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Redemption: 1998 Waits, 1999 Wins

Some interesting retrospection is going on with former Rockies managers: First, this New York Times article came out yesterday with Don Baylor stating he has some "unfinished business" he'd like to take care of as a manager still. As Prospector's diary here on our current management situation points out, Bayor's firing in 1998 signalled a turn for the worse in Rockieland, and his overall history as a manager definitely seems to support the theory that the teams he's been involved with have done better with him than without him. When I first read this article, my initial thought was that the Rockies could bring him back to fill their hitting coach vacancy, but I then realized that's probably not going to happen with the politics involved.

Of course, Baylor was fired at an opportune time, as the weak farm system that was built by the Gebhard era was about to lay one of the franchise's biggest eggs, the one we call the 1999 season. Of course current Tigers manager Jim Leyland was the beneficiary of that. It's interesting to hear or read some of Leyland's thoughts on that season as he seems to shoulder a lot of self blame for the Rockies dismal performance.

The fact of the matter is, the players Leyland had in Colorado at the time weren't close to the caliber of the bunch he has in Detroit right now. With Vinny Castilla having a down year by his Colorado standards (one that would eventually foretell the end of his first stay here) the most regular lineup had two outstanding offensive players in Todd Helton and Larry Walker, one average one in Dante Bichette, and five miserable ones in Castilla, catcher Henry Blanco, second baseman Kurt Abbott, shortstop Neifi Perez and centerfielder Darryl Hamilton. The rotation had one and a half good pitchers, Pedro Astacio and the sixteen starts Jamey Wright put in, but mediocrity or worse everywhere else. The bullpen was decent, but overall it's easy to see why we finished twenty-eight games behind the D-backs, who had four above average or stellar starters, and a lineup with only a couple of holes in it.

Why do I lay this season at Gebhard's feet? For one, 1999 would have been six seasons after the initial expansion draft, and the Rockies should have been enjoying the fruits of their 1992-1995 amateur drafts as well. The homegrown players of note that we had on the team at that point were Helton, Perez, Wright, backup catcher Ben Petrick, and starter John Thomson. There were a couple of other unremarkable bench players and bullpen arms like Edgard Clemente, Derrick Gibson, Luther Hackman or David Lee, but these probably wouldn't have made it to the majors on almost any other franchise. If you compare that to this season's team where the farm has filled over half of our positions, you should be able to see how opportunities in drafting and development had been missed under Gebhard. What's more, Gebhard's trades and free agent acquisitions had decimated much of the hope as well. For instance, how much of a difference would Ellis Burks have made over Hamilton in center? Anyway, Leyland inherited a miserable team in Denver, and even if he had somehow lit a fire under Darryl Kile I doubt the season would have turned out much differently.

This post has made me think of a few other things, so you can probably expect more later.