It’s that time of year again…
By the Denver Baseball Observer (DBO)
Every year at about this time (slightly later in 1995 and 2007) the Rockies’ management commissions their paid shills at the Denver Post to roll out their excuses for the previous failed season. They do this as part of their marketing plan for next season, reasoning that if the fans think next year will be better they will continue to buy season tickets or at least plan to attend games and continue to buy licensed merchandise (apparel and other junk emblazoned with Colorado Rockies logos).
This year their paid spokesman is Patrick Saunders, a longtime sportswriter at the Post, whose article “Mile-high madness (20 years of baseball at altitude)” appears on page 1CC of the Sunday, September 16, 2012 edition. There is also another version of the article on the denverpost.com web site, but that version may change, so this article is based on the print version. The Baseball Observer considers Mr. Saunders, as well as most of the other sportswriters at the Post, paid shills because their parent company is also one of the Rockies’ owners, and they are recipients of substantial gifts from the Rockies, including press box privileges, which are not given to objective reporters. The stories written by Mr. Saunders and his peers at the Post frequently contain statements and opinions from Rockies’ management presented as facts, the aforementioned article is no exception.
The article begins with one of these statements “baseball played at high altitude is a game of a very different color”. This is the favorite excuse of Rockies management that is trotted out frequently, but has no basis in fact. There are other baseball clubs at high altitude, Albuquerque and Colorado Springs are two examples, where baseball has been played for much longer than the Rockies have existed and yet teams there have had winning traditions and have continued. The Denver Bears won several minor league championships in Denver before they were banished by the arrival of the Rockies. The Baseball Observer attended numerous Bears games at Mile High Stadium and never heard anyone, from fans to reporters, to players to team management, complain about how difficult it was to play baseball at altitude. Baseball is certainly not the same in Denver as it is in Los Angeles or New York, for example, but the differences are minor and inconsequential. If you believe the Rockies and the Denver Post, then you also believe that if the Yankees moved to Denver, they would never win another World Series.
Patrick (May I call you Patrick?) writes in the article that the Rockies General Manager, “Dealing” Dan O’Dowd, is planning to take extraordinary measures to address the situation of playing baseball at 5,280 feet, or actually 5,183 feet, the precise elevation of Coors (nee Molsen) Field. However, the Post writer found that Mr. O’Dowd’s intentions were not clear, as he illustrated with this quote:
“Number one, I don’t want to make us appear that we are making excuses. Number two, I don’t want to make it sound like an insurmountable problem. I don’t want to convey a sense of hopelessness. That’s not how I feel.” (Actually the Post wrote it as “No. 1 and No. 2” but since they didn’t indicate how O’Dowd made it clear that he was abbreviating, I spelled them out.)
And this one:
“We now realize where we are at and where we play. I think we need to attack it in unique ways that create an opportunity and a competitive advantage for us. … There is not going to be one easy answer to any of this.”
The Rockies have played in Denver for almost 20 years now, and O’Dowd has been the GM for 13 of them. Doesn’t it seem that he and the rest of the Brain Trust must be incredibly dense to take that long to figure out where they play? Did you still think you were in Cleveland, Dan?
Mr. Saunders then brought a Mr. Bill Gievett into the article. Mr. Gievett now shares the GM duties with Mr. O’Dowd, at his own recommendation. It is easy to see why: even though Mr. Gievett claims to have “been in the game forever”, be echoes O’Dowd’s claims that something “nontraditional” must be done in order to win games in Denver. He thinks, along with O’Dowd, that the thousands of fans clamoring for new management are wrong, because they have finally figured it out and good times are coming.
