Rockies owners ignored critics, stuck with homegrown plan
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
DENVER -- Brothers Charlie and Dick Monfort gave the region in which they grew up an early holiday gift in 2007.
Charlie, 48, chairman/CEO, and Dick, 53, vice chairman of the Rockies, endured years of losing and being second-guessed for their way of running the team, but it all paid off when the Rockies won 21 of 22 during a torrid stretch that not only put them in the playoffs but brought home the National League championship.
It was a gratifying time for the Monforts, who grew up in Greeley, Colo. But when the Rockies were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series, they immediately began thinking of the ultimate baseball gift for the club's fans.
"If you'd have told us or myself that you were going to get to the World Series and lose in Game 4 in Spring Training, I'd have said, 'Great, I'll take it,'" Charlie Monfort said. "But you get there, you get greedy. You know what? It's a good building block. But we're not there yet. We want to be challenging for it ever year. We've got the structure in place to do that."
The Monforts took time recently to reflect on a year that, to them, was unexpected only in the way the Rockies finished it.
After unsuccessful forays into free agency, the Monforts restructured how the club would operate.
The bulk of the players would come from the organization. They would keep general manager Dan O'Dowd, who joined the club after the 1999 season, and manager Clint Hurdle, promoted from hitting coach in early 2002, even though most teams would have dismissed them for the on-field record (no winning seasons from 2001 to 2006). They would set their payroll by their own finances, rather than react to spending of their competition.
Results weren't pretty for a long time. The stripped-down Rockies suffered in 2004 and 2005, when they led the Majors in games played by rookies each season and were second and first, respectively, in games started by rookies. The 68-94 and 67-95 records were the two worst in club history.
But key players such as left fielder Matt Holliday, who has emerged as a star, third baseman Garrett Atkins and right fielder Brad Hawpe, as well as talented pitchers Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis established themselves during the team's dark period.
A turning point occurred during a meeting to decide the roster for the 2005 season. Longtime star Vinny Castilla had returned to the club in 2004 to drive in an NL-leading 131 runs. Sentiment abounded to re-sign him, but Atkins had been a standout in the Minors and needed his shot.
"I think the question was pointed at Clint, 'If we keep Vinny, then we've got to trade Garrett Atkins,'" Charlie Monfort said. "And he said, 'Well, I don't want him playing for another team.' So all of a sudden, Garrett Atkins is our third baseman."
The decisions weren't easy.
"We had to second-guess ourselves for the last four years," Dick Monfort said. "Are we doing this right? We second-guessed ourselves because of whatever, what other people did, what people wrote. Are we doing this the right way and can we do it?
"We hate to lose. ... When they do say we're complacent or we're happy with mediocrity, that couldn't be further from the truth."
-- Dick Monfort
"This was the only option that was going to get us there. And it worked, and we hope it will continue to work."
The strategy worked during the stretch in 2007.
Popular sentiment was the Rockies needed at least one experienced starter. That became even more important when three of the five starting pitchers suffered injuries in late July and early August. All three would miss the end of the regular season.
Such pitchers as Steve Trachsel, Esteban Loaiza, Matt Morris and Brett Tomko were available, if the Rockies were willing to give up their future. But pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales, and position players such as Ian Stewart and Seth Smith -- all of whom are the type that often are dealt at the deadline -- made a difference for the Rockies at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
"The neat part is seeing all our own players out there being successful, because that shows that the people you have in place, development and scouting and all that, are the right people," Charlie Monfort said. "Because it came together, it was really nice to see and it showed that the patience we were trying to show, which is tough in this sport, paid off."
The Monforts both said some of their proudest moments came during the playoffs, when national audiences had a chance to see and hear the enthusiastic response to the Rockies.
However, the warm feelings weren't exactly mutual. The owners were booed by an audible percentage of fans at Coors Field during the trophy presentation at the end of the NL Championship Series sweep of the Diamondbacks.
"I go to these baseball meetings and it amazes me when you talk with some of the other people," Charlie Monfort said. "The decisions they make are because the media is going to kill them. You can't have the media making decisions for you.
Have a question about the Rockies?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Rockies beat reporter Thomas Harding for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
"It's our job, with the financial responsibility of this organization. It's everyone within these walls, nobody outside these walls. That frustrates some people. We're fine with that. I'd rather them come after us than some of the others, because we've got pretty good job security."
The only criticism that stung the Monforts was that they didn't care about winning. They answer that by saying they were patient because it was the only way the Rockies can win and hope to sustain it, especially when competing against teams in much bigger markets.
The thirst to win might have been best illustrated by Charlie Monfort, speaking out of disappointment and anger at the end of the World Series, saying if the Rockies played the Red Sox 10 times, the Rockies would win six. The comment brought some criticism -- Diamondbacks outfielder Eric Byrnes, himself having taken some shots for saying the Rockies were not a four-game sweep better than his team in the NLCS, blasted Monfort after reading the comments.
The Monforts won't apologize for their competitive spirit.
"We hate to lose," Dick Monfort said. "They can say, 'Why are you so patient with Dan and Clint? Or 'Why aren't you spending more money on your salary structure?' or 'Why aren't you doing this or that?' That's all fine. But when they do say we're complacent or we're happy with mediocrity, that couldn't be further from the truth.
"It is a business and it's got to be run like a business. There is no magic pot of gold out there that we just go dig into to finance this thing. But we're passionate about it. We're doing it a little different than a lot of other teams do. We believe this is a way that you can make a long run at something. We believe in our heart that we're doing it right."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.