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Troy Tulowitzki and a career that was almost great

Tulo will always have a place in Rockies history. Unfortunately it will always be accompanied by questions of what could have been.

It will be hard for any Rockies player to outdo peak Troy Tulowitzki. The production he provided from the shortstop position was unique and remarkable. Tulo’s best was all-time great stuff. And he did it right away in his career for a franchise that hadn’t been relevant for a number of years.

It was only natural, then, that we all started thinking about the possibilities of sustained greatness for Tulo and the Rockies after they reached the playoffs for the second time in three seasons in 2009. You had a generational talent ready to lead the franchise to something different, something better.

And yet the messy nature of baseball reared its head right away. That very 2009 playoff series against the Philadelphia Phillies saw Tulowitzki at the plate in multiple clutch situations. He was up with the chance to deliver a star moment and potentially push his team to the next round. He was unable to come through, making the final out in games 3 and 4, leaving the fans who had been clapping and chanting “TULO” left to trudge home from a cold Coors Field.

That brought us to some overblown conversations about whether or not Tulo was clutch, and it unfortunately also brought us to a rough number of years for Rockies baseball. The overall disappointment of those remaining seasons, combined with the lingering injuries and the big contract extension, made it such that Tulo’s greatness was always accompanied by one form or another of “yea, but...”

We should make no mistake about Tulo’s greatness when he played. Even with those persistent injuries and an aging process that was seemingly accelerated after he was traded away from Colorado, he accumulated 44.2 rWAR over the course of 13 seasons. He made five All-Star games, won two Gold Glove awards and finished in the top 10 of MVP voting three times.

Ultimately though, Troy Tulowitzki’s career was almost great. He had a great peak but was unable to sustain it so that it became a great career. It feels especially cruel because everything was there for his career to be great - best player in the league great, World Series champion great, Hall of Famer great. Tulo was so good so soon that we even got flashes of what that would look like. We saw incredible plays, fist pumps in big games, and months where he was Babe Ruth.

It just never came together. His body wouldn’t cooperate, the Rockies floundered, and so Tulo joins the long list of players throughout baseball history who could have been great but it just didn’t work out. He is yet another reminder of all the things that have to go right to get over that hump and why that list of truly great players is small when compared to all the talented baseball players over the years.

Tulo’s retirement has struck a chord with a number of Rockies fans, and rightfully so. It’s a chance to celebrate the fun Tulo moments, of which there are many, and it’s an unfortunate reminder of what could have been in a previous era of Rockies baseball and for a guy who was the face of the franchise.

It’s also an oddly fitting reminder of the state of the Rockies now and any other time when they fancied themselves a contender: they could be great, we’ve even seen glimpses of it, and yet they still haven’t overcome the unfortunate distinction of being just almost great. In that way, Tulo continues to be a face of the Rockies. That’s obviously not in a happy way, but rather in a messy, sad way. And that’s baseball for you.