The Cardinals wanted free agent Walt Weiss to be their shortstop for the 1996 season, but Weiss declined St. Louis’ offer because he was concerned how fans would react to him replacing Ozzie Smith.
St. Louis instead acquired shortstop Royce Clayton from the Giants. Weiss re-signed with the Rockies.
As Weiss anticipated, the transition of Smith from St. Louis starter to part-time player was marred by controversy. Smith felt he deserved to remain the everyday shortstop and he clashed with Tony La Russa when the manager chose Clayton as the starter in 1996. Meanwhile, Weiss quietly extended a four-year stretch as the Rockies’ regular shortstop.
On Nov. 9, 2012, Weiss was introduced as manager of the Rockies, replacing Jim Tracy. In media interviews, Weiss talked about his respect for La Russa but avoided discussion of why he didn’t accept the offer from general manager Walt Jocketty to join the 1996 Cardinals.
Weiss had started his major-league career in 1987 with the Athletics and played six seasons in Oakland for La Russa. During that time, Weiss won the American League Rookie of the Year Award and helped the Athletics win three pennants and a World Series title.
Traded by Oakland to the Marlins after the 1992 season, Weiss spent a year in Florida and then two with the Rockies. In November 1995, he declared for free agency.
When the Rockies offered him a two-year contract at $2 million per year, the Cardinals were prepared to counter with a two-year deal plus an option year at $2 million per year, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Cardinals were seeking a shortstop because of their concern about whether Smith, who hit .199 in 1995 and who was about to turn 41, could handle the everyday shortstop role in 1996.
On Nov. 20, 1995, St. Louis reporter Rick Hummel wrote: “Free-agent shortstop Walt Weiss apparently has whittled his list to two teams _ Colorado, for whom he played the last two seasons, and the Cardinals.”
A day later, the Rockies announced Weiss had accepted a $4.1 million two-year contract with a player option for 1998 to remain with Colorado.
“Going to St. Louis, I wouldn’t have had the fan support I have (in Denver), especially coming in behind Ozzie,” Weiss said to the Rocky Mountain News.
Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote that Weiss rejected the Cardinals “in part because he didn’t want to be the co-star in an Ozzie soap opera.”
Miklasz, writing with foresight, added: “La Russa should have the freedom to choose the lineup. If the Cardinals are serious about winning, then any Ozzie-related PR repercussions should be irrelevant … It’s too bad that this mutually beneficial relationship seems destined to end in so much rancor and bitterness.”
A .258 career hitter in 14 major-league seasons, Weiss was a terror against the Cardinals. The switch-hitter batted .333 (79-for-237) in 76 regular-season games against St. Louis. He had more hits versus the Cardinals than he did against any other team in his big-league career. Weiss batted .357 (41-for-115) in 35 regular-season games at Busch Stadium II.
Perhaps Weiss’ most memorable game against the Cardinals came in Game 1 of the 2000 National League Division Series, when St. Louis starter Rick Ankiel experienced his infamous meltdown.
Playing for the Braves in his final big-league game, Weiss started at shortstop in Game 1. (Rafael Furcal was the Braves’ second baseman that day.) In the third inning, Weiss delivered the two-run single that knocked Ankiel from the game after the left-hander had thrown five wild pitches and walked four that inning. It would be Weiss’ last hit of his big-league career. Boxscore
Wrote the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Walt Weiss had a superb day afield and at the plate, going 2-for-3 with two RBI and making a great catch on Andres Galarraga’s errant throw to second base in the third … With runners on first and second, Galarraga made a fine stop on Fernando Vina’s smash, but threw wildly to second. Weiss, fully extended, reached far and low to his right to catch the ball, then searched with his right foot before touching the bag for the force.”
In selecting Weiss to manage, the Rockies likely saw parallels with La Russa. Like Weiss, La Russa began his major-league playing career as an Athletics shortstop. La Russa was a positive influence on Weiss when he managed the shortstop in Oakland.
Interviewed by MLB.com columnist Tracy Ringolsby, Weiss said, “Tony taught me the finer points, foremost how to prepare. I see the game through his eyes. I’ve read his books over the last few years. He’s knowledgeable in baseball and even more than that in real life. We just see the game in very similar terms.”
Said La Russa to Ringolsby: “He (Weiss) excelled, he prepared and then, more importantly, he competed at a level higher than a lot of guys. It’s like studying for a test. Everybody can study for the test. Not everybody can take the test. He was a guy who really set the tone for the club.”