Jose Canseco in 1986 and McGwire in 1987).15

The 1988 season ended in disappointing fashion, as the A’s lost in the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Weiss made a critical error in a Game Four loss. Weiss also struggled at the plate in the World Series, hitting .063 after hitting .333 in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox.

However, 1989 had a happier ending, as the A’s became world champions in what was called the “Earthquake Series,” due to a major earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay Area before the start of Game Three. Weiss hit a home run during that World Series.16 Overall, his postseason hitting woes continued as he hit only .133 in the World Series and .111 in the ALCS against Toronto. Weiss hit .233 during an injury-marred regular season.

In 1990 Weiss had one of his most productive seasons at the plate, hitting .265 with a .337 OBP. However, once again, he struggled hitting in the postseason. He was hitless in seven at-bats in the A’s ALCS matchup with Boston. He was injured during that series and missed the A’s World Series loss — four games to none — to the Cincinnati Reds.

Weiss suffered a horrendous injury on June 6, 1991, in a game against Milwaukee. He rolled his left ankle lunging for first base. His left fibula came through the bottom of his leg and was only held on by skin. He was bleeding profusely and needed a transfusion. The doctor told Weiss that if the injury had occurred 15 years earlier he likely would’ve faced amputation because medical procedures for his injury were less advanced at that time.17 Weiss hit an anemic .226 during another injury-marred campaign in 1991.

After Weiss hit only .212 for the 1992 A’s, he was traded to the Florida Marlins, becoming an inaugural member of that expansion franchise in the process. Early in that 1993 campaign, Weiss drove in the first run in Marlins history.18 He enjoyed a healthy season and hit .266 while continuing to be a dependable fielder.

In 1994 Weiss moved to the Colorado Rockies via free agency. Thus, he became the first player to play for both of the 1993 expansion teams, Florida and Colorado.19 He was relatively healthy for the Rockies and hit .251 with 12 stolen bases, a major-league season high at that point.

In 1995 Weiss was the shortstop for the first Rockies team to make the postseason. He was solid, and occasionally spectacular, in the field and hit .260 that season with a .403 OBP. Weiss hit .300 the last month of the season to help the Rockies secure a wild-card playoff berth. His OBP was .375 in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves but the Rockies fell, three games to one.

During the 1996 campaign with the Rockies, Weiss had the best offensive season of his career, hitting .282 with 8 home runs and 48 runs batted in. There would be no postseason action, however, as the Rockies finished third in the NL West.

Weiss completed his four years with the Rockies by hitting .270 and fielding at a .983 clip in 1997. After the season, he became a free agent. The Rockies were interested in re-signing him but there was internal talk about moving him to second base. Weiss wanted to keep playing shortstop and started to look elsewhere for employment.

Weiss eventually signed with the Atlanta Braves and made the 1998 National League All-Star Team as a starter at shortstop. He had two hits and an RBI in the game. It was the only All-Star Game appearance of his playing career.

The 1998 All-Star Game held special meaning for Weiss because his 3-year-old son, Brody, was in attendance. A week before the game, Brody was in a coma in an Atlanta hospital, a victim of the E. coli bacteria. His recovery was in doubt for several days, so to be able to wave to Brody in the stands at the All-Star Game was the highlight of the night for Weiss.20

Weiss ended up hitting .280 for the 1998 season and the Braves won 106 regular-season games but would fall to the San Diego Padres in the NLCS.

Following his outstanding 1998 campaign, age and injuries began to affect Weiss. In 1999 his batting average dropped 54 points to .226. The Braves, however, had a stellar season as a team, ultimately getting to the World Series, where they lost to the New York Yankees. Weiss was productive at times during the Braves’ postseason run, including hitting .286 with two doubles and two stolen bases in the NLCS against the New York Mets.

