By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Amanda Vain-Trumpington of Palm Beach gave a slightly different account. "No, that's not precisely it. What the poor fellow appeared to be saying was 'Saberhagen, Saberhagen.' I haven't the foggiest notion what he meant. Saberhagen. Is that a fabulous new ski resort in the Rockies? In any event, the entire incident was frightful. The unfortunate man's eyes rolling back in his head like that. Wouldn't you know it? This was my very first baseball game."
McMorris's distress may be understandable. In vivid contrast to a Florida franchise that also joined the National League in the expansion of 1993, the power-hitting, no-pitching Rockies have failed crucial tests the past two seasons. Fan attendance at Denver's Mile High Stadium and Coors Field has mysteriously set major-league records, but the team itself has steadily declined since reaching the playoffs against Atlanta in 1995.
In 1996, six Rockies pitchers--notably Brett Babyhaven, who missed the entire season, and former San Francisco Giant Bill Swift--spent a total of 402 games on the disabled list. The Rox topped the National League in team batting, home runs and almost every other offensive category, but their pitchers finished dead last again, with a 5.59 ERA and a history of squandered leads that made the Japanese performance in the naval war look like child's play.
Following the 1996 season, Colorado then inexplicably traded its only reliable starter, Armando Reynoso, to the New York Mets. Those are the same Mets, Rockies fans recalled, who managed to dump the badly injured Babyhaven and his multi-million-dollar contract on Colorado two years earlier.
By the start of 1997, McMorris and Rockies GM Bob Gebhard were said to be interested in trading star outfielders Dante Bichette and Ellis Burks to the Mets in exchange for the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. "Throw in an Italian restaurant to be named later and you got yourself a deal!" Gebhard reportedly told the New York front office.
While expansion-mate Florida went power-shopping in the off-season and won a pennant, the Rockies stood pat. Another wildly schizophrenic performance in 1997 reflected that inactivity.
Two Rockies regulars, aging first baseman Andres Galarraga and left-fielder Larry Walker, who missed much of 1996 with injuries, both broke Roger Maris's 36-year-old home-run record--Galarraga with 63 dingers, Walker with 68. At home, the Rox led the league once more in wins, attendance, homers, runs scored, RBI, doubles, total bases and oxygen deprivation.
But their awful pitching and road woes continued.
In late April, prospective staff ace Swift, citing years of wear and tear on his sore arm, signed on as a left wing with the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer. After that, the Rockies won just seven games on the road--and finished the year with a 70-92 mark. Two of the rare road victories came at Wrigley Field against bulky Chicago Cubs starter Harry Caray, who again showed a tendency to weaken in the late innings. And there was a memorable 37-36 squeaker in Pittsburgh against Florida manager Jim Leyland's old club. In contrast to Huizenga's free-spending policy in Miami, the Pirates again practiced austerity in 1997. Former Yankee great Mickey Rivers was recruited to play center field for the Bucs, and 56-year-old Steel City legend Willie Stargell also came out of retirement. While he's lost a step or two around first base, Pops hit five home runs off Rockies pitching in the 37-36 tilt, widely hailed as the most entertaining NL game of the year.
In turn, Walker and the Blake Street Bombers roughed up Pirates starter Jimmy "Pinhead" Frumble for 26 runs over seven and one-third innings. But the fifteen-year-old lefthander was undaunted. "Hey, man," he told reporters after the loss. "The Pirates're paying me $14.80 an hour, and I get the entire month of November off. That's a lot better'n I was doing answering the phone at Pizza Hut."
Frumble, who started his career as the Detroit Tigers' top pitching prospect, is now said to be negotiating with Colorado itself. "We need a solid number-three starter," Rox pitching coach Frank Funk said last week. "This could be the guy. His 31.58 ERA last season doesn't look all that great, but the kid's got great stuff. Besides, now that Mark Thompson and Bruce Ruffin have joined that monastery, we have a couple of slots open on the roster."
Meanwhile, the Marlins play in the World Series on Monday. Let's just hope Commissioner Kaelin is back from his surfing trip.