Major League Baseball’s decision to relocate its annual All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver was framed by many as a win for democracy. MLB officials announced the move in early April in response to Georgia passing a restrictive voting law that critics say disproportionately affects communities of color. And the Mile High City’s role as a replacement offered a chance to celebrate just how accessible our state’s voting system is by comparison.
It’s incredibly cool that Colorado’s democratic processes may have, in part, given Denver the chance to host a big summertime party, and we should celebrate that. But lost amid all the talk of mail-in ballots and voter turnout was the notion that the decision to play the Midsummer Classic at Coors Field in mid-July is also an unwarranted reward for one of the most frustrating organizations in our city: the Colorado Rockies.
In 2018, the Rockies had one of the best seasons in franchise history: The team won 91 games and managed to pull off a dramatic extra-innings victory over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Wild Card Game. Thanks to a roster full of young pitchers (see Kyle Freeland and German Marquez) and superstars in their prime, like Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, many Rockies fans felt like a sustained run of success was ahead. The good vibes continued in the offseason when Arenado, arguably the best player in franchise history, signed an eight-year, $260 million contract extension.
Rockies management, however, subsequently messed up that promising future in spectacular fashion. They made a series of roster blunders, including letting second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who had interest in returning to the team, walk and become an MVP candidate with the New York Yankees. General manager Jeff Bridich also ruined his relationship with Nolan Arenado. “There is a lot of disrespect from people there that I don’t want to be a part of,” the former Rockies third baseman said in January 2020 while trade rumors were swirling after a disappointing season. “You can quote that.”
The worst of it, though, came this past winter when the Rockies shipped Arenado and $50 million to the St. Louis Cardinals for a pitcher and four mediocre prospects. (Yes, they paid another team to take one of the best players in franchise history.) It was immediately panned as the most lopsided trade in baseball history—one that left Denver’s professional baseball team with limited assets to rebuild and little chance of competing in the near future. In the aftermath, The Athletic published an article that painted Bridich and owner Dick Monfort as the laughing stocks of the league. The piece was littered with damning quotes, like, “As one industry insider put it, ‘They say, Let’s try to be competitive, without actually trying to compete.’”
As a lifelong Rockies fan, the team’s strategy has always felt pretty clear to me. Ownership has essentially turned Coors Field into a glorified beer garden, and they’ve done a pretty good job. It’s a blast to carouse around the stadium on a summer afternoon or evening whether the team is good or not. The new McGregor Square development represents an extension of that blueprint. The beer-garden approach has allowed the franchise to regularly finish in the top half of MLB in attendance. While the cash derived from stellar attendance provides a competitive advantage for the Rockies—according to The Athletic, the team’s combined payroll from 2017 to ’20 was 11th in the majors, despite being 21st in market size—the front office has rarely been able to use it to build a winning team.
The idea that more often than not the Rockies current management will fail to put a winner on the field was only reinforced by the Nolan Arenado trade—and widespread ridicule that followed. It caused many Rockies fans to wonder whether boycotting games was the only way to break the cycle of giving the team money and inevitably being disappointed by how it spent it. I have counted myself among that let’s-force-a-management-change group. Although I haven’t been able to avoid Coors Field entirely (I had to go let the Houston Astros know how I felt about their cheating when they came to Denver in late April), I’ve consciously gone to fewer games this year.
So, imagine how massive my eye roll was when I found out the Rockies—and Dick Monfort’s pocket book—were going to be rewarded with one of MLB’s most high-profile events. It’s the ultimate microcosm of Rockies fans’ larger conundrum. The All-Star Game is going to be at Coors Field. As a baseball fan and a native Denverite, I want nothing more than to think That’s so freaking cool! But I can’t. Instead, I wonder why this amazing opportunity was given to a team, and an owner, that just made one of the worst trades in baseball history? It feels like another example of Monfort being able to use the beauty of Coors Field to make everyone forget that he’s never produced a team that’s won a division title. (It’s true. The Rockies have existed for 27 years and never once taken home the National League West crown.)
It’s a safe bet that I will actually watch both the Home Run Derby and the actual All-Star Game. Every time the cameras pan to a shot of the full-capacity crowd at Coors Field, though, I’ll feel that familiar pang, knowing it all represents a giant win for Dick Monfort. I’ll also be wondering why MLB couldn’t have chosen another city and state with a world-class baseball stadium and a commitment to democracy. I hear Buffalo, New York, is nice this time of year.