The standout moment for Weiss during the 1999 playoffs was a game-saving play against the Houston Astros in the NLDS. In the bottom of the 10th inning of Game Three, the Astros loaded the bases in a tie game. Weiss made an outstanding diving play on a groundball and threw home for the force out to preserve the tie. The Braves would go on to win the game.21

The 2000 season was Weiss’s last as a player. He hit .260 in only 192 at-bats, as injuries and the emergence of Rafael Furcal limited Weiss’s time at shortstop. In the NLDS, he hit .667 in limited action. The Braves were swept in three games by the St. Louis Cardinals in the series. Furcal wound up winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2000. 

For his career, Weiss made the playoffs in eight of his 14 seasons and played on four World Series teams, including the 1989 world champion A’s. He was a middling hitter, even for a shortstop (career marks of .258, 25 home runs, and 386 RBIs). But he had a strong career on-base percentage of .351. His career WAR was 16.5 and his lifetime fielding percentage was .970.22 An interesting piece of trivia is that Weiss ended his career with 658 walks and 658 strikeouts in 1,495 games.

Throughout his career, Weiss was known as a dependable player. He typically was at his best when the pressure was the greatest.

“There wasn’t any deer in the headlights for Walt,” said his manager with the Oakland A’s, Tony La Russa. “One of the ways to judge a shortstop is how he handles a groundball with the winning run on third base in the eighth or ninth inning. He would field it calmly and coolly.”23 

Somewhat ironically, given his reputation as a very good defensive shortstop — and because he always seemed to make the clutch play in the field — he holds the Rockies franchise record for most errors by a shortstop in a season with 30 in 1996.24

Besides being a coach’s dream due to his outstanding work ethic and poise on the diamond, Weiss was also known as a great teammate. Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto, a former teammate of Weiss’s, said Weiss was the best teammate he ever had.25

Weiss stayed in shape after his playing career ended by becoming a black belt in taekwondo.

“I knew he was tough, I didn’t know he was nuts,” said La Russa of Weiss’s martial arts adventures.26 

Weiss also remained close to the game after his playing days ended. He served as an instructor and special assistant to the general manager for the Rockies from 2002 to 2008, filling a variety of roles during that period.

He then took a sabbatical from the professional game to coach his sons. Weiss and his wife, Terri, have four sons, Blake, Brody, Bo and Brock. His property, just outside of Denver, included not only his family’s house but also a regulation baseball field and indoor batting cage.27 It was a dream scenario for baseball-loving kids.

“What makes it neat is they’re old enough to really take in some of the finer points of the game and you’re involved with them at a time in their lives where they really have most of their goals in front of them,” said Weiss at the time.28

Weiss would eventually become an assistant football and baseball coach at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. He eventually took over the head job for the Regis baseball program, leading his team to the state 5A semifinals in his first year at the helm.

All of Walt’s sons followed him into baseball. Blake, his oldest, was a center fielder before switching to track. As of 2017, Brody was an infielder at Westmont College. He began his college career at UC Santa Barbara. Bo was a pitcher at North Carolina, his dad’s alma mater. Youngest son Brock was a shortstop and right-handed pitcher for Regis Jesuit High School.

After his stint as a high-school coach, Weiss’s life and career took a surprising turn. Rockies executives began talking to him about his thoughts regarding potential new managers to replace the departed Jim Tracy. Tracy had left the Rockies after the 2012 season, which produced a franchise-worst record of 64-98. As those discussions progressed, it quickly became clear to Weiss that he had transitioned from team consultant to candidate for the Colorado Rockies managerial opening.

He outlined his managerial philosophy for Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd and shortly thereafter became the surprise choice to be named the sixth manager of the Colorado Rockies on November 7, 2012.29 

Fans and members of the media expressed shock at the hire simply because Weiss’s only managerial experience to that point had come at the high-school level.

However, after a closer look, it was clear that Weiss had a ton of baseball experience. He was an American League Rookie of the Year, National League All-Star, and world champion as a player. He’d also served as an on-field instructor — and often coached on the bench during Rockies’ home games — and assistant to the general manager in his post-playing days. During his 14-year major-league baseball career, Weiss played for, and learned from, some of the game’s best managers (Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Rene Lachemann, and Don Baylor). 

