Some team names just seem obvious. Some of them are so obvious, they get overused to such an extent that people get sick of seeing them, no matter how geographically obvious or appropriate they may be. The sports teams in Buffalo, New York were all at one time called the Bisons. The Triple A baseball team is called the Bisons, and the name graced an old football team, the city's first basketball team, and the minor league hockey team that preceded the Sabres, too. That's why you don't see teams in the area getting that nickname very often these days. Another case of such obviousness that people got sick of it is the state of Colorado and the name Rockies. Denver's first NHL team was called the Rockies, and now their baseball team - which is entering a 20th season next year, meaning it was around longer than the hockey team - is also called the Rockies.
Back in the 50's, the city of Denver was growing into big city territory. In 1958, a lawyer in New York City named William Shea proposed creating a new baseball league, the Continental League, to go head to head with the American League and the National League. Nothing ever came to fruition about that. MLB got into action and started filing lawsuits, which were shot down, allowing Shea to form his league. Little did they know that the whole Continental League was a giant bluff threatened by Shea to force MLB to expand so he could get a new team into New York City. The ploy worked, and MLB was forced to expand, and Shea got his team: The New York Metropolitans Baseball Club, better known in fan parlance as the New York Mets.
If worse came to worst, though, Shea did have plans in place. One of them involved a team in Denver run by Bob Howsam, who a year later formed the Denver Broncos. Nothing came of placing an MLB team in Denver. Later, during the Pittsburgh drug trials in 1985, the grapevine said the Pittsburgh Pirates would be heading to Denver. The Oakland Athletics were also subject to the same kind of rumor, but nothing came of either of them. Still, by the late 80's, Denver had turned into a big city, and a baseball team seemed inevitable. A Colorado Baseball Commission successfully managed to get a tax raise to fund a baseball stadium, an ownership group was recruited, and in 1991, Denver was given its team, to start playing in 1993.
Like every other expansion team on Earth, the Rockies struggled in their first season. They did set a National League record for expansion teams by winning 67 games, and they went 17-9 in September that year, and oh yeah, they also drew over 4 million fans, setting a record which doesn't look breakable. Also of note was first baseman Andres Galarraga, who hit a whopping .370 for the batting titles in his first of five years with the Rockies. Galarraga went on to play for several more teams and retired with borderline Hall of Fame credentials. He's not to be confused with Armando Galarraga, the Detroit Tigers pitcher who pitched a perfect game which was spoiled by a bad call.
In 1995, the Rockies contended, went 77-67, and won the wild card spot in the playoffs. Galarraga, along with Dante Bichette, Larry Walker, and Vinny Castilla, became known as the Blake Street Bombers. That was the first year of the team's home field, Coors Field, the acclaimed ballpark which is known to be hitter-friendly to a fault. With the dry mile-high air in Denver, balls could carry further than normal, and so teams had a bonanza. The Blake Street Bombers hit 139 home runs combined, and the pitching staff had a 4.97 ERA. None of the staff closers had an ERA above 3.40. In short, these Rockies were a good team. Unfortunately, they were also playing in the National League in the mid-90's, which meant the road to the Pennant ran hard through Atlanta. Their first-round opponents were the Atlanta Braves, who disposed of the Rockies before eventually going on to win the World Series.
As with every team which makes a surprise surge one season after sucking, the Rockies were now a chic pick as a contender. The thing about sports prognostication, though, is that too many prognosticators read too much into basing success for a team based on the results of the previous season. The Rockies played well in 1996, winning 83 games, but no one prognosticated a rash of injuries smacking the pitchers. The team ERA swelled, and the Rockies finished in a third place which might have been better. Walker did take home the NL MVP award, though, batting .366 with 49 homers and 130 RBI. He was one of three Rockies players to hit 40 or more home runs, and the first member of the team to win the Gold Glove.
Galarraga left after the 1997 season, and he was replaced by the team's first round draft pick of 1995, Todd Helton. The Rockies raced out to a 4-1 start, but lost eight straight games after that promising beginning en route to a 77-85 finish, just ahead of the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks. Manager Don Baylor - the only manager the Rockies ever employed to that point - was fired after the season, and replaced by Jim Leyland, fresh off a gig with the Florida Marlins during which he won the World Series in 1997. Pitching was terrible again, the Rockies won 72 games, and Leyland was fired and wouldn't manage again until the Tigers came calling in 2006.
