Some people always seem to wind up with the best gigs. According to reports out of Texas, former Rockies manager Clint Hurdle has been picked up by the Texas Rangers as their hitting coach. Similar to when he held the post with the Rockies at Coors Field, half his job is seemingly already taken care of.
A competitive World Series between the two teams at least commonly perceived to be the best in baseball this year is probably good for the health of the sport, and the storyline of longtime Yankees nemesis Pedro Martinez returning to the Bronx tonight for Game 6 certainly builds the drama, adds ratings, and helps make the next TV contract fat and juicy. None of this really helps the Rockies specifically, as any general MLB windfall will be equally distributed, and the only two teams getting a real brand benefit are the two left playing. This year, though, it seems to me to be a much larger benefit to the teams involved than it has been in the recent past. I'd say at least since 2004, and since that ended in a Red Sox sweep without much drama to the Series itself, probably since 2001. Is this just the return of the Yankees and their legions of fans that's at the root, or is there actually something to the "two best teams" idea that elevates the series and the benefits that can be derived from it?
If it's the latter (and I'm not entirely certain if it is, or if it's just the Yankees) it can be seen how the Rockies could benefit from a better national brand presence should they make it back to the World Series in the next couple of years. They could win a lot more fans by establishing themselves nationally as a quality, elite team.
Here are some of the anecdotal examples of the Rockies being branded nationally as a cut below the league's elite, and perhaps even as a cut below the second tier in the NL:
- No fear for the Rockies rotation - Down the stretch in 2009, a frequent refrain from fans of the Cardinals, Phillies and Dodgers was something along the lines of: "I'd rather we face the Rockies than the Giants...". Watch as 2010 predictions start to roll out that when mentioning Rockies pitching, how many qualifiers or moderating terms pundits use. "Solid" is a buzzword that you'll probably get a lot. However, the fact is that Rockies pitching was at or near the top of the NL in value for most of 2009 and while there might be some regression in store for 2010, it shouldn't be enough to knock the team's pitching value from the top two or three teams in the league.
- The Kruk Theory - Fans that followed the Braves, Cubs and even the Marlins, as well as numerous pundits in the Central and Eastern portions of the country did not seem to perceive a Rockies wild card lead as something natural or sustainable, and there was this sort of inevitable drop that many felt was coming. This had as much to do with a perceived weakness with the Rockies when having to face the Giants and Dodgers frequently down the stretch, as it did with the strength of teams in other divisions. Outside of San Francisco and certain sabermetric circles, there really wasn't a perception that the Rockies were going to continue winning. If we're more than casual fans, we will have hierarchical biases in mind when it comes to projecting. We picture any random 20 game stretch turning out differently for the Yankees than the Pirates, for instance. What this seems to say to me about the Rockies, is that for much of the country, there was still at best a 10-10 perception of that random 20 game stretch at the end of the year.
I think a couple of key questions for the Rockies in 2010 are how they get their national image more in line with their actual level of play, and secondly how they raise that level of play to the point where they can be a legitimate A list team. I've said this before, but I think winning the division is very important for the team in 2010, and that just getting to the playoffs via the wild card may no longer be enough for the duration of the team's current success cycle. We're at a point where winning playoff series, division titles, pennants and world championships become the real goals rather than just being competitive.