At this point, I, as the Baseball Observer must interject. The fans who think new management is required to fix the problems with the Rockies are absolutely correct. In fact, it is so obvious anyone with a brain should see it. What does that say about the owners? Anyway, here is the considered opinion of the Baseball Observer:
The statements attributed to the Rockies’ co-GM’s are, if true, are simply insane if taken at face value. To explain this, look at the Oakland Athletics and their success chronicled in “Moneyball”. The Athletics, Billy Beane, and others have studied baseball to see how to win and they found it was really very simple. Baseball is a game with fixed rules. There is no room for innovation or nontraditional methods, unless you change the rules to your advantage, which is not going to happen. The A’s figured out that to win, you really only need two things: great fundamentals and good players. All things being equal, the teams with the most effective pitchers win, so most of the emphasis in stocking any team should be to get the best pitchers possible. After that, use scientific evaluation techniques to get the best combination of hitting and fielding at each position. The A’s excelled because their evaluation techniques, based on the principles of Bill James’ Sabermetrics allowed them to find excellent players that were overlooked by other teams. They also imposed their system on all employees including the players, to insure that everyone was going in the same direction and used fundamentally correct methods. These same principles make for successful organizations in any endeavor, they are not rocket science.
The Rockies do not win consistently for one reason: the owners do not want to win and are not committed to it. The Monforts obviously enjoy running the Rockies with all the fun and power that it brings and are not driven to turn the franchise into a consistently high-performing team. That would require too much money, hard decisions, and loss of control – it wouldn’t be fun anymore. So, they are content to hire people they like rather than winners and leaders, and to continue with the same approach they have for the last 20 years and just try to dupe the fans into thinking they are working hard to build a winner.
All of these other “problems” the Rockies consistently cite: the poor record on the road, pitchers who can’t pitch in Colorado and hitters that can’t hit anywhere else, high burnout rates and frequent injuries, dry baseballs, etc., etc., are just diversions to take everyone’s eyes off of the real reasons for the teams mediocrity: owners that will not bring in the best players and administrators because they don’t care about winning. For them, it really is not about winning or losing but how much fun they can have playing the game.
In the end, probably the smartest guy the Rockies every had was Dante Bichette, who was quoted as saying the only thing that made sense in the article:
“It’s going to be tough to ever perform well on the road for Colorado.”
“That’s why you have to hammer people at home.”
There are a number of philosophies that would produce winners here in Colorado. One of them would be to build a team that is unbeatable at home like they were in the early years. That approach filled the stadium and took them to the playoffs in 1995. Another would be to follow the A’s example. But in the end the Monforts will probably follow the same model they have always followed, with the same results. And the only ones that will be happy and satisfied will be themselves and their cronies in the expensive seats down on Blake Street.
But there is one thing about the Colorado Rockies situation that bothers the Denver Baseball Observer. Monfort, the two-headed monster that owns the team, had a similar situation with the Monfort Slaughterhouse in Greeley, Colorado. They inherited the business and didn’t have to do anything but enjoy themselves and rake in the profits, yet they decided to sell it. Why? Maybe they were bored, or they were afraid they would drive it into the ground and have nothing left. In any case, they sold the goose that laid the golden egg, as the saying goes, and ended up buying the Rockies. Maybe that same feeling of foreboding is beginning to creep up on them like the dark shadow of doom, and they are thinking of selling the team or moving it to another location where they will not have to constantly battle the evil specter of high altitude.
I hear Portland is in the market for a Major League team. Maybe Monfort knows how sick the fans are of their lame excuses, losing records, and the same smiling faces, and they are doing it on purpose! Think of the movie Major League, only without the sexy owner, and change the move from Cleveland to Florida, to Denver to Portland. It sounds like just the kind of thing the Monfort would do.
Postscript: The Denver Baseball Observer was confused today, Tuesday, September 18, 2012, when he/she/it noticed an article in the Denver Post by Terry Frei asserting that he was sick of the excuses being made by the Rockies, too. Then the DBO realized that it has begun already, and that Frei is part of the plan to make everyone hate the Rockies and smooth the path for the Monfort to take the team to Oregon. Maybe we can get the Bears back.