Rockies parallel Indians teams of 1990s

Rockies parallel Indians teams of 1990s

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Go back a decade and a half, change purple and black to red and blue, and nothing has changed for Dan O'Dowd.

As general manager of the Rockies, O'Dowd is following a similar blueprint to the one the Indians used when he was their assistant general manager under John Hart. They built a longtime contender, locking up young players.

Coming off a trip to the World Series last season, the Rockies spent this winter signing farm system products. Pitcher Aaron Cook, outfielder Matt Holliday, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, reliever Manny Corpas and, on Tuesday, right fielder Brad Hawpe have signed multiyear contracts since the end of the Series. No. 1 pitcher Jeff Francis signed a similar deal last year. All except for Holliday have given up free agency.

"We have a lot of things we still need to accomplish, but as we sit here today we've made a lot of progress," O'Dowd said on Tuesday. "We have a great group of guys here. They're very unselfish and they see the big picture. We have a very special environment and a good culture. The very bottom line is we've got men of good character.

"I feel strongly that every young player should always take security if it's offered to him his first time because you never know. Usually, that relaxes them to be good players."

Hey, it worked in Cleveland.

O'Dowd and Hart concocted their plan on the flight back from losing a 1992 arbitration case to pitcher Greg Swindell, who was the definition of serviceable but wound up one of the 10 highest-paid pitchers in the game because of the decision.

So the Indians signed young stars such as second baseman Carlos Baerga, pitcher Charles Nagy, catcher Sandy Alomar and outfielder Albert Belle. Others signed during that spree were pitchers Jack Armstrong, Dave Otto and Scott Scudder, and outfielders Mark Whiten and Glenallen Hill. Some of them contributed more than others.

Also, the Indians developed outfielder Manny Ramirez and first baseman Jim Thome, nabbed outfielder Kenny Lofton, closer Jose Mesa and shortstop Omar Vizquel -- inexpensive young talents -- from other clubs.

The result was trips to the World Series in 1995 and 1997. O'Dowd noted that the full success will be known when some who wore the uniform are enshrined in Cooperstown and others have their credentials for the Hall of Fame seriously debated.

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Like with the Indians, the Rockies' plan was spurred by paying too much for pitching. In the Rockies' case, they signed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, for a total of $172.5 million before the 2001 season. Hampton was gone after two years of an eight-year deal and Neagle was gone after three years of a five-year contract.

It seems to be working for the Rockies, who made their first World Series last season and figure to be a threat in the NL West for the foreseeable future. O'Dowd is not willing to count the future Hall of Famers with the Rockies. But he said this team compares favorably to those Indians in some respects.

"That was an unbelievably talented group, but this is a closer-knit team from a team concept standpoint," O'Dowd said. "We didn't win a World Series there because I don't know if we were truly a team at times. We had a lot of individual stars."

The current Rockies have a far less veteran flavor than the Indians. First baseman Todd Helton, who debuted with the Rockies in 1997, is the club's senior player, but catcher Yorvit Torrealba is the only other regular who has been around long enough to have been through free agency (he re-signed with the Rockies this winter). Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, and productive pitchers Dennis Martinez and Orel Hershiser were brought in when the Indians felt they needed leadership.

Hill, now the Rockies' third base coach, said the peer pressure with the Rockies to play the game correctly is similar to what went on in Cleveland. How the teams fosters that attitude is different, however.

"I know Carlos Baerga was a very inviting teammate -- he was excited about getting ready and every aspect of the game, and that was really good energy," Hill said. "There's not that type of player here.

"This team has a totally different style. I think that there is an intensity that is just present. The focus is present. You come in and just become a part of it. To try to put words to it, I don't know if I can do that. I think 10 years from now, maybe we can put some words to it."

The Rockies hope the words World Series champion become part of that description.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.