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Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies

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Ballpark:
Coors Field
Established:
1993
Affiliations:
Retired Numbers:
Owners:
Manager:
General Manager:
Played As:
COL

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies, got competitive fast making the playoffs in the strike shortened 1995, they lost in first round,  the next 2 seasons produced 83 wins each and they were in the thick of the playoff race. things went south for a while, they had 1 one winning record the next 10 years. The stress pitching in Coors did in the pitchers, and left to much for the offense to overcome despite having many of the league’s top offensive performers. Then in 2007 they caught lightening in a bottle winning 21 of 22 games, and winning  game 163, a one game playoff vs the San Diego Padres. Game 163 of that season is how the last month of the season went for the Rockies, down by 2 in bottom of 13, against future Hall of Famer (maybe) Trevor Hoffman, back to back doubles by Matsui and Tolowitski and a triple by Matt Holliday tied the score with nobody out. Two batters later, Jamie Carol scored Holliday on a sacrifice fly. The Rockies made the World Series but lost to the Boston Red Sox. They made the playoffs again in 2009 and bowed out in NLCS, but with winning records in 3 of last 4 years the Rockies could be on pace for a strong run.  

History

Creation of the Rockies

After previous failed attempts to bring the Major League Baseball to Colorado (most notably the Pittsburgh Pirates nearly relocating to Denver following the Pittsburgh drug trials in 1985), by the late 1980s a team seemed to be a possibility in Denver. The Colorado Baseball Commission, led by banking executive Larry Varnell, was successful in getting Denver voters to approve a 0.1 percent sales tax to help finance a new baseball stadium. Also, an advisory committee was formed in 1990 by then-Governor of Colorado Roy Romer to recruit an ownership group. The group selected was led by John Antonucci, an Ohio beverage distributor, and Michael I. Monus, the head of the Phar-Mor drugstore chain. Local and regional companies—such as Erie Lake, Hensel Phelps Construction, KOA Radio, and the Rocky Mountain News—rounded out the group. On July 5, 1991, the National League approved Denver and Miami, Florida, as the sites for two expansion teams to begin play in 1993.

The Rockies joined the National League in 1993, along with the Southern Florida franchise, the Florida Marlins. The Rockies' first pick in the expansion draft was pitcher David Nied from the Atlanta Braves organization. Nied pitched 4 seasons for the Rockies.

 

Inaugural season

The first game in Rockies history was played on April 5, 1993, against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. David Nied was the starting pitcher in a game the Rockies lost, 3–0. The franchise's first home game at Mile High Stadium, and first win in franchise history, came four days later with an 11–4 win over the Montreal Expos. One of the most memorable plays in the game, and in team history, occurred in the bottom of the first inning when 2nd baseman, Eric Young of the Rockies hit a leadoff home run. The game was played before more than 80,000 fans, to date the largest crowd to see a single regular-season Major League Baseball game.

As is the case with many expansion teams, the Rockies struggled in their first year. During one stretch in May, the team went 2–17. The team did not experience its first winning month until September, when they went 17–9. Still, the team finished the season with 67 wins, setting a record for a National League expansion franchise. In addition, despite the losses, the club saw a home attendance of 4,483,350 for the season, setting a Major League record that still stands. Rockies first baseman Andrés Galarraga won the batting title after hitting .370 for the season after Manager Don Baylor persuaded Galarraga to change from a standard batting stance into an open one in which he squarely faced the pitcher, allowing him to see incoming pitches properly.

 

Ownership issues

After a 1992 accounting and embezzlement scandal at Phar-Mor tarnished the reputation of Monus, both Monus and Antonucci were forced to sell their stakes in the franchise. Trucking-company executive Jerry McMorris became head of the ownership group and served as the initial public face of management. His relationship with the other partners was somewhat poor, and his role in the leadership of the franchise diminished over time, until he was finally bought out in 2005 (his situation was not helped by the 1999 failure of his trucking firm and subsequent related legal issues.

