In a continuation of The Biz of Baseball’s Organizational Reports, we are now featuring the franchise that is becoming one the most all-rounded in baseball: The Colorado Rockies.
Are the Colorado Rockies an aberration or the real deal? Has the team that struggled for years developed an identity, an identity based around young talent with a strong management team?
The Rockies early beginnings all started with the city of Denver showing their support in a way that was beyond what the other cities could provide. In December 1990, the NL announced that Denver, South Florida (which would land the Florida Marlins), Tampa-St. Pete, Orlando, Washington, D.C., and Buffalo were finalists for expansion teams.
Why was Colorado the front-runner? The fans and the city. The Denver-area voters on their own accord began implementing a 0.1% sales tax that would help finance the construction on the team’s stadium.
Denver’s commitment to excellence was shown early in 1991, as discussed by Chuck Javernick, who was head of the ticket selling team at those early stages. Chuck is now the director of ticketing services and Spring Training business operations. The goal was to sell 20,000 tickets from the start.
“It took us four weeks to accomplish it and go beyond, "We went over 21,000 season ticket commitments.” I’m a big baseball fan and a native of Colorado, so I believed in it. And I had worked with the Colorado Baseball Partnership for some time prior and talked to a lot of people who felt the same way."
At the beginning, the fane base was never in question, but the early ownership and their finances were.
Original ownership led by Michael I. Monus who was accused of embezzling funds and falsifying profits at Phar-Mor Inc. was in legal trouble due to a $350 million fraud scandal that almost doomed the team from the get-go. Jerry McMorris, the highest-ranking official in the ownership group along with business partner Charlie Monfort saved the team. Roy Romer, who at the time was governor, played an integral part in saving the franchise.
"Gov. Romer had several meetings with the partners and really got behind the project," McMorris said. "There was one meeting early on when he went around the room -- 'Who are you and how much money do you have?' He did what was necessary."
Of those above-mentioned possible franchise locations, only two were chosen; the aforementioned city of Colorado and Florida. Florida who would later become the Marlins will have their own financial issues to deal with.
Fay Vincent, who was the MLB Commissioner at the time, announced that both leagues would be involved to compensate the newly appointed franchises, sharing revenue generated by the $190 million expansion fee. The American and National Leagues would both contribute players in the upcoming expansion draft (read The Biz of Baseball interview with Fay Vincent).
On July 5, 1991 at a local press conference, the team was unveiled to the public. The team would begin play at Denver’s Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos of the National Football League. Mile Hile was a starting point for the team until Coors Field would be open to play on Apr. 26, 1995.
Select Read More to see details on Coors Field, Franchise history, and more
Coors Field was designed by HOK Sports and is named after the Coors Brewing Company, which purchased the rights to the name prior to its construction and cost an estimated $300 million.
HOK Sports, when they constructed Coors Field, did something quite astonishing, they built this structure specifically to fit the city’s urban grid.
HOK principal in charge, Raymond Chandler described the construction and how it blends into the scenery. "Once inside, the place is unlike any other. You're clearly sitting on the edge of the Rocky Mountains."
Inside the stadium, the landscape is designed to resemble the Rocky Mountains. Visitors will get that breathtaking view, without having to leave their seats. Fans do not have to go far to experience the amenities that all the stadiums built with the last fifteen years have, 4,500 club seats and suites thru to the $4 “Rockpile” section.
Coors Field, built on the edge of Denver’s Lower Downtown (LoDo) district, can give fans, before and after the game, the opportunity to visit local eateries and brewing companies all encompassed with that western feel.
The early years of the Rockies were as what one could expect from an expansion franchise. The overspending for over-priced talent, whose numbers could have been “enhanced” due to the thin air.
A draft history that is littered with players who had little or no impact, players such as Jamey Wright; two years with the club and a career ERA of 5.03, Mark Magnum?? and Choo Freeman.
Why is it that within the last six to eight years the attitude of this team has changed? The pushovers of the National League West are now becoming perennial post-season favorites. Their previous drafts now display current starters on their roster, players like, Jeff Francis, Ian Stewart, Troy Tulowitski, and late-round gems like 11th rounder Brad Hawpe.
It all starts and ends with current General Manager Dan O’Dowd. He is in the driver’s seat, responsible for all trades, contracts, draft results, retention of draft picks and the ability to turn his staff into future General Managers.
O’Dowd’s philosophy instills a move forward and progressing attitude, "We as an organization are built around our process. Everything we do as a group is done with the intention of moving our process forward." He has been able to do this by finding players who possess character on and off the field. Since 2001, the team has hosted a camp of 25 prospects during their Winter Development Program. During the three-week program, players deal with physical training as well as in-class sessions and mental seminars.
The front office has also had the benefit of learning from O’Dowd. His regime has produced two staff members that have vaulted into General Managers around the league. Josh Byrnes who spent three years with the team is now in his second year as Executive Vice President & General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Jon Daniels who spent 2001 as their baseball operations intern is now in his fourth year as General Manager of the Texas Rangers.
The Rockies staff, now being recognized as one of the best in baseball, continues to strengthen itself from within. You can pinpoint the turnaround of this franchise at the 2002 draft when Canadian born, ninth overall pick, Jeff Francis and six others have at one point or another reached the majors. On a side note, the team has not given up a draft pick to free agency since 2001.
Financially, the team has had some struggles, but in 1994 the state of affairs did show a positive note as media mogul Rupert Murdoch and majority owner Charlie Monfort signed a collaborative deal providing Murdoch’s group invest $20 million for a 14 percent stake in the team. This allowed Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain to continue to carry the team’s games. It was later announced that a 10-year extension was signed between both parties for $200 million.
Mr. October and Mr. November are taken; when in doubt create your own history.
The Rockies 2009 season has the remnants of 2007. That team put together a streak of 21 wins in their last 22 to get into the playoffs. This year may not rewrite the history books but in the eyes of their fans, the 2009 journey to the playoffs has been just as sweet.
At one point they trailed in the National League West standings by 15 ½ games. A managerial change and the NL’s best record in the second half had all the makings of a division title, that is, until the second last game of the season with a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the division winning Los Angeles Dodgers. This gives the Rockies their second well-deserved Wild-Card berth in the last three years.
Can this team, who is currently in a better financial state than its other expansion sibling Florida Marlins, keep up this inner-growth? Can it continue to make successful selections in the draft? Can the team who has averted a financial crisis in previous years to due lackluster performance continue this resurgence?
The Rockies are the toast of the town, riding high in a city known for its Broncos fans. If the last decade shows us anything, it proves that the Rockies who have a lower tier payroll can compete and will make the necessary changes to keep this organization as successful as any in the game.
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Devon Teeple is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Devon is a former student within Sports Management Worldwide's Baseball General Manager Class.
Devon is the founder of The GM's Perspective, is a intern with The Football Outsiders and contributor with the Plymouth River Eels. Currently, Devon is a Branch Manager at a financial institution in Southern Ontario Canada. He can be contacted through The Biz of Baseball.
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