Original Rockies Owner Jerry McMorris Dies At 71

Coors Field, in Denver, Coiorado. Late Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris was fundamental in devising the development and opening of this ballpark (Rafael Rojas Cremonesi)

Without him, there would have been no Blake Street Bombers. No Todd and the Toddlers. No Generation-R. No 2007 World Series. To sum it up, baseball in Colorado would have been just a mere intention and a plan would have gone to the books without execution.

Jerry McMorris took the helm, despite initially not wanting to be involved in day-to-day operations.

Be careful what you wish for.

He ended up being a major part of the Rockies organization from 1992, when financial and legal troubles forced a full overhaul of the ownership group, right until December 2005. McMorris, who passed away today at the age of 71 after a long illness, was the man who saved the project known as Colorado Baseball Management, Inc. and took the team from Mile High Stadium to the successful opening of Coors Field.

McMorris was an entrepreneur with interests in the trucking business, with a large corporation worth more than $400 million. He had invested a part of the fee Major League Baseball required for an expansion team of $95 million. McMorris was part of the vast amount of new investors sought in order to fulfill such a tall requirement.

The biggest investors were John Antonucci and Michael I. Monus from Youngstown, Ohio. The latter was owner of pharmaceutical company Phar-Mor Inc. After the National League unanimously approved Denver and Miami as the sites for the new expansion teams in 1991, trouble started to emerge.

In August 1992, six months before Spring Training and the start of the Rockies' inaugural season, Monus was involved in a financial scandal with accusations of falsifying profits at Phar-Mor. After Monus was convicted of fraud charges, he was forced to give up his share of the partnership.

"Pressure was bearing down on us in terms of major-league baseball's schedule and, quite frankly, there was going to be a large amount of money due within a short time," McMorris recalled in a story published by The Denver Post in 2006. "I thought maybe the Colorado partners in the ownership could fix it. I think baseball would say that it was important that somebody stepped up, and preferably people from Colorado."

McMorris indeed stepped up, and with the help of the Coors family, Denver entrepreneur Orel Brenton and Charles Monfort, purchased $15 million of the $21 million in general-partnership stock. That brought an overhaul which made them responsible for the new team's decisions. In January 1993, McMorris became Chairman, President and CEO.

Baseball in Colorado was saved.

And it would be embraced by fans across the state who would pack the house at Mile High Stadium during that inaugural season. 80,227 people attended the Rockies first game. It would be the first step for an attendance record which stands to this day for a franchise in its inaugural year: 4,483,350.

McMorris would quickly become one of the active and visible faces of the Rockies. During the years in which he was the top executive of the organization, it enjoyed record success, attracting more than three million fans during each and every year of his tenure. He was also pivotal in helping to negotiate the agreement between players and owners which put an end to the bitter labor dispute that resulted in the cancellation of the 1994 season.

That also meant running things with a hands-on approach, which was very appreciated by fans.

"I was at a game that the late Darryl Kile was pitching, back in 1999," says Ed Scott, original Rockies season ticket holder. "It was a horrible effort both offensively and defensively. That was the very first time I left a game early on my own accord, and was so disgusted that I wrote Mr. McMorris a letter. In it, I gave him my phone numbers. Within a week, I got a call."

"He was very friendly and was sorry that I was unhappy with the product on the field (...) What got me more than anything was his candor. He told me that changes were going to be made. He said he would fire (then-GM) Bob Gephardt that day, but he didn't have the heart to do it because at that day, he was at the dentist getting a root canal. He didn't want to fire Jim Leyland because he didn't want to get rid of the GM and the Manager at the same time. He asked me for my patience and thanked me for being a season ticket holder".

With that same approach, McMorris oversaw the team's operations until 2001, when he was replaced as Team President by Keli McGregor. In 2003, Charlie Monfort took charge as CEO and Chairman. McMorris would remain as vice chairman until 2004. During the next year, negotiations progressed between McMorris and the Monfort Brothers, which resulted on the sale of his stake finalized in December 2005.

"I will always have memories of our fans and players helping this organization build momentum, set attendance records and secure the organization's first playoff appearance," McMorris said. "As a fan, I am looking forward to the club's future success, and I wish Charlie, Dick, and the entire organization the best of luck."

"I originally thought I'd be involved for about 10 years," McMorris said to The Denver Post. "I was involved for 12 years. I'll never forget that experience of going to Spring Training for the first time. Then, there was our first opening day against the Mets in New York. We came back to Denver for our first home game and Eric Young hit the home run leading off the bottom of the first inning. The home run and the great crowd were huge. Then fast forward to the opening game in Coors Field, making the playoffs in 1995 and our All-Star Game in 1998. All of those things were great for Denver."

After selling his stake on the Rockies, he dedicated himself to ranching and farming at the family's estate near Fort Collins. He never looked back.

"The Colorado Rockies family is deeply saddened by the passing of Jerry McMorris," current Rockies CEO Dick Monfort said in a statement. "I believe it is fair to say without the efforts of Jerry there may have never been Major League Baseball in Denver. He will be greatly missed by us all."

McMorris leaves his wife, Mary, two married children, two grandchildren... And a legacy solidly based at that magical place located between 20th and Blake.

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