1993 Colorado Rockies
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Managed by Don Baylor
History, Comments, Contributions
After what amounted to a seven-year wait, Major League Baseball came to Denver, Colorado in 1993. The Colorado Rockies, along with the Florida Marlins, were the two expansion teams granted to the National League in the Basic Agreement of 1985.
General Manager Bob Gebhard assumed his post in September of 1991. His first major move was the hiring of former American League MVP Don Baylor to be the club's manager. Baylor was hired on October 27, 1992, and promised a hard-nosed brand of baseball to the baseball-starved fans of the Mile High City.
One day before the 1992 Expansion Draft was to be held, the Rockies scored their first major free agent coup, signing first baseman Andres Galarraga to a one-year contract. In the draft the next day, Atlanta Braves pitcher David Nied was the Rockies' first pick. Other cornerstones added in the draft's first round were third baseman Charlie Hayes (from the New York Yankees), second baseman Eric Young (from the Los Angeles Dodgers), catcher Joe Girardi (from the Chicago Cubs), and closer Darren Holmes (from the Milwaukee Brewers). In later rounds, the Rockies would select infielder Vinny Castilla (Atlanta), starting pitcher Kevin Ritz (Detroit), and reliever Steve Reed (San Francisco), players who would form the team's core in the future.
The Rockies began their life as a franchise at Shea Stadium, where they were swept in a two-game series by the New York Mets. Dwight Gooden twirled a four-hit shutout in Colorado's Opening Day 3-0 loss. On April 9th, 80,227 fans packed Mile High Stadium to witness the first major league game in the city of Denver. The Rockies started with a bang, literally; leadoff hitter Eric Young homered off Montreal Expos starter Kent Bottenfield as the first man to bat for the Rockies at home, and Charlie Hayes would add a two-run shot later in the inning. Bryn Smith threw seven strong innings as the Rockies won their home debut 11-4.
The Rockies would win the next day to get back to .500, but that was the last time they would ever reach that plateau. It mattered little to the fans, who continued to jam the 78,000+ seat Mile High Stadium in record numbers. On Mother's Day, the team passed the million mark, and on Father's Day, they reached two million. The final turnstile tally was 4,483,050 fans, a single-season record that will likely never be broken.
Denver baseball was quickly established as a different breed – the thin mountain air helped balls fly out of the park with uncommon regularity. This was never more apparent than on May 8th, when Atlanta Braves first baseman Sid Bream hit a grand slam off a check swing to help the Braves to an 8-7 victory.
Hitters certainly weren't complaining. The Rockies as a team crushed 142 home runs, led by 25 from Hayes (whose 45 doubles led the National League). Right fielder Dante Bichette, acquired from Milwaukee in an even-up swap for Kevin Reimer on the day of the expansion draft, added 21. But the hitting star of the season was Galarraga, who resurrected his career in explosive fashion. The "Big Cat" (or "El Gato Grande", as the sizeable Latin population in Denver referred to him) won the league's batting title with a .370 mark, flirting with .400 until a rash of mid-summer injuries almost kept him from having enough at-bats to be eligible for the title.
However, the hitters paradise that was Mile High Stadium had an adverse effect on the Rockies pitching staff. Baylor employed 25 different pitchers throughout the season, with mostly underwhelming results. The main bright spot was rookie Armando Reynoso, acquired from the Braves in the third round of the expansion draft. Reynoso led the team with 12 wins and a 4.00 ERA. Though he did not record the franchise's first save until mid-May, Darren Holmes would end the season with 25 saves and was easily the lone reliable bullpen arm.
Nied, the first pick of the expansion draft, had an excellent start to his rookie campaign, going 3-2 with a 3.60 ERA in his first five starts. But after a no-decision against the Florida Marlins on May 1st, Nied proceeded to lose his next five starts. Then, even worse news would come: while pitching in an exhibition game against the Rockies' AAA affiliate in Colorado Springs in early June, Nied tore ligaments in his right elbow, an injury that would sideline him until September 12th. He completed the year with a 5-9 record and a 5.17 ERA, and because of the injury, never lived up to the expectations that had been set for him.
The Rockies would go 7-13 in their first 20 games and then proceed to go on a 7-23 skid. They were 33-54 at the All-Star Break, where Galarraga would represent the team as their first All-Star. Starting on June 25th, the Rockies would hit their worst stretch of the season, losing 13 in a row, before following that with a six-game winning streak, their longest of the year.
Wanting to reward the fans for their staggering display of loyalty, the Rockies made a deal at the deadline, trading for San Diego pitchers Greg Harris and Bruce Hurst. The trade was a major bust for the Rockies. Harris, who was 10-9 with a 3.67 ERA at the time of the trade, went 1-8 with a 6.50 ERA in purple pinstripes, and Hurst threw a grand total of 8.2 innings in his three starts with the Rockies. Meanwhile, the prospects given up by the Rox, catcher Brad Ausmus and pitcher Andy Ashby, went on to have productive big-league careers.
Needing a strong finishing kick to avoid losing 100 games, the Rockies skirted this inglorious feat by beating the Padres 15-4 at home on September 21st. Five days later, in the season's final home game, Eric Young, who had not homered since that memorable home opener, belted two home runs as the Rockies beat the Reds 12-7. After the game, the team did a victory lap around the stadium, saluting the 70,069 fans in attendance, as well as the four million others who had attended their games.
The Rockies lost four of their final five games on the road, but because one of those wins came against the San Francisco Giants and three of those losses came at the hands of the Braves, they can be credited, in a roundabout way, with enabling Atlanta to three-peat as champions of the NL West.
Following the season, the Rockies re-signed Galarraga to a four-year contract.
Opening Day Lineup
Eric Young, 2b
Alex Cole, cf
Dante Bichette, rf
Andres Galarraga, 1b
Jerald Clark, lf
Charlie Hayes, 3b
Joe Girardi, c
David Nied, p
Awards and Honors
- Bill Young: "Three Canadians in Expos' Starting Lineup; September 6, 1993: Montreal Expos 4, Colorado Rockies 3 At Olympic Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 90-92. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6