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Rockies Origin Stories, Part 2: The scandal that almost ended it before it began

Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, March 4, 2022

As the lockout drags on and the 2022 season has officially been delayed, this series will look back at the people and events that helped the Rockies come into existence and call Denver, Colorado home. Part 1 was on Linda Alvarado.

The efforts were monumental. And they were many.

From politicians to business owners, from fans to neighborhood associations, and everyone in between, getting the National League to select Colorado as an expansion site in 1991 was the ultimate definition of teamwork.

And it all almost didn’t happen. Nine months before the Rockies played their franchise-opening game in 1993, federal embezzlement and fraud charges almost negated all the effort.

It all started with money. It’s the same reason players are locked out and fans are left without baseball nearly 30 years later.

Back in the founding days of the Rockies, a huge part of the battle for existence was fundraising. MLB required all cities wanting to submit a bid for one of two expansion teams to be able to pay $95 million — a figure almost 14 times higher than Toronto Seattle had to pay in 1977. With skeptics doubting the capacity of Denver’s media market to provide income for a team and the population’s desire to buy tickets, many local business owners were hesitant to leverage their companies for a product that might not happen, or even worse, could drag down their other businesses.

At then Colorado Governor Roy Romer’s direction, the Colorado Baseball Advisory Committee established the Colorado Baseball Partnership to assemble an ownership group that could combine funds and cover the $95 million price tag. (Meanwhile, the Colorado Baseball Commission began work on a plan for a baseball-only stadium, but more on that in another article.)

The ownership group started to form, headlined by real estate tycoon John Dikeou, a successful businessman and the owner of the Triple-A Denver Zephyrs. Four months before the NL Expansion Committee revealed its shortlist of six possible cities (Buffalo, Denver, Orlando, South Florida, Tampa-St. Petersburg, and Washington, D.C. – very Florida-heavy huh?), the real estate market plummeted and Dikeou pulled out.

Desperate and running out of time, Romer elicited the help of Denver attorney Paul Jacobs to expand the search and find new owners with business and sports experience. Under the rebranded Colorado Baseball Partnership Ltd., the group began to grow with business owners from around the country. Two businessmen from Ohio led the way as principal in beverage-distributor John Antonucci and the owner of Phar-Mor Inc., one of the nation’s leading drugstore chains, Mickey Monus. Both had formed the World Basketball League and were avid sports fans.

Born in Colorado, Steven Ehrhart, a Tennessee lawyer and sports entrepreneur who was commissioner of the short-lived United States Football League, also joined. Others with Colorado connections like Carey Teraji, who owned a software firm in Denver, and David G. Elmore, a Minor League legend who owned several MiLB teams at the time, including the Triple-A affiliate for the then Cleveland Indians, who then became the Colorado Sky Sox, the Rockies first and longtime Triple-A team in Colorado Springs.

Mike Nicklaus, a New Yorker and baseball fan who owned the Double-A Memphis Chicks, rounded out the primary group while some local companies like Coors Brewing Company, Greeley’s Hensel Phelps Construction Company, KOA Radio, and the Rocky Mountain News, along with Denver construction millionaire Linda Alvarado among others, joined as limited partners.

The group formed a good enough foundation to get Denver into the list of the final six cities. Funds continued to shift, Nicklaus dropped out, Coors stepped up with $30 million ($15 million of which was naming rights for the stadium in “perpetuity”). While funds continued to shift, the bid process moved forward, and voters had already approved a sales tax increase to fund a stadium. On June 10, 1992, MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent announced South Florida and Denver would get expansion teams, and by July 5, MLB owners approved the selections.

The Rockies were set to have their first seasons in 1993. But 251 days before that happened, Jacobs, the lawyer who had pulled everything together, got really bad news. Monus was in legal hot water and was about the shake up the entire ownership group. Luckily, he told Jacobs, who, according to longtime Colorado sportswriter Mike Klis, was able to convince Monus to legally transfer $10 million of his Rockies’ stock so it wouldn’t be locked up when Monus was.

In February 1993, Monus was indicted by a federal grand jury on 129 counts in a $1 billion embezzlement and fraud case,” according to ESPN. His illegal business dealings would land him 10 years in prison and not only take himself out of the ownership group, but his former business partner Antonucci as well by association (Antonucci wasn’t involved in Monus’ crimes).

Thanks to Jacobs’ quick actions, the Rockies were able to evade being swept in a scandal that would jeopardize the team’s existence. He also helped coordinate the new controlling general partnership group out of former limited partners Jerry McMorris, Oren Benton, and Charlie Monfort. McMorris, who owned a $400 million trucking company at the time, covered half of the $20 million now missing from Monus and Antonucci, while Benton and the Monfort family provided the rest.

Outside of being the principal owner, McMorris was also CEO for 10 years and the team’s president until 2001. When his trucking company had to file for bankruptcy in 2005, McMorris’ tenure with the Rockies ended and he sold his controlling shares to the Monforts.

A lot of people, a lot of money, and a lot of creative and fast thinking helped the Rockies avert crisis after crisis before they even played their first game. Since they first stepped out onto the field on April 5, 1993, there’s been attendance records, five playoff runs with one World Series appearance, memorable games, a Hall of Famer (soon to be two), numerous all-stars, terrible seasons, trades, and deals, and now the second labor stoppage. Through the good and the bad times, and thanks to the admirable efforts of many, Rockies fans have what we’ve always wanted: a team to call our own.

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Five sleeper Rockies prospects to watch in the organization in 2022 | Denver Post ($)

Kyle Newman also has the right idea. Minor League spring training is up and running and that gives us something to talk about. He’s got three pitchers and two outfielders to keep an eye on that could make their way up to the Rockies from 2023-25.

On Friday, the first episode of the Pebble Report Podcast by Purple Row’s Justin Wick and Kenneth Weber will be out to talk about the upcoming, non-locked-out MiLB season.

On 303 Day, a tip of the cap to Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies | Rox Pile

In a shoutout to Coloradans, Kevin Henry celebrates 303 Day with a nice tribute to Coors Field and some good trivia.

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