100 Things Rockies Fans Should Know & Do Before They Dieby Adrian Dater
With special stories and experiences from fans and memorable moments about past and present players and coaches, this lively, detailed book explores the personalities, events, and facts every Colorado Rockies fan should know. It contains crucial information such as important dates, player nicknames, singular achievements, and signature calls.… See more details below
With special stories and experiences from fans and memorable moments about past and present players and coaches, this lively, detailed book explores the personalities, events, and facts every Colorado Rockies fan should know. It contains crucial information such as important dates, player nicknames, singular achievements, and signature calls. This guide to all things Rockies covers the road to the 2007 season World Series, the early days of the franchise at Mile High Stadium, Denver's first All-Star Game in 1998, and how to make Rocky Mountain Oysters.
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100 Things Rockies Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Adrian Dater
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2009 Adrian Dater
All rights reserved.
Finally — A Team
On June 15, 1989, Major League Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth announced plans to expand by two teams some time in the near future. That set in motion a long, arduous, and complicated process by which the city of Denver tried to get one of the golden tickets of entry from the expansion committee.
Just about everybody who was anybody in Denver did something to help the bid. Governor Roy Romer solicited Colorado's movers and shakers nonstop for financial support. Senator Tim Wirth made not-so-subtle hints of introducing legislation that might lift baseball's antitrust immunity. Denver Mayor Federico Pena wined and dined members of the committee, even giving Pittsburgh Pirates executive and committee member Doug Danforth a key to the city shaped like a baseball bat.
Denver wanted a big-league baseball team, and it wanted it badly. But nobody expected it to really happen. Denver had been burned too many times before with "sure thing" promises of a team, only to be used as a pawn. Denver became the threat any baseball owner could make to their own city to get a new stadium. If an owner wasn't getting his way, he would invariably play the "Maybe we'll move to Denver" trump card and invariably get his way.
The closest Denver came to getting a team was in 1977, when it looked like a done deal that the Oakland A's would relocate there. A wire service report actually said the A's had been purchased by Denver billionaire oilman Marvin Davis. But the deal fell apart when A's owner Charlie Finley, going through a divorce at the time, had much of his assets frozen. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis was also threatening to move his NFL team to Los Angeles (which happened five years later), and the city of Oakland started to give the A's more concessions to keep them around.
Owners of the Chicago White Sox and Pirates also raised false hopes of Coloradoans that they would sell to Davis, who finally tired of being used and moved to Los Angeles to start a team in the USFL.
When Davis left, Denver was left with a void for the kind of financial heavy hitter who could bring in a Major League team, or so the skeptics said. The city had some people with money, but not the kind who could look at a big-league team as a toy.
Denver was starting to really transform itself in the early 1990s. No longer was it the boom-and-bust oil town of the past. Tens of thousands of young transplants poured into the city, lured by cheap real estate prices and jobs in burgeoning industries like telecommunications and computers. The lower downtown section of the city went from being a bowery-style district to one teeming with hip microbreweries and dot-com startups.
All of this impressed the eight-person MLB expansion committee, which came to Denver on March 26, 1991. The committee was composed of the Pirates' Danforth, National League president Bill White, Mets executive Fred Wilpon, Phillies exec Bill Giles, NL senior vice-president Phyllis Collins, NL public affairs VP Katy Feeney, and two NL secretaries.
Denver didn't just roll out red carpets and hand out keys to the city for committee members. There were helicopter tours, marching bands, and about 5,000 people singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" outside the United Bank Center, where the group got down to serious discussions over Denver's viability.
While the committee had reservations about who might own and operate a new team in Denver, it was bowled over by the civic enthusiasm. The citizenry had recently approved a sales tax increase to fund a new baseball stadium, and season-ticket deposits for a possible team had surpassed 28,000. A new team in Denver would be a guaranteed money-maker right away.
