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Past & Present: The Blake Street Bombers

Looking back at the first generation of Rockies stars in the pre-humidor days when the home run ruled the roost at 20th & Blake.

Dante Bichette was not a pitcher, but did hit 201 home runs in his Rockies career.
Dante Bichette was not a pitcher, but did hit 201 home runs in his Rockies career.

Before the days of Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez, before Ubaldo Jimenez and Troy Tulowitzki, before Matt Holliday, even before Todd Helton there was a group of stars that established what the Colorado Rockies were as a franchise.

It was the era before the humidor, when out-slugging the opposition was the name of the game, so the teams stars were exclusively guys who could hit the ball out of the ballpark, Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks, Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga and Larry Walker, the Blake Street Bombers. Here's a look back at each of their Rockies careers.

Dante Bichette

Best Season as a Rockie (1995): .340/.364/.620/.984, 40 HR, 128 RBI, 102 R, 197 H, 38 2B, 131 wRC+, 1.8 fWAR
Rockies Career (1993-1999): .316/.352/.540/.892, 201 HR, 826 RBI, 1,278 H, 270 2B, 105 SB, 109 wRC+, 6.8 fWAR

Let's get this out of the way first, there are two things Dante Bichette did not do well, take a walk and play defense. That said, whenever "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel played and Bichette stepped to the plate, you knew there was a chance the ball was going over the wall.

Bichette actually did not begin his Rockies career at Coors Field, joining the team on November 17, 1992 in a trade with the Brewers for fellow outfielder Kevin Reimer. Reimer only played one more year in the big leagues while Bichette set a career high for home runs in each of his two seasons at Mile High Stadium, hitting 21 and 27, respectively in 1993 and 1994.

Bichette opened Coors Field in style, hitting a walk-off home run in the 14th inning against the Mets' Mike Remlinger. It was the beginning of a spectacular 1995 season for Bichette that saw him lead the league in hits (197), home runs (40) and runs batted in (128), finishing second in MVP voting to the Reds' Barry Larkin (even though Greg Maddux probably should have won the award.)

He followed up in 1996 with his third straight All-Star appearance and a career-high 141 RBIs (with a .890 OPS), and he again led the league in hits with 219 in 1998. Paul Swydan summed up Bichette's final season with the Rockies in this great article from Fangraphs. He was traded to the Reds after the 1999 season for Stan Belinda and Jeffrey Hammonds.

Ellis Burks

Best Season as a Rockie (1996): .344/.408/.639/1.047, 40 HR, 128 RBI, 142 R, 211 H, 32 SB, 151 wRC+, 7.2 fWAR
Rockies Career (1994-1998): .306/.378/.579/.957, 115 HR, 337 RBI, 558 H, 104 2B, 52 SB, 127 wRC+, 11.0 fWAR

Burks is sometimes forgotten among the Blake Street Bombers, as he only had 1,821 at bats with the Rockies. He signed a three-year, $10.7 million free agent contract with the Rockies after the 1993 season, but was limited to just 468 plate appearances in his first two seasons with the club.

When Burks finally did get a full season's worth of playing time in 1996, he put up the fifth-best fWAR season by a hitter in Rockies history. He led the league with 392 total bases and runs scored, hit for a .344 average and 1.047 OPS and, along with Bichette the same year, became the first Rockie in the 30-30 club with 40 home runs and 32 stolen bases. He finished third in NL MVP voting behind Ken Caminity and Mike Piazza. Burks followed his 1996 season up with a .934 OPS and 32 home runs in 1997 despite playing only 119 games.

Burks was traded to the Giants in July of 1998 for a package that featured Darryl Hamilton.

Vinny Castilla

Best Season as a Rockie (1998): .319/.362/.589/.951, 46 HR, 144 RBI, 108 R, 206 H, 28 2B, 121 wRC+, 4.5 fWAR
Rockies Career (1993-1999, 2004, 2006): .294/.340/.530/.870, 239 HR, 745 RBI, 1,206 H, 208 2B, 101 wRC+, 16.0 fWAR

Castilla was the Rockies 20th pick of the 1992 expansion draft. He played in a utility role during the team's first two seasons, hitting 12 home runs in 467 at bats while playing all four spots on the infield.

