Rockies Sign Manager Leyland

Jim Leyland became the new manager of the Colorado Rockies because he knew he wouldn't be the only free agent the team would sign.

Armed with the promise that fan-rich Colorado will pursue premium free agents such as Mike Piazza and Kevin Brown, Leyland was introduced Wednesday as the second manager in Rockies history.

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Leyland praised fired manager Don Baylor and said he will always be remembered as the first manager of the Rockies.

"I bring no special tonic with me," he said after putting on a Rockies shirt. "I can be ornery at times. I can be cold at times. I can be rough at times. Don't take that too seriously. I'm dedicated to getting this organization into postseason play."

Given a $6 million, three-year contract, a record for a manager, Leyland plans on staying longer than the two roller-coaster years he spent in Florida.

Leyland expects his players to stay longer, too -- especially the ones who have yet to arrive. He's the first Rockies free agent under contract for 1999, but probably not the last.

"It's a great place to play, and I think we'll get it going there," Leyland said Tuesday before leaving his Pittsburgh home for Denver. "I don't have a timetable, but we've got a shot."

Jim Leyland
The fireworks could fly at Coors Field with Jim Leyland at the helm. (AP)

Most of all, the Rockies have money -- something Leyland rarely had to work with uring 11 seasons in Pittsburgh or this season in Florida, after the Marlins quickly disassembled their World Series championship team. They pared their payroll from about $50 million in September 1997 to about $5 million last month.

It is this newfound stability in payroll, ownership, attendance and player loyalty that persuaded Leyland, a former NL manager of the year, to replace Baylor.

"This franchise is one of the most successful not just in baseball, but in all of sports. They put 45,000-50,000 people in there (Coors Field) every night," Leyland said. "They have a chance to win, and now we'll find out if we can. I feel like we've got a chance."

They'll have a better chance if they can sign a catcher, another starting pitcher and a center fielder. Owner Jerry McMorris is talking of bumping the payroll from about $50 million to $60 million, enough to sign at least one top free agent and maybe two.

No doubt Brown, who played for Leyland last season, and Piazza, who spent a week with the Marlins this season, are on the Rockies' wish list.

"That (the payroll) was a huge factor," Leyland said. "I loved both places I've been. But, from a career standpoint, it is the most stable situation I've had, without a doubt. The only question is if we can get good enough. They need more chemistry there. But it's not a situation where everybody is up in the air every year."

The offense is already there, with 1997 NL MVP Larry Walker, the power-hitting Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette and Todd Helton and the fast-improving Neifi Perez.

But it's the opposition's offense in hitter-friendly Coors Field that worries Leyland.

"I've always said it's the toughest place in the majors to manage," he said. "We've got to do a psych job on some of those promising arms they've got there."

Leyland is expected to bring along four coaches from Florida and Pittsburgh: hitting coach Milt May, third base coach Rich Donnelly, first base coach Tommy Sandt and bullpen coach Bruce Kimm. He also will hire his own pitching coach.

The 53-year-old Leyland is 996-1,039 in 13 major-league seasons, winning three division championships (1990-1992 in Pittsburgh), one NL pennant and one World Series.

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