3 Colorado Rockies For the power-packed Rockies, success--or failure--is still up in the air

March 29, 1999
March 29, 1999

Table of Contents
March 29, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
1999 Baseball Preview

3 Colorado Rockies For the power-packed Rockies, success--or failure--is still up in the air

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

This is an article from the March 29, 1999 issue Original Layout

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."

Colorado tried and failed to sign pitcher Kevin Brown, which
means that Leyland is the only major addition to a club that
finished a befuddling 21 games behind the Padres in the National
League West last season. The first thing Leyland told the
Rockies players was that he wouldn't make a difference. In so
doing, he might have made all the difference.

"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

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

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."

More important, Leyland has to find a way of guiding his
rotation through the dangers of pitching in Coors Field. "I'm
sure I'll get booed some nights for leaving a starting pitcher
in longer than the fans think I should," Leyland says. "I
managed in the American Association years ago and used to come
through Denver, and a wise man gave me some good advice about
playing in this altitude: Don't be so quick with your pitchers."
Leyland has made the rare move of converting a hitting coach,
former catcher Milt May, to pitching coach. That'll give the
Rockies' staff a different perspective.

"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."


COLOR PHOTO: WILLIAM R. SALLAZ/MLB The gritty Walker, whose power was cut by injuries last year, has signed a six-year deal and hopes to reclaim the pop that made him MVP in 1997.COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 77-85 (fourth in NL West)

HOME RUNS 183 (4)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .295 (15)
ERA 5.00 (15)
FIELDING PCT. .984 (6)

Home Is Where the Homers Are

Dante Bichette has hit more dingers at home than on the road in
each of the past seven years (dating back to his last season
with the Brewers). No player has had a longer such streak since
the Yankees' Don Mattingly (1984-91). Among the 205 players in
major league history with at least 200 career homers, only Bill
Dickey hit a greater percentage of his home runs at home than
Bichette has.

Player Team(s) Total HR Home HR Road HR Pct.
Years Played

Bill Dickey Yankees 202 135 67 .668

Dante Bichette Angels, Brewers, 205 135 70 .659
1988-98 Rockies

Cy Williams Cubs, Phillies 251 165 86 .657

Bob Horner Braves, Cardinals 218 142 76 .651

Bobby Doerr Red Sox 223 145 78 .650

Rico Carty Braves, Rangers, 204 132 72 .647
1963-79 Cubs, Athletics,
Indians, Blue Jays

Rico Petrocelli Red Sox 210 134 76 .638

Chuck Klein Phillies, Cubs, 300 190 110 .633
1928-44 Pirates

Mel Ott Giants 511 323 188 .632

Ron Santo Cubs, White Sox 342 216 126 .632

Next Up...

In 1996, while sliding into second with his first major league
hit, pitcher Jamey Wright suffered an injury to his right knee.
He would need three cartilage operations over the next two
years. "This is the first time I had the whole off-season to get
ready," says the righthander, 24, who's expecting big things
from himself and fellow righthanded starter John Thomson, 25.
Wright was a first-round pick in '93, and Thomson was drafted
six rounds later. Last year, in their first full season in the
majors, Wright was 9-14 and Thomson 8-11. "This is the year both
of us need to step up and get 12 to 15 wins," Wright says. "I
really think we're the key to our team's making the playoffs."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Jim Leyland (first season with Colorado)


CF Darryl Hamilton L-R 111 .308 6 51 13
SS Neifi Perez S-R 194 .274 9 59 5
LF Dante Bichette R 18 .331 22 122 14
RF Larry Walker L-R 13 .363 23 67 14
3B Vinny Castilla R 9 .319 46 144 5
1B Todd Helton L 63 .315 25 97 3
2B Mike Lansing R 171 .276 12 66 10
C Kirt Manwaring R 276 .247 2 26 1


C Jeff Reed L-R 235 .290 9 39 0
IF Lenny Harris[1] L-R 349 .259 6 27 6
IF Kurt Abbott* R 354 .263 5 24 2
OF Angel Echevarria(R)[#] R 364 .326 15 60 0
OF Curtis Goodwin L 396 .245 1 6 5


RH Darryl Kile 66 13 17 6.5 1.53 5.20
RH Pedro Astacio 136 13 14 6.1 1.52 6.23
LH Brian Bohanon[1] 172 7 11 6.6 1.17 2.67
RH John Thomson 186 8 11 6.2 1.39 4.81
RH Jamey Wright 207 9 14 6.1 1.60 5.67


RH Dave Veres 114 3 1 8 1.23 2.83
RH Jerry DiPoto 159 3 4 19 1.21 3.53
LH Chuck McElroy 257 6 4 2 1.35 2.90
RH Mike DeJean 271 3 1 2 1.37 3.03
RH Curt Leskanic 276 6 4 2 1.52 4.40
LH Bobby Jones 315 7 8 0 1.55 5.22

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Combined AL and NL stats [#] Triple A stats