Colorado Rockies (1993-Present)
National League (1993-Present)
National League Champion: 2007
World Series Champion: Never
Denver has hosted professional baseball since the 1880s. The Denver Bears debuted in the Western League in 1901, and remained a viable Class A franchise until 1954. In 1955 the the Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City which left the Triple A Kansas City Blues no place to play. They moved west to Denver, where the new team changed their name from the Blues to the Bears. They would change Major League Affiliates 13 times in the next 38 years. They played in the 45,000 seat Bears Stadium, which in the 1960s would change it’s name to Mile High Stadium. The team was moderately successful on both the field and at the box office, winning seven America Association Titles through 1992.
The Mile High City had been tried to lure an existing Major League team to Colorado many times before. The closest they came to landing one was in 1985 when they wooed the troubled Pittsburgh Pirates. That didn’t materialized, but Denver was confident that they would get one of the two expansion teams slated for 1993.
Denver did win the bid, along with Miami, Florida, when the National League chose them over eight other applicants. Their home field would be the aging Mile High Stadium, but Denver voters had earlier approved a sales tax increase to build a new baseball stadium. The new stadium was completed in 1995 and Coors Field became the best hitter’s park in the Majors.
To the surprise of many, the Rockies became competitive in the National League West quickly. They won a Wild Card spot in their first year at Coors Field, their third season in existence. They have since won four more Wild Card berths, but no division titles. They are one of only two franchises to never have won a division title (their 1993 expansion partner in Miami is the other). Despite not ever winning the division, they did win the National League Pennant and advance to the World Series in 2007.
2007 was the year the Rockies closed the season by winning 13 of their last 14 regular season games to tie the San Diego Padres for the Wild Card spot. They beat San Diego in a dramatic playoff game when Matt Holliday scored on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 13th inning. We’re still not sure he ever did touch home plate on the play, but that was the call, and there was no re-play review at the time, so the call stood. The Rockies then swept the Phillies and the Diamondbacks in the NLDS and the NLCS, making it 21 wins in 22 games, to advance to the World Series. They then had to wait nine days before they faced the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. By that time they had lost their edge, and were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.
The team itself is rather stable. They made back to back playoff appearances in 2017 and 2018. Attendance has been good, not great. They drew almost 4.5 million fans in their first year in 1993. They have never come close to that figure since. They fell under 3 million in 2002, then down to 1.9 million in 2005. They rebounded back over 2 million in 2006, and have remained steady ever since. Denver is a growing community, and despite the fact that it is the NFL Broncos are still the favorite team of the city, the franchise appears to be on solid ground.
The Colorado Rockies, like the early Houston Astros, can best be identified by where they play. The extremes were the opposite of each other, but the effect on the performance of the team were very similar. For the Astros, because the Astrodome was such an advantage to pitchers, they constantly overrated their pitchers and under valued their hitters. For the Rockies it was the opposite, they overrated their hitters and underrated their pitchers.
Not much to choose from here. Chris Iannetta (2006-2011, 2018) was only in Denver for six years and never caught more than 105 games in a season. The sad truth is there is nowhere else to go.
Todd Helton (1997-2013) by a mile. Do we hear Cooperstown calling?
D.J. LeMahieu (2012-2018) won a batting title in 2016 and was an All Star three times. His offensive numbers do have to be discounted because of Coors Field, but his defense was also excellent, leading to three Gold Gloves.
Wish we could find a place for Vinny Castilla (1993-1999, 2004-2006), who was the best player on the team in their early years. Unfortunately his competition is the current occupant of third base, Nolan Arenado (2013-Present). In Nolan’s seven seasons with the team he’s won six Gold Gloves and been selected to the All Star team five times. An MVP candidate every year (a 3rd, a 4th, a 5th, and an 8th place finish), he’s established himself as one of the five best players in the National League.
When Troy Tulowitzki (2006-2015) came to the Big Leagues in 2006 his potential seemed infinite. By age 26 he had finished in the top ten of the National League MVP vote three times. He was having his best season at age 29 when he injured his left hip in a game with the Mets. He was never the same after the injury. The Rockies traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays during the 2015 season. He would never again play a full schedule, and called it a career in 2019 at age 34. In a few years the current shortstop, Trevor Story (2016-Present) might supplant Tulowitzki, but he needs about four more seasons at his current production to get there.
