In the Rockpile: Chat with Rockies owner Dick Monfort


Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort took some time to address TTFB's Cory Witmer's questions and criticisms. (Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post)

After a very disappointing season that saw the Rockies underachieve in grandiose fashion, how in the world could Rockies ownership even ponder increasing ticket prices — let alone actually following through with said pondering?

It’s rare when the gripes of peasants reach the ears of kings. Yet that’s exactly what happened as my criticism of ownership’s move to increase ticket prices reached the king himself: Dick Monfort.

I opened my Yahoo! Mail app on my phone expecting the usual garbage I somehow can’t unsubscribe from, but it was different this time. There was an email titled “Ownership Commitment,” and it was from the owner himself.

I was elated to see that, but figured it would be a canned email written by an intern, like emails I receive from my congressmen after I write them about real issues.

When I opened the email, it was a lengthy reply and definitely not written by a PR rep. It was crafted by an actual person not in the business of damage control or placation. This email was raw and real. It’s easily one of the most honest emails I have ever received. I won’t detail the message itself too much, but it was full of real evaluations of players I had derided, and it even included agreement with some of my assessments.

The highlight was a challenge for me to suggest better players that matched Mr. Monfort’s contractual criteria. He did not want an email reply. Not good enough. He wanted me to call him directly and chat about the team and my ideas.

This was a golden opportunity, and I wasn’t about to show up to the game unprepared. I immediately began searching for some tangible and realistic ideas, not whimsical impossibilities. Mr. Monfort and I emailed back and forth over the next day to arrange a time to talk. We landed on a time that afternoon and he gave me one stipulation, “Call me Dick.”

Leading up to the call, I did a last-minute review of my notes and talking points. I cracked a beer and put ESPN on mute: It was game time. The beginning of the call was the standard greet and open. I was nervous at first to be talking to the owner of my favorite team, but I settled in fairly quick. He and I jumped right into the third base position. I had criticized the farm system and its failures, namely Ian Stewart, as part of their lack of success.

Dick was in agreement that Stewart has performed woefully below expectations. He detailed how he has believed in Stewart and thinks highly of him, but he is at a loss about his on-field performance. Dick then brought me down as he conceded that Stewart would be back next year for spring training. But he did have good news for me when he shared that Nolan Arenado, a 20-year-old third baseman in their system, would get a spring-training invite. I had looked into Arenado after Dick mentioned his name in our email exchange in regards to the “failing” farm system. I told him it could be a good move, but if he is only 20, then I had to agree that he wouldn’t be ready for a couple more years, even if he was tearing it up in the Arizona Fall League.

This was where Dick wanted my ideas. Based on his criteria, I told him guys like David Wright and Aramis Ramirez would be out of the question. Dick likes Wright, but did not believe the Mets would part with him for an affordable price to the Rockies. My ultimate suggestion, aside from maintaining the status quo, was to look at a free-agent third baseman who was hitting over .260 the last couple seasons and had an OPS of .970 and would probably only command a contract that paid short of a couple million a season. The sound of him typing seemed to me that he would possibly take a look into it. This third baseman is better than any other third baseman on the current roster. I’m hesitant to mention his name because I don’t want to jinx it. (Editor’s note: If we mention who it is, then, technically, Cory has nothing to worry about … Wilson Betemit.)

We then talked about the pitching rotation and the bullpen. Dick had some good stories and evaluations to share about a couple of the pitchers. He said Jorge de la Rosa is rehabbing quite well. He believes the pitching rotation will be better next season, too, as he is counting on Drew Pomeranz to step up for the team.

I also asked him if, after the Ubaldo cuticle situation, the team had brought in a manicurist. He said they did not, as there are plenty of staff in the clubhouse and that players do need to do some things to take of themselves.

We also talked about the fact there has not been a consistent, everyday starter at second base. I told him I really like Mark Ellis, as he and Troy Tulowitzki did a good job turning double plays. I also mentioned that I like Jonathan Herrera. Dick likes both, but he feels one is consistently better than the other. The whole time during our conversation, he shared funny stories and little fun facts about the business side of players.

It was a normal conversation between two guys talking baseball; except one owns the team and the other just watches and blogs about said team.

After about 40 minutes, we finally got down to the whole reason for the call: the ticket price increase.

I reaffirmed that it was still beyond me that they could raise prices after such a bad season. This is where Dick helped me understand the increase was not about making more money. The club needs more money as the expenses have been rising, and ticket prices have stayed the same. While the club is “… 19th out of 30 in market size, we are 10th in attendance and 29th in ticket prices.” He restated that the organization is committed to drafting and developing.

I was then forced to ask this question: If the team is in “draft and develop” mode and requires more revenue, how does a team like Tampa — with its terrible attendance — continue to push for the playoffs, even after losing players? He said they have managed the draft better, which prompted me to mention the Rockies had passed on Evan Longoria for pitcher Greg Reynolds. “Don’t remind me” was his reply.

