The following is a parody of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” with Dick Monfort playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. My apologies in advance for the length, but once you try to impersonate Dickens, long stories are the result.
As dark snow-filled clouds descended on the Mile High City, Dick Monfort locked up his offices at Coors Field. It was quiet at the stadium, one considered to be a treasure in Denver that could draw in thousands upon thousands of fans each summer, regardless of anything he did or didn’t do. As he gazed out on the empty diamond, he smiled the way multi-millionaires do when they revel in their own abilities to fail upward.
It was Christmas Eve and LoDo was filled with dejected and optimistic Rockies fans alike. As he walked across 20th Street to his penthouse in McGregor Square, one rose-glasses-wearing fan remarked, “Hi Mr. Monfort! I sure do hope we can end this lockout because I can’t wait to see the Rockies in 2022.” Monfort just glared at the fan, muttered, “humbug,” and hurried his pace to get to his luxury condo. Another fan who had been beaten down by lost stars and three straight losing seasons asked, “Mr. Monfort? Sir? Can we please just sign one free agent this offseason? I am just so tired of losing.” Monfort didn’t look up, bumped the fan with his shoulder, and more loudly replied, “Bah! Humbug!”
Once safety in his penthouse, Monfort didn’t think twice about his confrontations. Instead, he delighted in his shrinking payroll and increased revenue. In 2020, thanks to COVID-19, he’d suffered a hit with a shorter season and no fans. With a payroll much lighter without money-grubbing players like Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Jon Gray, and Ian Desmond, Monfort had fewer checks to write, and he was grateful for it.
He’d managed to cut his payroll 21% from $151,889,647 in 2019 to $119,908,394 in 2021. Despite his frugality, the Rockies had still managed to finish seventh in MLB in attendance with over 1.9 million ticket buyers in 2021. That was only 235,305 behind the Padres, who had gone out and increased their payroll by $80 million, which was a 77% increase from 2019. “Imbeciles,” Monfort chuckled, sounding hauntingly like Mr. Burns.
Not only had Monfort managed to diminish his own losses, but now he was leading the charge to help other owners do the same. As chair of MLB’s labor committee who was leading negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, he’d emphatically rejected every offer or point of compromise with the MLBPA. Even though it wasn’t needed, he and his millionaire and billionaire friends had succeeded in locking out the players, making sure that they couldn’t continue to train at team facilities or use team doctors and resources to recover from injuries. He knew that record profits were on the line, but he wasn’t about to give in. It would be a war of attrition and he would win.
As a bonus, he’d somehow managed to evade a legitimate search for a new general manager. The idea of new people entering the Rockies front office sent chills down his back. It couldn’t be allowed. He couldn’t trust anyone else and couldn’t stand the thought of new ideas. Monfort knew he couldn’t allow just anyone to be GM; it had to be someone who was rowing in the same direction, could take orders, and could take most of the blame as well. Monfort didn’t care as long as he was the puppet master pulling the strings.
As he prepared to go to sleep, he gazed into his fireplace and noticed strange faces emerge in the bricks. Thinking the flickering flames were playing tricks on him, he shook his head back and forth and looked again. No – it couldn’t be, Monfort thought. Each brick featured the face of a former Colorado Rockie. Their eyes burned into his, morphing into the definition of stink eye. Rubbing his eyes and not believing what he was seeing, Monfort went to bed.
The Ghost of Rockies Past
As the clock struck 1 a.m., Monfort awoke to a chilling breeze and snow drifting through a wide-open window. As he got up to close it, he smacked into a supernatural medium, one whose face had the joy of a 12-year-old Rockies fan, but the wear-and-tear of one who followed the team closely every season for the past 29 years.
“I am the Ghost of Rockies past,” the figure said. Before Monfort could respond, the specter grabbed his arm and the two delved through space and time to 2005. Monfort found himself in a familiar room. It was filled with cigar smoke and he could hear the final stages of a negotiation playing out in front of him.
He recognized his old self, along with his brother, Charlie, and former majority owner Jerry McMorris. The future Monfort could see the avarice and ambition in the younger Monfort’s eyes. He remembered that feeling. For years he’d been slowly growing his ownership stake and this was the final step. The Monforts were about to become primary owners of the Colorado Rockies.
Most people would have been worried about a lack of baseball experience, but not Dick. A lifetime in the family’s meatpacking business hadn’t prepared him at all, but owning an MLB team was the final ticket to the exclusive club. Millionaires could have a lot of things – mansions, pools, yachts, jets, sports cars …. But a baseball team, that was the upper echelon. Charlie was in for now, but Dick knew that it was only a matter of time – six years the future Monfort now recollected – until he would be the president and the only real owner. It would be his. It was never about his love for baseball or desire to bring a championship to Denver. It was a status symbol.