Carlos Gonzalez (2009-2018) played 634 games in right field for Colorado and 436 in left. He won the National League batting title in 2010, leading the league in hits with 197. That year he finished third in the MVP vote. He was not as good as Larry Walker, so his competition is Matt Holliday (2004-2008, 2018) in left. Holliday had a monster year in 2007, finishing a close second in the MVP vote to Phillie shortstop Jimmy Rollins. He was the Rockies best player that year, a year where the Colorado Rockies went to the World Series for their only time. How much extra credit do we give him for that? Not enough. Holliday did not do enough in his five years in Colorado to overcome Carlos Gonzalez’s (2009-2018) ten year stay.
Charlie Blackmon (2011-Present) has grown into quite a player. Four times an All Star, and the 2017 batting champ. His defense in center field is only so-so, and we have to discount his offensive numbers due to his home park. Still, he’s been a quality player since 2014.
Larry Walker (1995-2004) always seemed to have to apologize for his MVP season in 1997. His offensive numbers were huge, 46 home runs, 130 RBI, BA of .366, slugging Average .720, on base percentage of .452, and OPS of 1.172. He won a Gold Glove in right field. He had similar years in 1998 and 1999. But this was in Coors Field in Denver, so everything had to be discounted. He has one year left on the Hall of Fame ballot after receiving 54.6% of the vote in 2019. It will be interesting to see how the baseball writers handle him in his last opportunity.
Most remembered today in Colorado for beaning Troy Tulowitzky in a spring training game in 2012. Ubaldo Jimenez (2006-2010, 2017) went 56-45 in his years with the Rockies. Sadly, that is the record of the best pitcher in franchise history.
#2 Aaron Cook (2002-2011) went 72-68 in his 10 years with the club. He only had two years where his win total reach double digits.
Jorge de la Rosa (2008-2016) holds the record for most career wins with the Rockies. It took him nine injury plagued seasons to get to 86.
#4 Brian Fuentes (2002-2008) was the ace out of the bullpen for four seasons, saving 111 games during that time. He was an All Star in three of those years. Obviously by the choices here the Rockies have had a hard time attracting and retaining quality pitchers.
Nobody stands out. The current skipper, Bud Black (2017-Present) is in the discussion, and this is only his third year. The others we could choose are Don Baylor (1993-1998) with a record of 440-469, Jim Tracy (2009-2011) had 3 seasons at 230-210, or Clint Hurdle (2003-2009) at 534-625. Black and Tracy both have a winning record in Colorado, while Baylor and Hurdle do not. Hurdle, however was in charge when the Rockies made their only World Series appearance. The irony for Hurdle was that was the only season Colorado played .500 or better ball during his eight year run. Jim Tracy took over for Hurdle early in the 2009 season. The team went on a tear the rest of the season, going 74-42 after the change and earning a Wild Card spot. Unfortunately, the team went from 92 wins, to 83, to 74, then 64 in his next, and last, three seasons. That leaves Black and Baylor. The Rockies made the playoffs in Bud Black’s (2017-Present) first two seasons at the helm. This season has been a struggle, as they lost 91 games. One more 90 win season and Black will be the choice, but for now we’ll go with the Rockies first manager, the one who led them to a playoff berth in their third year, Don Baylor (1993-1998). We know Baylor’s overall record with the team was only 440-469, but that’s actually a good winning percentage for an expansion team’s first six years. Like we said, if Colorado has one more 90 win season with Bud Black as manager this pick will probably be different.
The best player for the Rockies is really an easy choice. Todd Helton (1997-2013) was not always the best player on the team, but he was consistently in the top two or three. An All Star five times, finished in the top ten in the MVP vote in three of those seasons. His 2000 season, when he hit .372, with 42 home runs and 147 RBI is a match for any Rockies hitter in franchise history. His defense was good, he won three Gold Gloves. He led the league twice in the single most important offensive category, On Base Percentage. Since his home park was Coors Field, it will be interesting to see how the Baseball Writers treat him in the Hall of Fame balloting. He only received 16.5% of the vote his first time on.