The Love of the Game

How two men helped turn Denver from a minor-league outpost into a major-league city.

April 2007

The Twins hired Martin to run the big-league team the following season, but the Bears had lassoed some momentum that continued through the 1970s and into the '80s, a span that saw them win six division and four league titles, surpass the half-million mark in attendance several times, and feature numerous future major-league all-stars and successful managers. The best team during this run probably was the 1980 Bears, which were led by Tim Raines and Randy Bass (the latest in the erstwhile line of slugging first basemen). The team stampeded to a 92-44 record that included 21 straight home wins and a pitching staff that led the league in shutouts. The Sporting News named Burris its minor-league executive of the year, the highest honor of his tenure.

That year would prove to be the Bears' apotheosis and one of the last tastes of success Denver baseball fans have enjoyed. The Rockies arrived in 1993 and opened the beautiful Coors Field in 1995. But with the new-ballpark honeymoon long over—and a relentlessly mediocre team—local interest has dwindled.

Burris says the Rockies organization has been good to him, but the recent steroids scandal and the obsession with money leave him longing for the good old days. "The salaries bother me—not so much the players making it—it's that they talk about it so much," he says. "Ballplayers I knew in those days, their typical goal was to make enough to go back to some small town where they were raised and open a hardware store. That was as much as they were hoping for."

As Burris looks around his office, reflecting on all the good times, his eyes settle on a picture of him and Martin, arms thrown over each other's shoulders, celebrating a big win. "Our goal was to keep having good ball clubs, and fortunately we usually did. That was pretty much the story of my life," he says. "I know I wasn't the best executive there ever was, but no one loved the game more than I did."

Luc Hatlestad is a senior editor at 5280.