In a snap, Monfort and the ghost were transported to Monfort’s office. It was 2014 and the phone was ringing off the hook. Monfort had been reading fan emails. He was disgusted that people would question and criticize him. In a fit of rage, he’d responded to their emails, suggesting that “Denver doesn’t deserve a franchise” and telling fans, “if it is that upsetting don’t come to the games.” Monfort grimaced and an unusual feeling gripped his throat. Was this regret? he wondered.
Before he could consider the sensation further, the ghost pointed toward the calendar in his office and the pages quickly flipped to July 27, 2015. Despite being an owner who held loyalty in the highest regard and referred to players and staff as family, he had just approved a trade of the face of the franchise, Troy Tulowitzki. Without “keeping him in the loop” like he’d promised, Monfort ditched the long contract he couldn’t stand paying for one more day. It didn’t matter that it was in the middle of a game. Tulo had to go. For the first time, the future Monfort saw the All-Star shortstop’s crestfallen face, and thought, why did I do that? I wish I could tell him sorry for the ninth-inning trade.
The ghost continued to whirl Monfort through the past, seeing the senseless Ian Desmond and Daniel Murphy acquisitions. He watched him argue with others about how it didn’t matter that they were past their prime and played different positions. Signing three relievers for $106 million despite their volatile nature? Brilliant! They were all good moves. He witnessed himself and Jeff Bridich hold the door open as DJ LeMahieu walked out to become a New York Yankee – for the same price they’d just inked Murphy.
A year later, Monfort had publicly declared regret for losing DJ, but he took on even heavier remorse now that it was stacked up with his other past actions. He looked up at the ghost and asked, “Spirit, can we please go home. I have seen enough. I know I made mistakes and I know I can do better.”
The ghost simply said, “Not yet,” and they flashed forward to February 2019.
The table was set for a joyous day. Monfort and Bridich had just signed Gold-Glove-wearing wonder Nolan Arenado to an eight-year extension worth $255 million. Monfort had learned that spending money could be good, but he hadn’t learned to surround himself with people who were smarter than him. He’d given too much trust to Bridich, who’d argued that they should give Arenado an opt-out and further said that even though they told the third baseman that they would add more pieces, they’d blatantly lied.
They had no intentions of signing more free agents because Bridich said they were good enough. Not understanding the stiff competition of the NL West, Monfort agreed. It had led to a public spat with a “betrayed” Arenado asking for and getting a trade out of town one year later. As if losing him wasn’t bad enough, they also sent $50 million to St. Louis. Monfort went along with all of it, despite admitting in a press conference that “There were times in the last two weeks I didn’t think the St. Louis trade made sense.’’ I can’t believe I said that out loud. It must look like we have no idea what we are doing, Monfort sighed to himself.
Deflated and depressed, Monfort begged the ghost to take him home. In the blink of an eye, Monfort found himself back in his home. The ghost was gone, but the message was clear. He’d made many mistakes, but the lack of learning from them and seeing them all at once had compounded the current situation into a devastating dumpster fire. Overtaken with despair, but with an overwhelming desire to change and improve, Monfort fell asleep. But it didn’t last long.
The Ghost of Rockies Present
The clock again chimed its 1 a.m. bells, and this time, Monfort awoke to a light coming from the living room. As he walked down the hallway, he saw a purple-cloaked jolly giant that resembled Todd Helton and radiated light. He smiled and declared himself the Ghost of Rockies Present. He quickly scooped up Monfort and flew out of McGregor Square.
In a tour that covered the entire country, Monfort saw things he’d never seen in the offices at Coors Field. From team to team, analytics specialists were doing deep data dives and their respective front offices were actually listening to them. GMs were studying market value, communicating with other teams, forming relationships, and working out deals. Team after team put the goal of winning the World Series first and was then working backward to form plans to make it happen. When teams would ask if they should call the Rockies, the rooms erupted in laughter: “Yeah! Let’s do it and see if we can get their best players and cash in exchange for unknown Single-A prospects!”
Then he and the spirit made a quick visit to the house of Jon Gray, who was happy and felt valued in his new Texas Rangers role. Then he spotted Trevor Story, who was working with his agent to decide which of the many deals would be the best to take. Why did I do nothing? Monfort asked himself.