So, which expenses are causing the ticket increase? Dick rattled them off: workman’s comp, insurance, utilities, travel and lodging for players, and player contracts (Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez). One can’t argue when the economy remains stagnant while the price index continues to rise. I can’t say I still agree with the increase, but I came away after 55 minutes with a renewed faith in the organization and its commitment to trying to field the best team with more limited resources than the Bostons and New Yorks of the baseball world. I now understand that Dick is not a man trying to put the screws to the fans or one who doesn’t care about the actual product itself.

That is not the man I spoke to. I spoke to a man who cares about his team, wants them to do well and is doing his best to make that happen. The problem? He is handcuffed by mid-market profits and an organizational talent pool that continually needs to be restocked with Matt Holliday and Ubaldo Jimenez-type trades.

Dick Monfort, the owner, is actually a baseball fan — just like you and me. He thinks the same things about some of his players, just like us. He sees the same problems we do. He cares as much, if not more, about the team’s success because his name goes on the checks that pay the players we so passionately root for.

14 Comments

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  1. I think that there is a lot of reasons to be excited as a Rockies fan in the coming years we have the greatest collection of pitching talent in franchise history assembled between the majors and the farm, 2012 will likely see Alex White improve, Drew Pomeranz emerge, Juan Nicasio return and Jhoulys Chacin mature that is 4 potential 1-3 starters under 25 and cheap until the mid to late teens when some combination of Tyler Matzek(assuming his performance after working with his HS coach sticks), Chad Bettis, Edwar Cabrera, Tyler Anderson, Peter Tago, Christian Friedrich, or Joe Gardner will likely join them.

    The two studs Gonzalez and Tulowitzki were joined by an excellent second half performance by Dexter Fowler(.297/.387/.514 .901 with 36 XBH after adding a leg kick in late July), Chris Iannetta (6th in OPS by catchers with at leas 400PA), Seth Smith(.830 OPS good for 9th among RF), and a resurgent Todd Helton(his .850 OPS was 8th for 1B in MLB better than Texeira or Ryan Howard) the problem was that none of these guys were hitting at the same time Tulo had a horrible unlucky May, Cargo suffered the after effects of the flu in April(his line post April was(.313/.384/.580 with 25 HR and 17 SB in 101 Starts), Helton played just 4 games in September, Smith had an awful July, and outside of Ty Wiggington hitting some meaningless homers and Giambino showing his guns still got it this team was awful with the bat. The farm has some really bright spots with Arenado profiling as a Will Clarkesque bat with passable/improving defense at 3B, Trevor Story showing 5 tool potential, Rosell Herrera doing the same, Josh Rutledge showing that the black hole of suck at 2B may be a thing of the past soon, Wilin Rosario showing he belongs in the show, and Tim Wheeler and Charlie Blackmon giving us a replacement for Smith, and likely a trade chip we can afford to part with.

    1. The farm system has some promising guys, but that is always the case. Chris Nelson was a first round pick and was supposed to be really good. He was called up and really never developed into anything substantial. Disappointing. I really liked the use of Rosario, Blackmon, Roenicke, Nicasio, and others. There is hope “down on the farm” that there is help on the way. The question is who, when and how much?

  2. If a team wins the World Series every year, in most cities fans might be lukewarm about the ownership. This was a pretty cool thing for Dick Monfort to do. I could pull for this team.

  3. Great job, Cory. Much props to you for your opportunity and to Mr. Monfort for taking the time to talk to you. It seems that you have an owner that is committed to his fan base and a writer who represents that fan base quite well.

  4. I can’t imagine Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria ever reaching out to a fan. Maybe a long-time, high-end, season-ticket holder, but never a lowly, passionate fan. Kudos to you for reaching out and super kudos to Monfort for not only responding to your email but for suggesting a phone convo. And then spending nearly an hour engaged in baseball business. Great story — liked the way you presented yourself as a fan vs. an indifferent beat reporter. Love that about this site!

    1. Appreciate the support. I was really surprised to get an email back. There is a negative public image of ownership here in Denver and I am glad I had the opportunity to see the other side of the story from the man himself.

  5. Arenado is ready. His plate discipline is incredible for a power hitting run producer and he is going to be one heck of a player. And that is very cool how he took the time to personally respond and talk with you. Wish all owners listened a little more to the people who support their teams through thick and thin. Great read.

    1. Really appreciate the kudos. I didn’t get the sense that Arenado is truly ready from the conversation I had with Dick, But it seems promising.

    2. Really appreciate the kudos. I didn’t get the sense that Arenado is truly ready from the conversation I had with Dick, But it seems promising.

  6. Wow! What an amazing opportunity and I think you handled yourself quite well, quite professionally, while still having a good time about the whole thing!  Super job on the write-up.  Now you know you have the ear of the owner.  Does that make you any more or less nervous about what you write about the team?

    1. I don’t htink it will have any bearing on how I write, but I do know now that the owner is not trying to just make a profit. Winning and doing it the right way is very important to him.

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