Keeping Score

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

"They asked for the sun, moon and stars," she adds. "John decided they should only have the sun and the moon."

Besides the revenue from parking, advertising and concessions, McHale agreed to give the team the money from the sale of naming rights for the ballpark. The Coors Brewing Company had paid $15 million to slap its name on the stadium, money that voters had been told would be used to help fund construction of the ballpark. Instead, it went to the owners of the team, who apparently used it to pay part of the National League's $95 million expansion fee. And despite pre-election promises that no taxpayer funds would be used to build luxury boxes and club seating, McHale agreed to let sales-tax revenues be used to build those facilities.

By the fall of 1991, terms of the lease began to leak out. Upset that their original intent had been perverted, some state legislators made noises about replacing the stadium district board. To prevent that from happening, the Rockies hired an all-star lineup of lobbyists, who collected on favors owed from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. "They hired every heavy-hitter lobbyist they could find," says Williams.

National League president Bill White got into the act and sent a letter threatening to cancel Denver's expansion team if the terms of the lease were changed. It was later revealed that the letter was written by Rockies officials, who faxed it to White for his signature.

The lease negotiated by the baseball stadium district board stood.
And chairman McHale's hard work was rewarded: In the summer of 1992, with opening day less than a year away, he was hired by the Colorado Rockies as executive vice president.

The man who had been appointed by Governor Romer to protect the taxpayers' interest in negotiations with the team's owners was now sitting behind a desk in the Rockies' front office.

Macey still seethes over what he sees as McHale's conflict of interest. "He was part of the Antonucci team, in effect," he says.

Sam Suplizio, who was a member of the baseball stadium district board and now sits on the football stadium district board, also regards McHale as a Benedict Arnold. "I thought John McHale was totally self-serving," says Suplizio. "He signed a lease with Monus and Antonucci and then immediately quit and took a job with them. I thought what McHale did was a terrible abuse of public trust. His job was to construct a ballpark and bring a team, not to have a hidden agenda to seek a job for himself. If he wanted a job in baseball, he should have gotten a job with a team and worked his way up, like everyone else does."

A lifelong baseball fan, McHale used the Rockies position as a stepping stone to his dream job: president of the Detroit Tigers, a position he holds today.

"The reason the Tigers hired him is because of his expertise in getting the stadium built here," says Macey. "They're trying to get a new stadium in Detroit."

McHale did not return phone calls from Westword seeking comment, but when he was in Denver, he defended the Coors Field lease as a necessity to win a team. He also pointed out that the Rockies would be responsible for maintaining the new stadium, a cost that runs to several million dollars per year.

But just as McHale has his critics, he has his defenders. Denver wouldn't have a baseball team without McHale's persistence, they say, and the sweetheart-lease deal was simply the price of joining the major leagues.

"McHale had more knowledge about what it would take to get a baseball team in Denver than all the other people combined," says Steve Katich, who worked closely with former mayor Pena in an effort to bring baseball to Denver in the mid-1980s.

McHale's father had been a general manager of the Montreal Expos, and McHale had remarkable access to the owners and executives in the National League. Katich remembers a league meeting in Palm Springs where McHale asked his father to introduce Katich to baseball's movers and shakers. "He took us around to every owner of every team," recalls Katich. "It was the kind of thing where we went from knowing no one to having really solid relationships. McHale was quietly working behind the scenes to make this happen. He had more contacts with owners and team presidents than anybody else."

Katich believes the Coors Field lease that McHale negotiated was also what finally brought substantial local money into the Rockies' ownership group. "When local investors looked at this as something to invest in," he says, "the lease was a factor."

And locals were soon taking a good, hard look at the Rockies. In August 1992, Monus was forced to sell his share of the team after the embezzlement scandal broke. Antonucci exited shortly thereafter, and Jerry McMorris became the new team leader. The lease remained in place.

But in 1993, after the Rockies had taken to the field at Mile High and it was apparent the team would be a great success, the Rockies asked that Coors Field be expanded from 43,000 to 50,000 seats.

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