The team is currently controlled by chief executive officer Charlie Monfort (a former executive with his family's beef-exporting firm and also with ConAgra), and his brother Dick Monfort, who both bought out McMorris' stake.

 

The mid-1990s

On April 17, 1994, the Rockies beat Montreal 6–5, moving the team's record to 6–5—the first time in franchise history that the club had a winning record. However, that would be the only time during that season that the club would have a record over .500, finishing at 53–64 and in last place in the National League West in the strike-shortened season. Despite the club's poor record, several Rockies hitters gained notoriety for their exploits at the plate, assisted by the thin and dry air of Denver, which purportedly allows balls to carry farther than they would at sea-level ballparks. Andres Galarraga, a year after winning the batting title, hit 31 homers, and teammate Dante Bichette hit 27; projected over a 162-game season, the two would have hit 43 and 37 homers, respectively. The park's characteristics did not affect just home runs either: 33-year-old outfielder Mike Kingery, a career .252 hitter who did not play in the majors in 1993, batted .349 in 301 at-bats. The club once again led the majors in attendance, drawing 3,281,511 fans for the season.

1995 playoff run and the opening of Coors Field

Prior to the 1995 season, the Rockies acquired free-agent outfielder Larry Walker, previously of the Montreal Expos. He would form the group known as the "Blake Street Bombers"—named after the street on which the new ballpark (Coors Field) was located—along with Galarraga, Bichette, and third baseman Vinny Castilla, who had played sparingly with the major-league club during the previous season. The quartet combined to hit 139 homers in the 1995 season, with Bichette leading the way with 40. The team debuted in its new ballpark on April 26, 1995, in an 11–9 win over the New York Mets, and proceeded to win seven of their first eight games in the new season. The season ended with a 77–67 record, good for second place in the West division and the club's first playoff appearance as the Wild Card winner. Although much of the attention focused on the power-hitting lineup, much of the club's success was due to a strong bullpen, as relievers Darren Holmes, Curt Leskanic, Steve Reed, and Bruce Ruffin all posted earned-run averages below 3.40. The pitching staff's ERA of 4.97 was the lowest in club history until the 2006 team had a 4.66 ERA. The Rockies lost in the NLDS to the eventual 1995 World Series champion Atlanta Braves, 3 games to 0. The Rockies once again led the league in attendance for the season.

Post-1995

In 1996, with all four Blake Street Bombers returning, the Rockies expected to contend, but an injury to Walker hurt the team. Walker played in only 83 games and batted .276 with 18 homers. However, outfielder Ellis Burks picked up the slack with an All-Star season, batting .344 with 40 homers and 128 RBI—one of three Rockies to hit forty or more homers that season, along with Galarraga and Castilla. The team set a major-league record by scoring 658 runs at home on the season, and Burks and Bichette became the first pair of teammates since Darryl Strawberry and Howard Johnson of the 1987 New York Mets to both steal 30 bases and hit 30 homers in the same season. However, the pitching staff—a strong point for the team in 1995—was beset by injuries: Bill Swift, who went 9–3 in 1995, started just three games, and the staff ERA ballooned to 5.60. As a result, the Rockies fell back to third place in the West with an 83–79 record.

A healthy Walker became the first player in club history to win the NL Most Valuable Player award in 1997, batting .366 with 49 homers and 130 RBI. Walker came very close to winning the Triple Crown that year, leading the league in home runs but finishing second to Tony Gwynn in batting average and third in RBI (teammate Galarraga led the league.) Once again, three Rockies (Walker, Galarraga, and Castilla) hit 40 or more homers; Walker also won the first Gold Glove in franchise history. As in 1996, though, the team's pitchers struggled and had a 5.25 ERA, and the Rockies could not improve upon their finish from the previous season.