Still, the committee left town without making any promises. Other cities such as Orlando, Buffalo, Washington, Miami, and Tampa were also hungry for a team and gave the committee the same red-carpet treatment.
But in the end, Denver's hard work paid off. On July 3, 1991, Denver and Miami were officially awarded Major League expansion team.
It was eight years off, but Denver partied like it was 1999. It was officially a baseball town now. No more minor league status and broken hearts. However, there was still one more heart-stopping close call in store for the long-suffering Denver baseball fans.CHAPTER 2
Who Owns This Team?
When the Rockies were formally introduced to the world in the summer of 1991, three men stood next to a cardboard cutout of the newly designed team logo, all with beaming smiles under brand-new baseball caps.
They were the Rockies' three managing general partners: John Antonucci, Mickey Monus, and Steve Erhardt. Within two years, all three men would make unseemly exits from the Rockies, with one eventually serving 10 years in federal prison.
That last man was Monus, a quiet, rumpled-looking man from Youngstown, Ohio, who headed a discount pharmacy chain named Phar-Mor. Monus had an itch to use some of his many millions to get into pro sports, and he helped found the World Basketball League. He was also a big baseball fan, loving the Indians growing up, and he smelled an opportunity to get into the big time in Denver. Antonucci, the CEO of Superior Beverage in Youngstown, jumped at the chance to get in on things when Monus broached the possibility. Erhardt, a Boulder, Colorado, attorney, was the local player who could bridge all the business and political relationships the two Ohioans would need.
It seemed perfect, and for about a year, it was. Until, in the summer of 1992, reports surfaced of possible financial impropriety involving Monus and Phar-Mor. In time, the reports would all prove true.
In 1993, Monus was indicted on 129 counts of fraud and embezzlement by a federal grand jury. The Feds said Monus had grossly overstated Phar-Mor's earnings and improperly used company money, much of it on the WBL. Monus was convicted on 109 counts by a jury and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison.
He and his father, Nathan, were forced to liquidate their investment of $12.5 million in the Rockies. Antonucci was severely hurt by the eventual dissolution of Phar-Mor, as he had a sizeable amount of his own fortune invested in the company's stock.
It was a mess, and Major League Baseball wasn't happy. Suddenly, there was a $20 million shortfall in the money baseball required to keep the franchise solvent. One of the baseball committee's conditions in awarding the franchise was that ownership, if not locally based outright, would have a commitment to Colorado in general. That's why Antonucci made the decision to move his family to Colorado after the was expansion awarded.
Where would the Rockies find the local heavy hitters who could fill in the $20 million gap? This was not a town full of Donald Trumps or Mark Cubans, after all.
Baseball was sufficiently alarmed by the Monus debacle that reports surfaced that it might pull the newly awarded Denver franchise and give it to a group from Tampa. After all the close calls for Denver baseball fans, this was shaping up to be one final, cruel stake in their hearts.
That's when Jerry McMorris rode to the rescue.CHAPTER 3
Jerry McMorris — The Quiet Savior
One of the Rockies' original investors who paid $7 million of the $95 million expansion fee that MLB required, Jerry McMorris also ran a trucking company, Northwest Transport, which is one of the biggest in the Western U.S. A low-key man by nature, McMorris would unwittingly become the principal owner and face of the franchise.
After Monus and Antonucci pulled out their investments, the Rockies faced a $20 million shortfall. McMorris stepped in and pledged half of it, then went to work as a salesman again. Eventually, he got the rest from original investors Oren Benton, a local real estate CEO, and from the Monfort family, whose Greeley-based meatpacking company was one of the country's largest. Golden-based brewery, Coors, which had already promised $15 million to the franchise in exchange for naming rights to a new baseball stadium, also pitched in additional cash.
"Pressure was bearing down on us in terms of Major League Baseball's schedule, and, quite frankly, there was going to be a large amount of money due within a short time," McMorris recalled for The Denver Post.
