In the Rockpile: Chat with Rockies owner Dick Monfort
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.