The beginning of the Helton era

The Rockies were broken up after the 1997 season when an aging Galarraga signed with the Atlanta Braves as a free agent. His replacement was Todd Helton, who had been the club's first-round draft pick in 1995 out of the University of Tennessee. After a 4–1 start, the club lost its next eight games and struggled to a 77–85 record, finishing only ahead of the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West. Pitcher Darryl Kile, signed as a free agent in the offseason, struggled in Colorado, going 13–17 with a 5.20 ERA—a far cry from his numbers the prior year as a member of the Houston Astros, when he went 19–7 with a 2.57 ERA. Kile would become one of a long line of free-agent pitchers who struggled after signing with the Rockies. The team's struggles led to the firing of manager Don Baylor, the only manager in franchise history, following the season.

Jim Leyland, a two-time NL Manager of the Year who had won the World Series with the Florida Marlins two years earlier, was expected to bring the Rockies back into contention in 1999. Instead, the Rockies dropped even further, finishing 72–90 and in last place in the West as the Diamondbacks won the division in just their second year of existence. Helton was blossoming into a young developed hitter, batting .320 with 35 homers and 113 RBI; Castilla, Walker, and Bichette also hit more than 30 homers each. Once again, though, the team's pitching was a glaring weakness, as the staff had an ERA of 6.02. Kile, who was being paid over $8 million for the season, struggled mightily, going 8–13 with a 6.61 ERA, and he wound up being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals following the season. Interestingly, Kile would go on to finish fifth in voting for the Cy Young Award the following year, as he had in 1997 (the year before he joined the Rockies). The Leyland era lasted just one year, as a frustrated Leyland retired following the season, not to manage in the majors again until 2006, when he won an AL Pennant with the Detroit Tigers.

On April 4, 1999, the Rockies made history as they played their Opening Day game against the defending National League champion San Diego Padres at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico – marking the first time Major League Baseball opened the regular season outside the United States or Canada. Colorado beat San Diego, 8–2, in front of a crowd of 27,104 people. Only a little over 2 weeks later, the Columbine High School massacre postponed a home game with the Montreal Expos (it was made up as part of a doubleheader in August).

The Dan O'Dowd era

On August 20, 1999, Bob Gebhard, the only general manager in franchise history, announced his resignation. A month later, the Rockies named Dan O'Dowd as his replacement. After hiring Buddy Bell as the club's third manager, O'Dowd proceeded to make a series of offseason deals that would change the face of the franchise. Popular outfielder Dante Bichette was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. Later, he traded Kile to the Cardinals and, in a four-team trade, sent Vinny Castilla to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. With those two deals, Larry Walker remained as the only player of the Blake Street Bombers still with the team. Walker wound up playing in only 87 games in 2000 due to injuries and hit just nine homers, as the Rockies had a completely different look from prior years. Perhaps not surprisingly given the injury to Walker and the trading of two of the team's most popular players, the Rockies finished third in the National League in attendance in 2000, marking the first time in club history that it did not lead the league in attendance.

Despite the major changes made to the team in the offseason, the team wound up with its first winning season since 1997. Helton, in his third full year in the majors, was becoming a bona fide superstar, winning the batting title with a .372 average and also leading the league with 147 RBI while hitting 42 homers. However, he finished just fifth in MVP voting, perhaps because the team finished fourth in the division and also possibly due to bias by voters because he played half of his games in hitter-friendly Coors Field. 2000 also marked the first of five consecutive All-Star Game appearances for Helton. The pitching staff also improved its ERA to 5.26, helping the team to an 82–80 record.

Although previous big-name pitchers, including Bill Swift, Bret Saberhagen, and Darryl Kile, had struggled in Colorado, following the 2000 season O'Dowd made two very splashy signings in the free-agent market, signing Denny Neagle to a five-year contract worth $51 million, followed five days later by signing Mike Hampton to an eight-year, $121 million contract. Two years earlier, Hampton had won 22 games and finished second in voting for the Cy Young Award as a member of the Houston Astros, while Neagle had been a 20-game winner in 1997 for the Atlanta Braves and had won fifteen games in 2000. The two star pitchers were expected by the Rockies to change the team's fortunes.

