Keeping Score

Think the Broncos want the kind of lease that made the Rockies rich? You're in the ballpark.

The town had a major inferiority complex and was desperate for some sort of good news. By election day, 54 percent of the voters had decided to take a gamble that the possibility of getting a major-league team to Denver would be worth a sales-tax hike. (Even though Coors Field would become the quintessential urban ballpark, the tax was turned down in Denver; suburban voters provided the winning margin.)

While Denver's hard economic times helped to sway voters to baseball's side, they'd also created a psychology that made the city vulnerable to fast-talking hustlers who could promise better days ahead. Sure enough, a pair of them showed up soon after the vote, and they played off the city's low self-esteem to win themselves a financial grand slam.

Building a ballpark wasn't enough. To land a team, Denver had to assemble an ownership group with pockets deep enough to convince the National League that the owners could cover the substantial costs of launching an expansion team.

By now, John Dikeou's real estate empire had crashed; he no longer had the financial resources to bankroll a team. Spooked by the economic freefall of the 1980s, the people in Denver who still had money weren't offering to pick up the tab for a new team. Since money was tight, outsiders with cash were welcomed with open arms.

Enter Mickey Monus and John Antonucci, two wheeler-dealer Ohio millionaires who had been friends since childhood. When they showed up shortly after the election with seemingly enough money to single-handedly keep the prospective team afloat, Romer quickly designated them the team's primary owners.

With an ownership group in place, the wooing of the National League commenced in earnest. There was plenty of courting to be done, as Major League Baseball was skeptical that Denver had enough people to support a team. And even if it did, would football-loving Coloradans rally around baseball?

"Behind the scenes, the National League was telling us they had strong reservations about bringing a team here," says Tom Gleason, former deputy director of the baseball stadium district. "They thought there wasn't enough population here. They were very concerned that the ownership group have enough resources to support a team, especially in the early years."

Monus and Antonucci used the National League's hesitation as a bargaining chip in their lease negotiations with the baseball stadium district. Give us a great lease, they argued, and Denver will be more likely to win an expansion team.

And so in private, McHale sketched out a lease that would give almost all stadium revenues to the Rockies, saddling the taxpayers with virtually all the costs for the new stadium.

This was quite a change from McHale's promise to voters before the crucial August election. Nine days before the vote, McHale wrote in the Denver Post: "Our finance plan makes the stadium a true private/public partnership, with $42 million in revenue coming from the private sector and $97 million from sales tax revenue...Taxpayers are protected."

Within weeks of making these assurances, though, McHale was slurping down martinis and sharing cigars with the new, out-of-town owners of the future team. "They started kissing McHale's fanny right away," Williams says. "They started going to games together and having drinks with John. They knew John had a lot of power as chairman of the stadium authority."

Monus, whose Phar-Mor drugstore fortune made him the chief carpetbagger, was also wowing the locals in oil-bust-weary Denver, pulling up in a limo at society soirees and boasting of his numerous financial conquests. His partner, Antonucci, plunked down $2 million for a Cherry Hills home with an elevator and disco floor. Denverites hadn't seen such a display of cash-fueled chutzpah since dozens of Texas oil millionaires descended on the city like buzzards in the early 1980s.

Macey remembers Monus showing up at a cocktail party at the Women's Bank with a gun-slinging bodyguard in tow. The short and stocky Monus wowed the ladies with a silk shirt open at the chest to reveal three gold chains.

"When you talked to him," says Macey, "you knew he was a slimeball."
Monus would later be convicted of 109 felony counts and sentenced to nineteen years in prison as part of a $1.1 billion corporate fraud-and-embezzlement scheme that devastated his Phar-Mor drugstore chain. But by then, he'd already pulled a fast one at Coors Field, pushing through a lease that ensured the new ballpark would become a taxpayer-funded money machine for the Colorado Rockies.

By late 1990, negotiations were in high gear. On March 14, 1991, McHale signed a memorandum of understanding with the team for a lease at Coors Field. The owners showed off the agreement to National League officials just 48 hours later, when they flew into Denver to meet with the team's management. The sweetheart deal greatly impressed the league, which granted Denver a team in July of that year.

Williams believes Monus and Antonucci persuaded McHale that Denver would never get an expansion team without a lease that would assure a gusher of green. "I don't doubt that in John's mind, he thought they had to do this to get a team," she says. "I think Monus and Antonucci were crooks. They worked very hard to convince John they couldn't get backing for the team without a lease like that."

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