TUCSON -- It's safe to say that the last three years haven't gone exactly as Dan O'Dowd hoped they would.
Three years ago, O'Dowd was enjoying his first spring training as general manager of the Colorado Rockies, having been hired away from the Cleveland Indians -- where he'd been assistant GM under John Hart. In 2000, O'Dowd's first season, the Rockies won 82 games. But in each of the last two seasons, the Rockies have finished 73-89.
Monday afternoon, under a hazy sky at Hi Corbett Field, I sat down with O'Dowd and plied him with questions while the Rockies were beating the Cubs. ...
Neyer: What do you know today, that you didn't know when you took this job?
O'Dowd: I've discovered that it's a lot harder to be a GM than it is to be an assistant GM. It's easier to recommend things than it is to make decisions on things. I didn't have any idea about dealing with the media. There's the management of people, which is something that you have to do almost constantly. Since coming here from Cleveland, I've learned that no two situations are the same; a lot of the things that worked in Cleveland don't necessarily apply here.
I don't think I had a good grasp of the market dynamics that come along with this job. It might have been better to be patient, and let things play out rather than being aggressive, which is my nature. I inherited an older club that had lost 90 games in a difficult division, and I thought it was only going to get worse. I don't think I truly understood what an affinity the people had for the Bichettes and the Castillas before I let them go.
Neyer: Yeah, but what else could you have done?
O'Dowd: Maybe I should have waited for them to fail more before I shipped them out. You've got to be patient. I really thought that in two seasons, I could change our destiny a little bit. I realize now that it's a cumulative effort by a group of people over a long period of time, making a lot of little decisions, that allows you to be successful. It's not any one person.
And obviously, the dynamics of where we play and how that plays out ... I didn't have a clue. I thought I knew, but I didn't know. It's been a long learning curve, and a painful one. I've paid a lot for the master's degree, with all the money I spent on (Mike) Hampton, specifically. Now I just don't think that sort of investment, in our ballpark, really works.
Neyer: Let's say that tomorrow you accept the job as Commissioner of Major League Baseball. What's your advice to your successor?
O'Dowd: First of all, keep it very simple. I think that the more complicated you make it, the worse it gets. So the theories that you come up with, keep them as simple as you possibly can. And second, you play in the most prolific offensive ballpark in the history of the game. So build the most prolific offensive ballclub that you possibly can. If you're going to make commitments, make commitments to your position players. Keep as much flexibility as you can with your pitching staff. Draft the (heck) out of your starting pitching. Rebuild your bullpen, year in and year out.
Neyer: I know you've got evidence suggesting that playing in your home environment, while it obviously helps Rockies hitters put up some big numbers, also tires them out, which contributes to the club's poor record in one-run games. What can you do about that?
O'Dowd: You have to keep everybody as fresh as possible, physically and mentally. It starts with the type of people we bring in here, and knowing that the 25th guy on the roster is just as important as the very first guy. Everything we do, we have to do as a team, and we have to play that way every day. To win on the road, you have to do all the little things right, offensively, if you're going to grind out runs.
That isn't the same for every club, but the dynamics of our situation where the differences are so great, in the venues we play in, that we really have to master that. We have to create a mind-set where we can power through that. Because the physics are not going to change. What a fastball does in our park, compared to what it does in another park ... that is not going to change. So our mindset has to change accordingly.
And I think we have to ask our front-line players to occasionally take a day off at home, which of course isn't something they like to do because everybody wants to hit at Coors Field.
Neyer: When you were in Cleveland, was Mark Shapiro there?
O'Dowd: I hired Mark.
Neyer: I read an interview with him last week, and I couldn't have been more impressed with how articulate he was. And it seems to me that a lot of truly bright people are running major-league teams these days.
O'Dowd: I think baseball needs to attract as many bright people to our game as we can find. Bright people will make better decisions for the game as a whole, and keep the game healthy in the process.
Neyer: There's certainly no shortage of bright people who want to be in baseball, so it's really just a matter of inviting them in.
O'Dowd: Right. I think as more guys like Theo Epstein and Mark Shapiro and Billy Beane, and eventually Paul DePodesta and Josh Byrnes, become GM's, they will, in turn, hire people like that, just as I hired Thad Levine. Thad's a hell of a lot smarter than I am, and you try to hire as many smart people as you can.
You need to balance that, though. There are two types of intelligence in baseball. There's intellectual intelligence, which we don't have enough of, but you have to balance that with instinctive intelligence, with people who really know the game and can apply it so that other people can understand it. You need a mixture of those two types because intellectually intelligent people need to learn from the instinctively intelligent people, so that when they become leaders they have a better idea of what the game is all about. And it's a very humbling game. Every night, you get humbled.
Neyer: Is your goal, professionally, to win this year? Or do you spend a lot of time thinking about building something that's going to last?
O'Dowd: Well, we all want to win. But after going to the World Series twice with Cleveland, I really believe so much of it is fate and destiny. Whether a ball gets hit 10 inches one way or the other. To build a quality organization, as determined by: how many of your people go on to accomplish other things; how competitive you are, year in and year out; how stable you are in your decision-making process, year in and year out ... I think that's my goal, more than anything else.
Neyer: Are you still having fun?
O'Dowd: Oh yeah. It's always challenging, but I think when a job becomes not fun, you need to get out and do something else.
Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published in April by Fireside, appears here regularly during the season and irregularly in the offseason. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.