Instead, the two flopped, much as their predecessors had. Hampton, after a strong first half in 2001, completely fell apart in 2002, going 7–15 with a 6.15 ERA and demanding a trade following the season. Neagle went 19–23 in three years with the Rockies; he was injured in 2003 and never pitched in the majors again before the Rockies released him after the 2004 season. The Rockies went 73–89 in both years that Hampton and Neagle were in Colorado, and the amount of money owed them (the Rockies paid a sizable portion of Hampton's salary even after he was traded to the Atlanta Braves) crippled the team for the next several years.

Under previous general manager Gebhard, the Rockies had largely neglected their farm system and mostly relied on signing veteran free agents from other clubs; this was possible due to the high attendance numbers in the club's first few years of attendance. However, as attendance began to dwindle—the Rockies fell to just sixth in the National League in attendance in 2002, and ninth in 2003 and 2004—the club could no longer afford to build through big-name free agents. In 1999, the Rockies spent their first-round draft pick on Baylor University pitcher Jason Jennings; three years later, Jennings went 16–8 with a 4.52 ERA. In the process, Jennings became the first Rockies player to win the National League Rookie of the Year award.

With Hampton out of town and Neagle injured much of the year, Jennings became the centerpiece of the Rockies' pitching staff in 2003. Despite a fourth straight All-Star season by Helton and 36 homers by outfielder Preston Wilson, the Rockies finished just 74–88. In addition to Jennings, though, young pitchers Shawn Chacon and Aaron Cook showed promise.

In 2004, the Rockies acquired Vinny Castilla, who had been with the club for its inaugural 1993 season, once again, and he hit 35 homers. However, Wilson and Larry Walker spent much of the season on the disabled list, forcing the Rockies to play Matt Holliday, who had been slated to start the season at Triple-A. While the Rockies struggled to a 68–94 record—the second worst record in club history—the club's Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, went 78–65. Declining attendance meant that the club's payroll could no longer support a franchise stocked largely with veterans from other clubs. In addition, Walker, who had been with the team since 1995 and was widely regarded as the best player in team history, was now 37 years old, and injuries prevented him from playing much of the time. Because he could still be useful to a contending team, the Rockies traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in August for three minor-leaguers.

Generation-R

The trade of Walker set in motion a series of moves that would lead to a complete overhaul of the club's roster. Castilla and Jeromy Burnitz, who led the team with 37 homers in 2004, were allowed to leave as free agents following the season. Catcher Charles Johnson, who had been acquired along with Wilson in the Hampton trade, was traded to the Boston Red Sox. Royce Clayton, the club's starting shortstop in 2004, also was allowed to leave. Along with Holliday, who had performed ably while Wilson and Walker were out, the club promoted Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, Clint Barmes, and J.D. Closser, who spent most of 2004 in Triple-A. Jennings and Chacon combined with Joe Kennedy, Byung-Hyun Kim, and top prospect Jeff Francis to form the team's starting rotation. Other than Helton and Wilson, virtually all of the team's regular players were under the age of 30; the Rockies dubbed this group "Generation-R." It took Generation R, until late in the 2007 season to start to bare fruit . . .

2007: "Rocktober" – A World Series berth

The Rockies trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Diego Padres for most of 2007 Major League Baseball season – however – by August, Colorado showed a steady series of wins, while the Division-leading Dodgers began to struggle.

By September, the Dodgers were eliminated by the Rockies from playoff contention, and the Diamondbacks were expected to clinch the National League West division title. The Padres held a steady lead on the National League wild card spot. The Diamondbacks eventually clinched the NL West division title, but the Rockies shot up with one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history. They were a major-league best 20–8 in September, after trailing 6 games on September 1. They won their last 14 of 15 games, including 11 in a row, the most of any team in the 2007 season and an all-time franchise record. The only loss during that streak was on September 28 to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a loss that clinched the Diamondbacks' playoff spot. Their 90–73 regular season mark set a franchise record. They also finished ahead of the Dodgers in the division for the first time in franchise history. Furthermore, Colorado set the single-season MLB record for fielding percentage by one team (.98925). Despite the Rockies record-setting performance, the National League coaches and players didn't vote in any of Colorado's players for the NL Gold Glove award. The two most puzzling omissions were first baseman Todd Helton and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Both players had a better fielding percentage, more total chances, better zone rating, more putouts, more double plays turned, better range factor and more assists than their counterparts who won the award instead (Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins). Helton also had fewer errors  than Lee, while Tulowitzki had as many errors as Rollins, but did so on 834 total chances compared to Rollins' 717.
First baseman Todd Helton, who averages above .320 for his career.

