Home State Hero Shawn Chacon Goes Sprewell on GM

The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News both reported about Houston Astros pitcher Shawn Chacon's indefinite suspension after allegedly seizing general manager Ed Wade by the neck and hurling him to the ground like a resin bag, although with few details or mentions of his Colorado connections. In its June 26 edition, the Post briefed the incident, which sounds like a literal throwback to the 1997 moment when basketball star Latrell Sprewell choked the breath out of coach P.J. Carlesimo, noting only that Chacon once pitched for the Colorado Rockies. And while the Rocky went a little further, the only extra local info in its piece from the 26th concerned Chacon's graduation from Greeley Central High School.

Truth is, Chacon was once viewed as one of the finest baseball players to ever spring from Colorado -- and the ways in which he's failed to fulfill his promise thus far are as varied and weird as they are disappointing.

The best roundup I was able to find about Chacon comes not from the Colorado press, but from Houston Chronicle scribe Richard Justice, whose February 20 blog "Shawn Chacon's Strange Journey to the Astros" provides a sympathetic but clear-eyed telling of his tale.

"On a personal level, he's an amazing story," Justice writes. "He was born in Anchorage, Alaska, to a mother that brought him to Greeley, Colorado, and placed him in a foster home. He lived there for a year before being adopted by Tony and Blanca Chacon. He was five. Tony worked for the Colorado Employment Office. Blanca was a hairdresser."

By the time he hit high school, Chacon had developed into a fearsome baller. Justice points out that he was one of just two athletes to ever have his number retired in Greeley Central's 126-year history -- and he was the first Colorado high-school prospect drafted by the Rockies, who spent a third rounder on him in 1996. But the team sent him to the minors for disciplinary reasons in 1999 and might have dumped him permanently were it not for new general manager Dan O'Dowd, who decided to give him a second (or third, or fourth) chance.

Here's Justice's accounting of subsequent career highlights:

2001: He made his big league debut on April 29, 2001, when Mike Hampton couldn't go. He was dazzling. He finished the season with 134 strikeouts, third among major league rookies.

2003: He was sent to Class AAA in August 2002 and basically told to never come back by Rockies manager Clint Hurdle. That off-season, Hurdle told Chacon he had to win a job in spring training and that the decision would be based as much on Chacon's mental approach as his performance. Chacon did more than earn a job the following year. He made the National League All-Star team. "It's as impressive as anything I've seen because it was so quick, from the end of one season to the start of the next spring," Hurdle said. "He obviously decided to put a little more thought into his career and what he thought it could become.'' Elbow pain sidelined Chacon the final three months, prompting the Rockies to try him as a closer the following year.

2004: He went 1-9 with a 7.11 ERA and had nine blown saves as the Rockies' closer. Back to the rotation. "There's no one else to blame for my failure other than myself,'' he said. ''I gave it my all. It didn't work out the way anybody planned."

2005: He was traded to the Yankees after going 1-7 with a 4.09 ERA with the Rockies. Lost in those awful numbers was the fact that he allowed two runs or less in seven starts in which he went 0-4 with three no-decisions. He was terrific for the Yankees. They won 8 of his 12 starts, and he was 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA. He had 17 consecutive shutout innings in August and allowed one earned run in his final three starts.

2006: He was 5-3 with a 7.00 ERA when the Yankees swapped him to the Pirates for Craig Wilson. He re-established himself in 2007 with 64 appearances and a 3.94 ERA. He may have misread the market this past off-season, but also wanted to catch on with a team that would give him a chance to start.

Justice understood that Chacon's fortunes could go in radically different directions. "Don't be surprised if he pitches his way out of the big leagues by the All-Star Break," he maintained. "Nor should you be surprised if he pitches his way right onto the National League All-Star team."

Right now, of course, the former looks more likely than the latter, as ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian acknowledged on ESPN Radio. He said Chacon had been "all over the map" during his playing days, so when the GM asked to speak to him, he needed to be cooperative, not confrontational -- and his reaction, coupled with his spotty performances of late, could well doom any future comeback.

That's a shame, even if Chacon brought it on himself. After all, he had a chance to write a compelling chapter in Colorado sports history, instead of an ignominious one. -- Michael Roberts

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts