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That time the Denver Athletics almost happened

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Sunday, June 6, 2021

As the Rockies and Athletics close out their three-game series at Coors Field, I can’t help but think about how his matchup could potentially not be happening in some sort of alternate universe. Major League Baseball told Oakland a month ago that they should go ahead and start looking at possible relocation destinations in hopes that would put pressure on Oakland’s local government to approve the construction of a new baseball stadium.

This isn’t the first time they’ve threatened to move just over 40 years ago however, the Oakland Athletics almost packed up and moved into the Rocky Mountain region to become the Denver Athletics. Join me as we take a quick history trip to explore what could have been if Charlie Finley had his way.

The owner Charlie Finley

As the owner of the Oakland A’s, Charlie Finley was perhaps the most hated man in baseball during his front-office career. Even though he pioneered things such as the designated hitter and night games in the World Series, players and owners alike despised him for his meddling and “my way or the highway” type of personality. He ruled with an iron fist, and if people didn’t like it, they wouldn’t be around much longer to complain about it. In fact, he once fired his manager and had the P.A. announcer call out to the right fielder “Your playing days are over. You have been named manager of the Kansas City A’s.”

Finley struggled to win in Kansas City and wanted to get the team out of there as soon as he could. He openly campaigned to get out of the city, and in 1968 he finally got his wish and managed to move to the team to Oakland where he had to sign a strict 20-year lease to use their brand new stadium, with no option to back out. The move seemed to pay off as the new Oakland team began to improve and from 1972-1974 they managed to win three straight World Series titles thanks to stars like Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and Catfish Hunter, who all played and won to spite their penny-pinching owner.

However, after the 1975 season, the Oakland dynasty was over after the reserve clause that kept players on a team in perpetuity was done away with and the free-agent market was established. Players couldn’t wait to get out of Oakland and away from Finley. In order to save some money and build up depth, Finley would trade away his stars over the next couple of years and by 1979 finished with a 54-108 record. A mixture of low attendance, a changing game, and a divorce filing from his wife prompted Finley to try and sell the team.

The sale that almost was

Finley apparently had found a new suitor to sell to in the form of Denver oilman Marvin Davis. Davis was a wealthy businessman who made most of his fortune from the oil along with owning a variety of other businesses such as 20th Century Fox and the Aspen Skiing Company. Davis attempted a few times to purchase sports teams in his life, including bids for the Dallas Cowboys and even the Denver Broncos.

Back in 1978 though, it looked like a deal was ready and approved to sell Oakland to Davis for $12 million, who in turn would move the team to Denver. The city of Oakland approved this with the idea that Finley would have to pay a buyout of $4 million to cover the rest of the lease, the San Francisco Giant would play half their games at the Coliseum, and the city would, in turn, use that money to build suites for the owner of the Oakland Raider. Unfortunately, the deal fell through because Oakland discovered earmarking the funds directly for the Raiders would be a misappropriation of public funds.

One year later in 1979, Finley agreed once again to sell to Davis for $12 million but the Oakland City Council prevented the A’s from leaving to Denver by voting to uphold the remaining 10 years on the Coliseum lease. The Denver Athletics dream was over. Eventually, Finley would sell the team in 1980 to the ex-Levi Strauss CEO Walter Haas Jr. and his family for $12.9 million in a move that would keep the Athletics in Oakland for many years to come.

What could have been

It’s fun to think about what could have happened if the sale had gone through and Denver got a team in 1980. The Colorado Rockies would not exist. Would the team enjoy the success in Denver that Oakland ended up having in the late 80s with manager Tony LaRussa and stars like Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire? Would they have won the 1989 World Series? Would they revolutionize “Moneyball” and have a Brad Pitt movie based on them? Or is time a flat circle and it would be inevitable that the Denver Athletics would end up on the same path as the Colorado Rockies? Would Davis have exhausted all resources to become a championship team? The list of questions goes on and on.

Even more mind-boggling is thinking about what Colorado Rockies we may have missed out on like Todd Helton, Larry Walker, the Blake Street Bombers, Tulo, CarGo, Arenado, etc. Without the Rockies, it's possible we would have never got to see our favorite players in purple pinstripes.

Regardless of what could have been, perhaps it was better that Colorado found its team in 1993 and got to pave its own destiny. Marvin Davis and his wealth could have changed the way a team is run at altitude, but until we develop wormhole technology, we are better off enjoying (and sometimes suffering) the highs and lows of our unique team. Despite being separate teams, the Athletics and Rockies will always be connected with one another in this strange sort of way.

If you’d like to read more about Charlie Finley and his time as owner of the Athletics, check out this article here.

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On the farm

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 5, Las Vegas Aviators 3

Connor Joe and recently acquired Rio Ruiz led the offensive charge for the Isotopes in their 5-3 victory. Joe hit a pair of doubles and tallied three RBIs, while on the pitching end Dereck Rodríguez allowed three runs on five hits in a serviceable start.

Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats 8, Bowie Baysox 7

In an extra-inning walk-off fashion, the Hartford Yard Goats rallied to defeat the Bowie Baysox 8-7 in a 10 inning affair despite Adley Rutschman’s three-hit night for the Baysox. Tied 4-4 after regulation, the Baysox tallied three runs in the top of the 10th to take the lead. However, the Yard Goats strung together three straight hits to bring the deficit to one, eventually leading to Manuel Melendez playing hero with a two-run single to win the game. The Hartford offense tallied 12 hits and was powered by home runs from Taylor Snyder, Elehuris Montero, and Melendez.

High-A: Spokane Indians 8, Tri-City Dust Devils 3

All but one starter managed a hit for Spokane in a 10 hit performance against the Tri-City Dust Devils. Willie MacIver slugged his sixth homer of the season to tie Michael Toglia for the team lead. Ryan Feltner delivered another quality performance by allowing three runs on five hits to bring his ERA to 2.51 on the season.

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies 5, Visalia Rawhide 3

Finally, Ryan Weatherly dominated for Fresno after throwing five 5 13 innings allowing two runs on two hits and notching 11 strikeouts in the 5-3 victory over Visalia. Ezequiel Tovar gave the Grizzlies an early lead with a three-run homer in the first inning. Drew Romo added an RBI single in the third and Daniel Montano added a solo homer in the fourth to secure the victory for Fresno.

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