Castilla broke into the Rockies lineup at third base in 1995 and immediately started a stretch of five straight years in which he hit 30 home runs. He made the first of two All-Star appearances in 1995, hitting .309 with 32 home runs and 90 RBI. He hit .304 with 40 home runs and 113 RBI in both 1996 and 1997, though his OPS was slightly higher in '97 and his WAR was slightly better in '96.

In 1998, Castilla put together his best season at age 30. He played in all 162 games, earning his second All-Star appearance, hitting .319 with a career-high 46 home runs and 144 RBI, finishing with a .951 OPS and 11th in NL MVP voting. After his numbers dipped a bit in 1999, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for pitcher Rolando Arrojo and infielder Aaron Ledesma.

Castilla returned to the Rockies in 2004 at age 36 on a one-year deal and promptly led the league with 131 RBI. He hit .271 with 35 home runs and an .867 OPS before moving on to Washington. He returned to the Rockies one last time at the end of the 2006 season to retire with the team.

Andres Galarraga

Best Season as a Rockie (1993): .370/.403/.602/1.005, 22 HR, 98 RBI, 71 R, 174 H, 35 2B, 150 wRC+, 4.2 fWAR
Rockies Career (1993-1997): .316/.367/.577/.944, 172 HR, 579 RBI, 843 H, 155 2B, 124 wRC+, 13.4 fWAR

The Big Cat was one of the Rockies first free agent signings, joining the team in November 1992 on a one-year, $850,000 deal.

Galarraga earned that money and then some in the team's inaugural season, winning the NL batting title, hitting .370 in 120 games with 22 home runs, a career-high 98 RBI and a 1.005 OPS. The Rockies then rewarded him with a four-year, $17.2 million contract.

He finished 10th in NL MVP voting for the second straight year in 1994 with 31 home runs and a .949 OPS in the strike-shortened season. He really broke out in 1996 with 47 homers, 150 RBI and 18 stolen bases along with a .958 OPS, finishing sixth in the MVP race. He posted a .318 average with 41 home runs and 141 RBI in his contract year of 1997. One of his home runs in 1997 was particularly memorable, as it landed approximately on the moon.

The Rockies elected not to re-sign Galarraga after the '97 season, seeing as they had this young kid named Helton to play first base in 1998.

Larry Walker

Best Season as a Rockie (1997): .366/.452/.720/1.172, 49 HR, 130 RBI, 143 R, 208 H, 33 SB, 177 wRC+, 9.1 fWAR
Rockies Career (1995-2004): .334/.426/.618/1.044, 258 HR, 848 RBI, 1,361 H, 297 2B, 126 SB 147 wRC+, 44.3 fWAR

The Rockies made a big free agent splash, signing Walker away from the Expos after the players' strike ended in 1995, signing him to a lucrative four-year contract. He re-paid them by helping lead the team to the playoffs, hitting .306 with a .988 OPS, 36 home runs and 101 RBI.

After struggling with injuries in 1996, Walker won the 1997 NL MVP with the single highest fWAR a Rockies hitter has ever posted in a season (with 9.1), which is no small feat. Walker hit .366 in '97, with a 1.172 OPS, 49 home runs and 130 RBI. He had 409 total bases in 1997, tied for the 18 most in a season in MLB history, bolstered by 99 extra-base hits. For good measure, he stole 33 bases and won a Gold Glove.

The 1997 season was the first of three consecutive years in which Walker hit at least .360 with an OPS of at least 1.075. It's no wonder the Rockies re-signed Walker to a six-year, $75 million deal after the 1999 season.

Walker again missed a significant portion of the 2000 season with injuries, but returned with a vengeance in 2001, winning his third batting title with a .350 average to go with 38 home runs, 123 RBI and 7.6 fWAR.

He hit a total of 48 home runs from 2002-2004 before being traded to the Cardinals, ending the era of the Blake Street Bombers in Colorado.