2000 came with a slew of changes, including a new general manager, a new manager, and the trades of Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla to the Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, respectively. You would expect a major implosion following an offseason like that, but Helton started to emerge as a star. He won the batting title, led the league in RBI, and hit 42 home runs. The Rockies compiled their first winning record in a few years, going 82-80, good enough for fourth. Then they made a big splash, collecting new pitchers in the free agent market… Who flopped. The pitchers were Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton, who had won the Cy Young two years earlier with the Houston Astros. They shared Colorado pitching duties for two years, in which the Rockies went 73-89 in both. The amount of money the Rockies owed from their contracts crippled them for the next few years. The Rockies also traded Larry Walker, who had been with them since 1995 and was widely considered the best player in team history to that point. He was having injury problems, during which the Rockies discovered his replacement, Matt Holliday, could play.
A roster overhaul kept the Rockies struggling in 2005 and 2006. In 2007, things looked like business as usual in the NL West, with the Rockies spending most of the year behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, and San Diego Padres. Then in August, something funny started to happen, and the Rockies started winning more steadily and more often. The Dodgers were also starting to struggle, losing so much ground that they were out of the division race by September. The Diamondbacks and Padres still had a firm grip on the divisional and Wild Card leads, though, but the fall of the Dodgers almost seemed to inspire the Rockies. On September 1, the Rockies were six games out of the wild card spot. They spent most of the month going on a rampage, coming to a September record of 20-8 during which they won 14 or their last 15 games, eleven in a row, with their lone loss during their streak coming at the hands of the Diamondbacks. That loss clinched the division for Arizona and forced the Rockies into a single-game playoff with the Padres for the rights visit the playoffs for the right to be killed by the surging Philadelphia Phillies. Colorado won the single-game playoff, and then took their incredible momentum with them into the playoffs. They clobbered the Phillies in three games, then killed the NL West Champion Diamondbacks in a four-game sweep for the Pennant. The incredible run became known as "Rocktober" in baseball parlance, and the Rockies rolled into the World Series looking like they had a reasonable chance at victory.
The mass sweep through the playoffs left the Rockies with a lot of time to catch up on their reading - not a good thing when momentum is being dealt with. The extra off days certainly didn't do anything for them in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, who had just won the AL Pennant by climbing out of a 3-1 hole they had dug themselves into against the Cleveland Indians. The Red Sox were also just the more stacked and loaded team that year, and had spent the season looking like THE Team of Destiny. The Team of Destiny obliterated the Rockies in four straight to conclude the season and deny Colorado's first title. To baseball fans, nothing else could have happened, no matter how much they rooted for the underdog, suddenly likable Rockies.
Expected to build on the previous season, a bunch of prognosticators blew it again when the Rockies went 74-88 in 2008 to finish third. After that, they traded Matt Holliday to Oakland for Huston Street, Greg Smith, and Carlos Gonzalez. I'm not sure how that was supposed to help them. Somehow, it DID help, and the Rockies won 92 games and the wild card spot again. They faced the Phillies again, but the result was different; they lost. The Phillies went on to win the Pennant. Since then, the Rockies have been looking like a team of promise that hasn't quite been able to fulfill that promise.
All things considered, that last statement sums up the Colorado Rockies in a nutshell. When they've been good, they've been great. When they've been bad, they haven't really been THAT bad. They've never had a 100-loss season, after all, and since Coors Field is a hitters' park, they do put on a good show. That's going to be their long-term identity, I expect: The Rocky Mountain team that can hit. Lord knows stockpiling pitchers hasn't done very much for them right now. The number of balls being hit out of Coors has been attributed to the dry, thin air and friendly dimensions. The Rockies might hit more than any other team, but they also have the potential to get shellacked by everyone else.
So far, the only retired number the Rockies have is that of Jackie Robinson, and that's because the entire league retired his number. They have, however, fielded a lot of exciting players: Larry Walker was the National League MVP in 1997. Matt Holliday was the MVP of the NLCS in 2007. Jason Jennings was the 2002 Rookie of the Year. Slugging is a specialty for Rockies players; eleven of their players have won the Silver Slugger. The Rockies have been in existence for 19 years now, and of those years, only 1993, 1994, 2004, and 2005 have gone by without a Rockies player winning a Silver Slugger.
The real defining moment of the team was obviously the 2007 Pennant. Their incredible run is something which hasn't been done by a whole lot of teams, so it's a big deal. As for rivalries, look for them to develop with the San Diego Padres and especially the Arizona Diamondbacks. Forget the development of anything serious with the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants. Those two teams are eternally out to kill each other, so anything else will always be second to those teams. The Diamondbacks are the youngest team, and the team the Rockies mowed down in 2007 on the way to the Pennant. They'll be trading "favors" like that with each other for years to come.
It's a shame I couldn't rate the Colorado Rockies higher, because they're easily my favorite of the 90's expansion teams. If you like home runs and crisp mountain, air, though, don't let this low rating stop you.