“I hear people saying he’s a high-school coach,” said former Rockies teammate Dante Bichette, who would become a coach on Weiss’s first staff. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, he’s a high-school coach with a World Series ring, umpteen years (in the majors) and an All-Star Game. There’s a little difference.’”30 

On the home front, the move from the Regis Jesuit High School dugout to the Colorado Rockies dugout was a big change for Weiss’s wife and children.

Bo, a pitcher at Regis Jesuit when his father was managing the Rockies, said the shift from having Walt as a full-time dad and high-school baseball coach to Rockies manager took some adjusting.

“We get an inside scoop on a lot of things, which is really cool, and most people would give the world for that,” said Bo. “But it also comes with cons: We don’t get to see my dad as much and he doesn’t get to watch our seasons in the spring. But ultimately I wouldn’t have it any other way. Baseball is really all I’ve known.”31

Despite the surprise factor, the Weiss hire resulted in a lot of fan excitement in Colorado. Weiss was seen as a popular former player who was coming back to manage the team, and, hopefully, lead the franchise out of its recent doldrums.

Shortly after Weiss was hired, the Denver Beer Company developed a new beer called the “Walt Weiss.” It was a wheat beer with banana and clove flavors.32

In Weiss’s first game as a big-league manager, April 1, 2013, the Rockies lost 5-4 to the Milwaukee Brewers in 10 innings. However, the Rockies soon went on an eight-game winning streak, which put their record at 13-4. That mark represented the franchise’s most games over .500 during Weiss’s tenure.33

Overall, Weiss’s first year as manager of the Rockies was a rough one, as the team finished 74-88 in 2013. Nevertheless, that was a 10-game improvement over Jim Tracy’s final season in Denver.

The 2014 campaign saw Weiss and the Rockies take a step back. The Rockies finished 66-96. On September 15, the Rockies lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 11-3. The loss put the team at 32 games under .500, at 59-91, the low-water mark for Weiss’s time as Rockies manager.34

The struggles on the field continued in 2015, as the Rockies managed to improve by only two games over the disastrous 2014 season, finishing 68-94.

During the 2015 season, Weiss had to undergo an appendectomy on May 13. He had been struggling with stomach pain for a couple of days and went to the hospital before the game that night against the Angels at Angel Stadium. The Rockies had lost 10 straight games at the time. Bench coach Tom Runnells managed the team against the Angels on May 13 and the Rockies lost their 11th straight, 2-1.35

The 2016 season was one of promise for Weiss and the Rockies as the season moved into August. On August 3, the Rockies were only three games back of the second National League wild-card spot after beating the Dodgers to move their record to 54-53. The team faltered after that, finishing well out of the playoffs.36 Nevertheless, the 2016 season turned out to be Weiss’s best at the helm, as the team finished 75-87.

But it wasn’t good enough to keep his job, as Weiss and the Rockies parted ways at the end of the season. 

Ultimately, Weiss managed the Rockies to a 283-365 record during his four-year tenure. Despite the mediocre won-lost record, it was commonly felt that Weiss had left the team in a better place than where he found it. For one thing, he was widely credited with creating a positive culture in a clubhouse that had grown complacent with losing.

“Unbelievable grasp of players,” said Rockies catcher Nick Hundley in September 2016, shortly before Weiss and the Colorado franchise parted ways. “To a man, everybody respects him. When he talks, everybody listens, and those are great qualities to have.”37

Officially, Weiss resigned after the 2016 season, but it was widely expected that Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich was about to let him go anyway. Weiss’s contract had expired and the Rockies hadn’t shown much interest in re-signing him. Multiple reports suggested that Weiss and Bridich simply didn’t see eye-to-eye. According to some sources, Weiss was left out of major decisions during his last season as manager.38

“I only want to be where I’m wanted,” said Weiss at the time. “If I’m not wanted, I just leave. It’s one of my rules in life. I don’t stay anywhere where I’m not wanted. I just go, I just disappear. … I want to make sure that people want me, from top to bottom. If not, I don’t want to be here.”39

After Weiss’s departure, All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado said that he was a manager whom “every player respects, everyone around the game respects. You don’t find those people too often.”40

Weiss was praised for helping to develop a nice core of young players during his four-year stint as Rockies manager.41 Those young players would go on to play a big role in the Rockies run to a wild-card playoff spot in 2017, under new manager Bud Black.