Antonucci initially stayed on as the team's CEO, but he and Erhardt were eventually bought out by the new managing partnership, led by McMorris. McMorris was the type of businessman who preferred to keep his name out of the newspapers, but there was no way that could happen in his new role with the Rockies. Gradually, he became an eloquent spokesman for the franchise, and he was well-liked by his employees, including the players.
"He was a real good owner, but more than that, a real honest, down-to-earth person," said Rockies shortstop Walt Weiss.
McMorris was no George Steinbrenner type of owner. He generally left the manager and GM alone, but he considered himself a "baseball guy" after a while, and he could grow impatient at times with what he saw in front of him. He is widely believed to have ordered the 1995 trade that sent Andy Ashby and Brad Ausmus to San Diego for aging star Bruce Hurst and Greg Harris — a deal that failed miserably and one GM Bob Gebhard was opposed to making.
McMorris relinquished his role as team president in 2001 to Kelli McGregor, but friction between him and the Monfort brothers over control of the organization continued to grow. By 2005, McMorris sold his ownership shares to the Monforts, and today lives quietly on the family ranch in Colorado, rarely attending Rockies games.
"I originally thought I'd be involved for about 10 years. I was involved for 12 years," McMorris told The Denver Post. "I'll never forget the experience of going to spring training for the first time. Then there was our first opening day against the Mets in New York. We came back to Denver for the first home game, and Eric Young hit the home run leading off the bottom of the first inning. Then fast forward to the opening game in Coors Field, making the playoffs in 1995 and our All-Star Game in 1998. All those things were great for Denver."CHAPTER 4
Along with McMorris, the other face of the early Rockies was a gruff, chain-smoking, former Minnesota Twins pitcher named Bob Gebhard.
Gebhard, who worked his way up the baseball executive ladder previously with the Twins and Montreal Expos, was the team's first general manager — a job he held until 1999.
Gebhard called the shots on just about everything on the field for the Rockies — and most things off it. Nothing escaped his bespectacled attention, and he wasn't shy about telling anybody he felt wasn't getting the job done for the Rockies.
"Geb — he was one tough dude," said Rockies slugger Dante Bichette. "But he was tough for the right reasons. He cared so much about the organization. It was his baby."
Gebhard made all the first hires in the baseball operations, on a shoestring budget. The Rockies' first payroll was $8 million, and Gebhard had to learn to really stretch a dollar — at least, at first. Actually, that was something Gebhard was used to, having worked in the front office of the small-market Twins and who won the World Series in 1991.
But even by Twins standards, the Rockies' opening budget was tiny. Gebhard's initial budget for scouting — so important to an expansion team — was little more than $300,000. Heck, that's lunch money to some big-league front office people.
Maybe that's why Gebhard obsessed over the tiniest details in the beginning. He didn't really have many other people working with him. There was his assistant, Randy Smith, whose father Tal helped build the 1962 expansion Houston Colt .45's; Pat Daugherty, the first director of scouting; and Paul Egins, a former Atlanta Braves executive who was Daugherty's assistant and helped out with player development. They comprised nearly the entire initial Colorado Rockies front office.
Maybe that's also why Gebhard hardly ever slept. His ability to function without sleep was legendary. He seemed to function on only two things:
"Coffee and cigarettes," Bichette said. "I'm not sure I ever saw him without one of those two things in his hand. Usually, it was both."
Gebhard was hired by the Rockies while still with the Twins. The night the Twins won the '91 World Series, he was essentially being paid by two clubs. The day after Minnesota won, he was on a plane to Denver and got to work right away building a team from scratch.
One of his first jobs was to plan for the June 1992 baseball amateur draft. In the months leading up to the draft, Gebhard and his thin scouting staff traveled thousands of miles, trying to get a look at as many prospects as they could.
