Colorado Rockies (96 Events)
The History of the Colorado Rockies began in 1991 when a Major League Baseball expansion franchise for Denver was granted to an ownership group headed by John Antonucci.
Several previous attempts to bring Major League Baseball to Colorado had failed. In 1958, New York lawyer William Shea proposed the new Continental League as a rival to the two existing major leagues. In 1960, the Continental League announced that play would begin in April 1961 with eight teams, including one in Denver headed by Bob Howsam. However, the new league quickly evaporated, without ever playing a game, when the National League reached expansion agreements to put teams in New York City and Houston, removing much of the impetus behind the Continental League effort. Later on, the Pittsburgh Pirates were rumored to be relocating to Denver following the Pittsburgh drug trials in 1985, but that move did not happen. Repeated rumors of a move to Denver by the Oakland Athletics also proved false. Nonetheless, by the late 1980s a team seemed to be a possibility in Denver.
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 80,227 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 and isn't likely to be broken. Rockies first baseman Andrés Galarraga won the batting title, 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.
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. Andrés 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 lineup 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 National League Division Series to the eventual 1995 World Series champion Atlanta Braves, 3 games to 1. The Rockies once again led the league in attendance for the season.
In 1996, 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 home runs 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 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. 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 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. O'Dowd proceeded to make a series of offseason deals that would change the face of the franchise.
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.
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.
The result of all the moves was a 67–95 record in 2005, which tied for the worst record in franchise history, as the young players—many of whom had never been everyday players in the majors prior to that season—struggled. Helton and Wilson—virtually the only experienced players on the team—struggled as well; Helton hit just 20 homers, the fewest of his career, and missed the All-Star Game for the first time since 1999 and also went on the disabled list for the first time in his career. Wilson also spent time on the disabled list and, as the Rockies fell out of contention, was traded to the Washington Nationals. After starting the season 15–35, though, the team had some success later in the year, going a respectable 30–28 in August and September as the youngsters became more experienced. However, perhaps because of the trade of Walker and several consecutive losing seasons, the team fell all the way to fourteenth in the National League in attendance; for the first time in team history, the Rockies drew under 2 million fans for the season.
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 (2) than Lee (7), while Tulowitzki had as many errors as Rollins (11), but did so on 834 total chances compared to Rollins' 717.
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 wildcard. . 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.
With the win, the Rockies made the playoffs for the first time since 1995, and went on to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series. The Rockies completed a three-game sweep of the Phillies by winning 2–1 in Colorado. The three-game sweep was Colorado's first postseason 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. Denver would win the series 4-1. 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 game.
On April 17, 2008, Colorado beat the San Diego Padres, 2–1, in a 22-inning road game that spanned 6 hours and 16 minutes. It was the longest game in Rockies history, in terms of both total innings and total length of time. 659 total pitches were thrown in the game by 15 different pitchers (eight Rockies pitchers and seven Padres pitchers). The 22-inning affair was the longest since August 31, 1993, when the Minnesota Twins, at home, defeated the Cleveland Indians, 5–4, in 22 innings. The Rockies ended the season finishing third in the National League West with a 74–88 record, failing to make the playoffs. The team got rid of hitting coach Alan Cockrell, third base coach Mike Gallego and bench coach Jamie Quirk after the disappointing season.