Before he knew it, Monfort was watching Bill Schmidt, who was clicking through files on his computer. He looked on as Schmidt viewed film of college players, saying, “I don’t know how to be a GM, so I am just going to focus on scouting reports.” Monfort dropped his head into his palm, trying to massage the image out of his head, but he couldn’t.
Back in Colorado, he saw Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland, and Antonio Senzatela, who were lamenting the loss of the Gray Wolf and wondering what the front office could possibly be thinking by taking away pieces and expecting more wins in return. He was bombarded with visions of fans who were discontinuing their season ticket packages and ignoring emails to buy tickets for Star Wars Night in 2022.
Even more, fans across the country were siding with the MLB Players Association and turning on MLB and the owners. They worried that the 2022 season was in jeopardy and that they would have a hard time supporting the league if the owners didn’t end the lockout and negotiate a new CBA before spring training.
How could I not have known? Monfort wondered. His team was a laughingstock. Rockies fans were fleeing and the state of baseball in America was fading. Just like he learned in his visit to the past, he again saw that he had been living in his own illusion and it was as far from reality as the current roster was from an NL West championship.
Monfort gazed up at the Ghost of Rockies Present and said he was sorry. He said he would change. He begged to go home and wished to see no more. And just like that, he was back in McGregor Square, back in bed, and he quickly fell asleep with regret and exhaustion.
The Ghost of Rockies Yet to Come
As the clock struck 1 a.m. again, Monfort arose with a feeling of dread enveloping him. He saw a haunting figure resembling a goth Dodgers fan who simply pointed straight ahead. Suddenly, Monfort was whisked away to see the future.
It had been 10 years, but he saw himself in his same old office. There were no new pennants. No new trophies. He glanced on his desk and saw an old newspaper clipping that read “Yankees sign McMahon,” while another said, “Rodgers signs with Dodgers.” On his computer, he saw a breaking news alert about how Zac Veen had been dealt to the Mets for players to be named later. Another blasted, “Rockies push streak of not signing a free agent to 13 years.” Oh no! thought Monfort. How could I have known that when I made my sons, Walker and Sterling, co-GMs that they would mess things up so badly?
Behind the alert was a spreadsheet with highlighted columns that read “post lockout.” After missing the entire 2022 season, attendance at Coors Field had steadily declined each year and now the Rockies were 26th, a figure unthinkable before the lockout. Monfort had expected a temporary blip, but had convinced MLB to hold firm on their lockout until they had a new deal that maintained their dominance over the MLBPA. TV viewership had tanked because thousands of fans had lost interest when they couldn't “stream games,” a term he still didn’t technically understand.
“Spirit!” he cried, “hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I have been before this night. Why show me all this if I am past all hope!”
The ghost was silent.
“I will honor the Rockies in my heart and try to keep winning all year long. I will learn lessons from the past to improve the present and make our fans and players proud in the future!”
Monfort meant every word. The ghost disappeared and everything went black.
The End of It
The sun beamed through the penthouse windows of McGregor Square onto Monfort’s face. He shot out of bed and ran into the hall. He grabbed the first person he saw and asked, “What day is it?” A bell boy, terrified and confused, said, “It’s Dec. 24, 2021, sir.”
Monfort hadn’t missed it. He would let the players and his staff enjoy the holidays with their families. Come January, he’d bring a new attitude to the MLB-MLBPA negotiations. Not only would the 2022 season happen, but it would be with a new CBA that would create more of a partnership with the players — with the added bonus of keeping current fans and bringing in new ones.
When it came to the Rockies, he’d make winning the goal and demand a plan to make it happen. He’d hire more experts and let them call the shots. He’d bring in scientists to figure out how to turn Coors Field into an advantage. The Rockies would sign younger free agents that fit current roster needs. He’d been given a second chance and was set on making the most of it.
★ ★ ★
The Rockies aren’t alone in decreased payroll. The total spending from every MLB team is the lowest it’s been since 2015 and down four percent from 2019. Eleven teams did spend more in 2021, led by the Padres. On the other end of the spectrum, the Pirates spent the least. While COVID is at least partly to blame, Ronald Blume writes, “Falling payrolls have sparked the labor unrest that led to the sport’s first work stoppage in more than a quarter-century.”
Apparently, Cody Bellinger and the Dodgers will avoid arbitration, but it can’t officially be announced since MLB won’t say any players' names. The 2019 NL MVP struggled in 2021, but hit .353/.436/.471 with seven RBI, five runs scored, and one homer in 34 at-bats in 12 postseason games to raise his value.
★ ★ ★
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