As a result of the Rockies' remarkable September run, the team finished the regular season tied with the Padres for the National League wild card spot in the playoffs. The two teams played a wild card tie-breaker game at Coors Field on October 1 to determine the wild card. A Colorado home run was called back early in the game despite the fact that it clearly cleared the fence, hit a chair, and bounced back onto the field. The game lasted 13 innings, and although the Padres got two runs off of a Scott Hairston home run in the top of the 13th inning to break a 6–6 tie, the Rockies came back in the bottom of the 13th by scoring three runs off of closer Trevor Hoffman to win 9–8. Second baseman Kazuo Matsui started off the inning by hitting a double. Tulowitzki followed with a double of his own, thus, allowing Matsui to score. Left fielder Matt Holliday then came up to bat and hit a triple, scoring Tulowitzki. After an intentional walk to Helton, the Padres pitched to utility infielder Jamey Carroll, who then hit a sacrifice fly, allowing Holliday to score from third base. Holliday's winning run came off of a controversial slide in which home plate umpire Tim McClelland called Holliday safe, despite replays showing Holliday may have never touched the plate. McClelland educated the media and fans after the game as to the call: Padres catcher Michael Barrett blocked the plate before securing possession of the ball, resulting in an automatic ruling of safe and making Holliday's apparent failure to touch the plate irrelevant. The Rockies completed the fifth greatest regular season comeback in Major League Baseball history.

Playoffs

With the win, the Rockies made the playoffs for the first time since 1995, and went on to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS. Colorado won the first game in Philadelphia, 4–2. The Rockies also won the second game in Philadelphia, 10–5, with the help of Kazuo Matsui's 4th inning grand slam. On October 6, 2007, the Rockies completed a three-game sweep of the Phillies by winning 2–1 in Colorado. The three-game sweep was Colorado's first post-season series win in team history. The Rockies went on to play in the NLCS against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who swept their own NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. Colorado won the first two games of the NLCS against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix, then won their third game against the Diamondbacks in Denver on Sunday, October 14. That pushed the Rockies' combined late-season (September 16 and after) and post-season run to 20 wins and just 1 loss, the single loss coming against Arizona on September 28, 2007 – the 160th game of the regular season. This made Colorado only the third team in the last half-century, and the first in the National League since the 1936 New York Giants, to have a 20–1 stretch at any point of a season. The fourth game of the NLCS was won by the Rockies by a score of 6–4, completing a four-game sweep of Arizona. Holliday was named the NLCS MVP, as he hit .333 with two home runs and four RBIs during the series. The NLCS sweep earned the Rockies their first National League pennant in franchise history. The Rockies became the first team ever to sweep both the division series and league championship series in the same postseason. The club moved to 21–1 over all games played after September 15. By then, the amazing streak of wins became known among fans as "Rocktober". In the 2007 World Series, the Rockies faced the Boston Red Sox, and were swept in four games; the first game was 13–1, the second game was 2–1, the third game was 10–5, and the fourth and final game was 4–3. Some attribute the poor play in the World Series to the long lay off from the NLCS.

Baseball America named the Colorado Rockies the "Organization of the Year" for their accomplishments during the 2007 season. "We knew they were bringing great talent through their farm system, but we certainly didn't expect it to pay off with big-league success so quickly," said Will Lingo, editor of Baseball America. "They won with homegrown players, have more talent on the way and have maintained stability in their front office, so they had pretty much everything we look for in an organization."

 
 
 
Tagged:
2007 World Series, Colorado Rockies, Expansion of 1993, Humidor
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