Nowadays, it seems like building a franchise in professional sports doesn’t take much. But building a franchise that consistently contends for the postseason does.
For the Colorado Rockies, building that type of franchise seems impossible. But take a step back and the foundation for another playoff franchise in Denver is there. So what is holding back this relatively young franchise from becoming more than it has been?
The Rockies are not in the top tier of payrolls. And to make matters worse for the Rockies, they share a division with the team whose payroll rivals the Yankees. In baseball, money can buy championships. George Steinbrenner’s Yankees benefited from his innovation of the YES Network and built the empire that has won seven World Series since 1977; more impressively, they three-peated from 1998-2000.
The Colorado Rockies have Root Sports. No, Root Sports is no YES Network, and the Rockies fan base doesn’t include celebrities like Jay-Z and Adam Sandler, but the Rox have a strong fan base. On pace to finish well behind both the Dodgers and D’Backs, Coors Field still sees an average attendance over 34,000, tenth best in Major League Baseball. Revenue is there for Colorado and so is the public.
Even with the “buy a championship” practice recently implemented by many (see the Angels, Rangers, and the Red Sox), teams like Tampa Bay and Oakland, both of which have smaller payrolls and smaller fan bases than the Rockies, have spent the last decade becoming playoff consistent contenders. To that point, both the Rays and Rockies have made historic runs to the World Series. Oakland has managed to make the playoffs in five of the last twelve seasons. The Rays have qualified in three of the last five seasons. What makes the A’s and Rays so effective with so little money?
Everyone knows Billy Beane’s story; Brad Pitt played it beautifully in the movie Moneyball. Beane’s economical and sabermetrical style of roster building was ahead of its time. A decade later, sabermetric principles are not only regulars in baseball operations, but they have found their way to bigger business in the NFL (see ESPN the Magazine’s article on the Jacksonville Jaguars).
A franchise needs a great general manager. The Red Sox capitalized with Theo Epstein, the Yankees are turning a new page with Brian Cashman, and as always you can look at Mr. Beane in the Bay Area. Colorado has Daniel J. O’Dowd. O’Dowd is the fourth-longest tenured GM in Major League Baseball. His experience comes from the time of the Indians dynasty in the 90s. However, he’s had 11 years as the GM and the Rox have not shown consistent improvement. When does Richard Monfort realize the Rox are capable of more? The first step in creating a better Rockies organization is turning a new page and bringing in a new philosophy.
Joe Madden is the most beloved manager in baseball. Members of the media love interviewing him and every one of his players respects him. In a world where dealing with egos is a part of day to day operations, Madden seems to have found a way to rise above the drama of a baseball clubhouse. If problems arise in Tampa, they are kept and settled in house.
Madden has taken a franchise established in a retirement destination and turned them into consistent AL East contenders. He took Tampa to its first ever World Series and has since built a micro-dynasty down in the American tropics.
Back in Denver, Walt Weiss couldn’t keep the Rox relevant this season. Neither could Clint Hurdle, or Jim Tracy, or Don Baylor. These managers were not the cream of the crop, although Hurdle has the Pirates poised to be a factor this postseason. But you aren’t going to get the Madden’s, Girardi’s, or the La Russa’s out to Denver easily.
Weiss is in his first year, and I am a big proponent of giving a guy a few years to see what he can do. However, today’s sports world is cutthroat for coaches and managers. One losing season and the front office is already looking for a replacement. If the Rox have given O’Dowd 11 years to wander, there is no reason Weiss doesn’t deserve a few years. Weiss might not be the next Joe Madden, but he could very well be the guy the clubhouse rallies behind. He defends his players and to that end he has the potential to establish a Madden-like role.
The Colorado Rockies are not too far off from becoming the franchise their fan base expects. For better or for worse they draw comparisons to the Broncos, the Nuggets, and even the the Avalanche of years past. It is a city that has been spoiled with playoff contenders and champions.
It is about time the Rockies joined the mix. It could be just on the horizon. Jonathon Swift once said that “one enemy can do more hurt than ten friends can do good.” Cargo, Tulo, Fowler, and Cuddy can do plenty, but the front office needs to stop being the biggest hurdle for the Rockies.