Gebhard believed baseball success was built on pitching, and that philosophy was evident on draft day. The first four picks, starting with Colorado native John Burke, were pitchers. Half of the 40 picks overall were pitchers. As the record showed, getting quality pitching in Denver — no matter what they had done before getting there — was nearly impossible in the early Rockies days.
But Gebhard never stopped trying, and he never stopped working. He was all Rockies, all the time, and his firing in 1999 was one of the toughest days in team history for all involved.
His last few years on the job were turbulent and, truth be told, failures on the field. But no one can take away the fact that Gebhard was the GM of the winningest NL expansion team in history and the one that made it to postseason play faster than any expansion team in modern baseball history.CHAPTER 5
Don Baylor, the first manager in Rockies history, never let them know it hurt.
Two hundred and forty seven — that is the number of times Baylor was hit by a pitch in his 19-year playing career, the fourth-highest total in major league history. Every time he was hit, no matter how hard or soft the pitch came in, Baylor would always just turn his shoulder, drop the bat, and jog to first base. Never would he grimace or hop around or glare at the pitcher. To Baylor, getting hit by a pitch meant a free base and a potential winning advantage to his team.
And Baylor's teams did a lot of winning. He is the only player in history to play in three straight World Series for different teams (Boston 1986, Minnesota 1987, and Oakland 1988).
He won a most valuable player award with the California Angels in 1979, leading the league with 139 RBIs. He played on the excellent Baltimore Orioles teams from 1970 to 1975, breaking in as a rookie on a team with legends Brooks and Frank Robinson.
He could do everything well except one thing. A high school football injury gave him one of the worst outfield throwing arms in the American League, which is why he spent most of his career as a designated hitter or first baseman.
Baylor, raised in a tough part of Texas that had little tolerance for racial segregation, carried that hard veneer into the majors. He never smiled or chit-chatted with opponents on the field. They were the enemy. Frank Robinson further influenced Baylor with the Orioles in those areas, because Robinson was one of the orneriest players of his era.
That Baylor followed Robinson as one of the first black managers in the sport was a surprise to no one. He was a true student of the game and a fearless, natural leader. He first showed his audacity as a person and player as a rookie with the Orioles when Frank Robinson asked a roomful of prospects, how any of them expected to crack a lineup full of so many top veterans, including him?
"Once I get in a groove, it doesn't really matter who is out there," Baylor spoke up from a corner of the locker room, as recounted in Once They Were Angels by Robert Goldman.
"Pretty brash words for a rookie, don't you think?" Robinson said, eyeing the youngster.
After some awkward silence, Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger finally spoke up and said "Groove — I like it, boys. That name's gonna stick."
And it did. That was his nickname the rest of his career, although he was also later referred to as "The Judge" for usually presiding over his team's Kangaroo Court, the way Robinson did with the Orioles, doling out fines for things such as failing to hit the cutoff man or hitting into a double play.
Baylor managed like he played. He stood stoic by the edge of the dugout, intently peering at the field. He made a lot of trips to the mound to take out pitchers, maybe more trips than any manager in history for some of those high-scoring early years in the thin Denver air.
But Baylor was the perfect manager for the fledgling team. His Rockies became the first expansion team of the modern era not to lose 100 games, and in 1995, he took a team to the playoffs faster than any expansion team ever has. That earned him NL Manager of the Year honors.
"What I'll always remember about Don was, one day early in my career, he came right up to me in the clubhouse and said, 'Listen, I'm not going to say my door's always going to be open. But it'll never be closed.' That always stuck with me and the thing I think about anytime I see him. He was tough but fair," said pitcher Curtis Leskanic.
Excerpted from 100 Things Rockies Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Adrian Dater. Copyright © 2009 Adrian Dater. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Adrian Dater is a sportswriter with the Denver Post and has written for magazines ranging from ESPN The Magazine to Sports Illustrated. He is the author of Blood Feud: Detroit Red Wings v. Colorado Avalanche; Colorado Avalanche; and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Denver Broncos. He lives in Thornton, Colorado.
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