Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Rockies, the Monforts and the never ending cycle

If my years of both covering and being a fan of the Nuggets has taught me anything, it's that the will to win starts from the top in sports organizations. What we have seen at 20th and Blake has been a sad exercise in low expectations, loser mentality, and a hope that luck will carry the day. This must change, but sadly, it likely wont.

I have watched every Rockies season since 1993. I watched the first ever home game against the Montreal Expos at old Mile High Stadium in front of some 80,000 fans. I watched Eric Young hit the home run in his first at bat at home. I saw the Rockies team, led by Curtis Leskanic, and the bullpen, and the Blake Street Bombers, go to the playoffs in their third season in 1995. I watched Jim Leyland quit on the Rockies mid-season in 1999 (even though he didn't officially quit until after the season). I saw Buddy Bell try "small ball" in Denver and lead the team to a 82-80 record with Jim Leyland's team in 2000.

Everything changed. The vibe around this team has been different since the early 2000s. I believe I know why.

The line of demarcation with the Rockies as an organization was drawn when Charlie and Dick Monfort took controlling interest in the club between 2001 and 2003. Two brothers who knew nothing about baseball when they took control, and whose knowledge of the game is marginally better now. Two brothers who are so scared of risk, so timid, so conservative in just about everything baseball related it cuts the team off at the knees and causes one to celebrate a "rise" to mediocrity.

If you speak to Rockies people today, they will again remind you of the contracts Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle signed in late 2000 (eight years $121 million for Hampton, five years $51 million for Neagle) as reasons they are so risk-averse. They will also point to contracts given to Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez as evidence they are willing to spend (10 year contract extension for $157 million for Tulo, seven years $80 million for Cargo). However, spending in the traditional sense is not the greatest issue with the Monforts (and make no mistake, they are cheap currently with the 7th lowest payroll in the bigs ... a decrease from last season). The problem runs so much deeper.

The Rockies have a systemic problem. Their player development system is broken so when you try to preach "moneyball" to people they point at the issues facing Rockies development in the minors, specifically for pitching. Then you find the team hoarding prospects, unwilling to trade them for a "rental" (i.e.: we don't want to take the risk for the payoff) then holding on to those prospects for so long they lose their value on the trade market anyway. Making them dead money on the organization. So you have a team that wants to do "moneyball", but isn't competent enough to make it work.

Then you have a team owner whose "knowledge" of baseball (Dick Monfort) is completely based on the person he didn't hire (Dan O'Dowd was hired by the previous owner the late Jerry McMorris in 1999) so therefore doesn't have the baseball intelligence to fire him. This should be the most frightening thing for Rockies fans. Their owner isn't "baseball intelligent" enough to say when enough is enough. Not willing to take the risk. Not willing to do what it takes to make a successful MLB squad.

The sad part about this whole thing is ... the Monforts aren't going anywhere. They have dump trucks full of money being backed up to the proverbial doors and have zero incentive to change what they do. This is sad. While the inevitable financial structure of the NBA eventually forced COMSAT/Ascent to sell the Nuggets, this is not true with the Rockies. The Monforts make money fielding a mediocre, low expectations team that has no aspiration for something greater. I hate to say it, but I don't see how this ends unless Dick Monfort (who is acting as Team President) sees the light of day and changes course. What are the chances of that happening?

In the meantime we will continue to be subjected to myopic announcers on Root Sports who whistle past the graveyard. We have sports media that is forced to make the same exhausted battles with the Rockies year in and year out. And finally, we have the fans who are rapidly getting to the point of yawning, shrugging their collective shoulders, moving on to the Broncos, and forgetting why they dislike the Monforts so much.


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