In terms of the baseball side of the franchise, Weiss served the Colorado Rockies in more roles than any other person in team history. He had three stints with the Rockies: 1994-97 as a player; 2002-08 as an instructor and special assistant to the general manager; and 2013-16 as manager.

After he sat out the 2017 baseball season, Weiss’s career in major-league baseball resumed on November 10, 2017, when he was hired by the Atlanta Braves to be their new bench coach.42 

Last revised: April 1, 2018

 

This biography appears in "Major League Baseball A Mile High: The First Quarter Century of the Colorado Rockies" (SABR, 2018), edited by Bill Nowlin and Paul T. Parker.

 

Notes

1 Kevin Armstrong, “Colorado Manager, Walt Weiss, Raised in Suffern, Living the Mile High Life With the Rockies,” New York Daily News, May 11, 2013.

2 Troy Renck, “Walt Weiss Was Born to Run the Colorado Rockies,” Denver Post, April 30, 2016.

3 Armstrong.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Renck.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Leland Gordon, “High School Baseball Fields Named After MLB Stars, Managers,” MaxPreps.com, June 24, 2014.

10 https://baseball-almanac.com/draft/baseball-draft.php?yr=1982.

11 Armstrong.

12 Renck.

13 https://espn.com/mlb/draft/history/_/team/oak.

14 Armstrong.

15 https://whitecleatbeat.com/2016/03/24/thursday-throwback-oakland-athleti....

16 Mike Penner, “The World Series: Oakland Athletics vs. San Francisco Giants,” Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1989.

17 Neil Devlin, “Managing the Boys,” Mile High Sports, April 17, 2017.

18 https://miami.marlins.mlb.com/mia/history/club_firsts.jsp.

19 https://baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=weisswa01.

20 Ross Newhan, “Stricken Son Tested All-Star Weiss’ Faith,” Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1998.

21 https://bleacherreport.com/articles/696319-the-best-game-saving-plays-in....

22 https://baseball-reference.com/players/w/weisswa01.shtml.

23 Renck.

24 baseball-almanac.com.

25 Renck.

26 Armstrong.

27 Ibid.

28 Brian Howell, “Former Major Leaguer Walt Weiss Enjoying First Year as Regis Jesuit Baseball Coach,” MaxPreps.com, May 4, 2012.

29 “Walt Weiss Named Sixth Manager in Rockies History,” MLB.com, November 7, 2102.

30 Armstrong.

31 Morgan Dzakowic, “Bo Weiss, Son of Walt Weiss, Knows the Wins, Outs of the Family Business,” Denver Post, August 2, 2016.

32 Armstrong.

33 Nick Kosmider, “Walt Weiss Timeline of Four Years as Rockies Manager,” Denver Post, October 3, 2016.

34 Kosmider.

35 https://si.com/mlb/2015/05/14/colorado-rockies-walt-weiss-appendectomy.

36 Kosmider.

37 Robert Murray, “Walt Weiss Could Join Braves Coaching Staff,” FANRAG, October 17, 2017.

38 Patrick Saunders, “Walt Weiss. Run With Rockies Likely Over as Distance From GM Jeff Bridich Grows,” Denver Post, October 2, 2016.

39 Ibid.

40 Associated Press, “Walt Weiss Out as Rockies Manager After Four Seasons,” Denver Post, October 4, 2016.

41 Ben Macaluso, “The 100 Greatest Colorado Rockies: 50 Walt Weiss,” roxpile.com, March 23, 2017.

42 Mark Bowman, “Former Rox Manager Weiss Joins Braves’ Staff,” MLB.com, November 10, 2017.