O’Dowd Honored by Baseball America
DENVER — On Opening Day of the 2009 season, the Colorado Rockies were the only team that had a homegrown player at every spot in the starting lineup.
And when the Rockies officially clinched the NL wild-card spot with a victory against Milwaukee on Oct. 1, each of the 10 players who appeared in the game were originally signed by the Rockies.
A decade after taking over as general manager of the Rockies, general manager Dan O’Dowd’s long-term plan for success was given a resounding endorsement.
“It is one thing to put players on the field who are homegrown,” O’Dowd said. “It’s another thing to put players on the field who are homegrown and good.”
The Rockies have become another thing. It is a team primarily built around players out of its own farm system, and that homegrown foundation has allowed the Rockies to enjoy the success of advancing to the postseason in two of the last three seasons.
What’s more, what needs the Rockies farm system was not able to provide, O’Dowd was able to fill from outside, in part by using parts that came from within the organization.
It is an approach that has earned O’Dowd Baseball America’s Executive of the Year Award, an honor he said is more a tribute of the people he “works with” than anything he has done, which isn’t really true.
Ownership certainly deserves some credit for having been patient with O’Dowd, ignoring the urge to make changes when the team struggled earlier in the decade, remaining committed to the long-term building process instead of creating turmoil that so often comes from impatience owners.
“Without (Dick and Charlie Monfort) buying into the process we get nowhere,’’ said O’Dowd. “They are the ones who had to share our vision and allow everything to develop.”
It is O’Dowd, however, who hired the decision-makers throughout the organization, and it is O’Dowd who provided the framework for how each job is handled.
“Bottom line,” said O’Dowd, “is baseball is a team sport, and the team extends well past the field. The key to what we have been able to do is the quality of the leadership we have in place, particularly in scouting and player development.’’
O’Dowd’s key lieutenants are Bill Schmidt, vice president of scouting, and Bill Geivett, vice-president, assistant general manager-baseball operations, who are friends, more than co-workers. And that, said O’Dowd, has been a benefit for the Rockies in the way their scouting and farm departments have worked together in building the big-league team.
“They are talented people, first of all, but they have a long, trusting relationship and they believe in what each other is capable of doing,” said O’Dowd. “Having them working together made the organization have the same vision. There is a seamless transition for the players when they move from scouting to player development.
“We have tremendous communications and trust between those two departments. I believe that separates the organization from others. And it starts with the relationship those two have.”
Schmidt was one of O’Dowd’s first hires when O’Dowd replaced Bob Gebhard as the Rockies general manager in September 1999. Geivett joined the Rockies a year later as the director of player personnel and in January 2005 was promoted into his current role, which opened when Josh Byrnes resigned to join the Boston Red Sox.
The emergence of Geivett as the player development equal of Schmidt in scouting was a boost to the organizational synergy. The two men are neighbors in the south Denver suburb of Parker. They drive to and from the ballpark together when both are in town. The families even vacation together.
Schmidt first became aware of Geivett when Schmidt was an assistant coach at Arizona State and Geivett was a third baseman at Cal-Santa Barbara. Later, when Schmidt was scouting for the Yankees, he recommended Geivett to fill a scouting position, and the relationship has grown from there. While Schmidt went to Cleveland before joining the Rockies, Geivett spent time with Montreal, Tampa Bay and the Dodgers.
“I can’t tell you how many hours we spent on the phone talking each other through situations we each faced,” said Schmidt. “I was a sounding board for him, and he was a sounding board for me.’’
And that relationship has grown in Colorado.
“We share the same goal,” said Schmidt. “We want to be part of the success of the Rockies.”
The success is beginning to come, but it hasn’t been easy.
When O’Dowd first was hired in Colorado he wanted to follow the path that he had been a part of in Cleveland, where as an assistant to general manager John Hart, he was part of a total dismantling of the Indians, and then the building of a franchise that ended a 41-year post-season drought in 1995, the first of what became six post-season appearances in a seven-year stretch.
Rockies ownership, however, was hesitant. Their franchise had reached the post-season in 1995, the first year of existence, faster than any previous expansion team, and then went on a lengthy period of thinking all it had to do was plug a couple holes to return to baseball’s Fall stage.
“The mindset was for us to try to rebuild and be competitive at the same time,” said O’Dowd. “The only clubs can do that are ones with a revenue base of more than $200 million a year. We are one of those franchises.”
When the Rockies had a winning record — albeit only 82-80 — in O’Dowd’s first year on the job, 2000, it only added to the hope of the owners that they could plug holes and win. That is when the defining moment in Rockies history came. The owners approved the signing of multi-year, high-priced deals to free-agent lefthanders Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. The ensuing on-field failures finally convinced ownership that the franchise had to start over from scratch.
There were moments of doubts. The Rockies lost 95 games in 2005, equaling the original expansion Rockies of 1993 for the worst record in franchise history. O’Dowd, however, was so convinced of a pending revival thanks to the farm system that he was able to convince the owners to remain calm.
“I think it is easier once you have been through (a major rebuilding) and I had seen it up close and personal in Cleveland,” said O’Dowd. “You know it can work. You have to stay patience, make good decisions and have some good fortune.”
All three of those came together in 2009.
There was that homegrown nucleus that included catcher
There was the wisdom to unload the unwanted contract of reliever Luis Vizcano on the Cubs for innings-eating starting pitcher Jason Marquis, who played a critical role when, as the Rockies expected, underwent shoulder surgery and missed the entire season.
There were trades of players developed within the organization, including sending Matt Holliday to Oakland for a package that included outfielder, and closer , and then the movement of prospects for the likes of right-handed starter (from Tampa Bay for Aneury Rodriguez), and in-season reinforcements that included right-handed setup man (from Cleveland for Connor Graham), left-handed reliever (from Washington for Ryan Mattheus and Robinson Fabian), and right-handed pitcher Jose Contreras (from the White Sox for Brandon Hynick).
“It’s all part of building from within,” said O’Dowd. “The players you develop may not be on your roster, but they can allow you to acquire players you will your needs. The key is having the organizational depth so you can make a move for short-term depth without creating a long-term void.”