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Neifi Perez Jersey

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This one ought to give you enough to talk about as we wait for the Winter Meetings to get underway next week.

Neifi Perez was signed by the Cubs on August 19, 2004, two days after he was released by the San Francisco Giants; despite playing for the team that then-Cubs manager Dusty Baker had managed for a decade, Neifi had never played for Dusty before.

This one sums up Neifi well. Trying to tag Joe Crede in 2006,
it looks like he got him, but we’ll never know for sure.

photo via

He played ten games at Iowa (hitting .206), and when recalled in September, he played a number of games at SS after the also just-acquired Nomar Garciaparra had suffered a minor injury. In 23 games, comprising 63 at-bats in 2004, Neifi hit .371/.400/.548 with two homers and five doubles. (It was pointed out yesterday in one of the threads that this is a good small-sample-size comparison for what Micah Hoffpauir hit in his first 73 major league AB: .342/.400/.534). Neifi had never come close to numbers like that with the Rockies, Royals and Giants, but Cubs fans could have been forgiven if they thought they had at least a decent backup infielder.

Neifi was thrust into a starting role in 2005 when Nomar got hurt again, this time a horrible groin injury that made almost every male Cubs fan cringe, on April 20, 2005. He played well enough for two months (on June 5 he was hitting .325/.348/.485) that some blogs (this one and The Cub Reporter) were pushing a write-in campaign for Neifi for the All-Star team. (We were kidding. Sort of.) We weren’t the only ones — check out this article by Carrie Muskat in which both Nomar and Derrek Lee were pushing for Neifi to be an All-Star:

“He deserves it,” Lee said. “Look at his numbers. I don’t think there’s a shortstop with better offensive numbers.”

“There should be a Cubs shortstop there, and it’s the guy who’s playing there right now,” Garciaparra said of Perez. “He’s been unbelievable. He definitely deserves it.”

That, of course, was Neifi’s cue to stop hitting. From June 6 to the All-Star break he hit .167/.191/.190 (no, that’s not a misprint, that’s a .190 SLG), and wound up the year hitting .274/.298/.383, just about exactly his career averages. Nevertheless, Dusty kept trotting him out there, mystifyingly batting him leadoff or second on many occasions, and responding to criticism with quotes like this:

“I hear a lot of people say, ‘Put Cedeno in.’ What am I supposed to do? Push Neifi out now? This guy has saved us.”

Saved the Cubs from what, exactly, is the question Dusty never answered; they finished fourth at 79-83. But Dusty’s “horse” was right back in there in 2006, starting many games at 2B or SS and producing things like the mystifying bunt he laid down with two out and two on and the Cubs down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth against the Nationals on May 18, 2006. It turned into an easy comebacker and the Cubs lost.

Jim Hendry was the one who finally “saved” the Cubs by shipping Neifi to the Tigers. Neifi should thank him, because he wound up playing in the World Series, while the Cubs lost 96 games. The next year, he was suspended twice for PED use, the second time for 80 games; that ended his major league career.

But as checkered as Neifi’s Cub and post-Cub career was, we should always hold a little place in our hearts for him, because on September 27, 1998, while a member of the Rockies, he hit a walkoff homer in Coors Field against the Giants, forcing the wild-card tie and the September 28, 1998 tiebreaker game, which the Cubs won.

Justin Morneau Jersey

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It’s been three years since Justin Morneau played Major League Baseball, but the former Twins MVP first baseman is making a bit of a comeback as he is on the roster for Canada’s national team.

Baseball Canada announced the roster that will compete to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and Morneau, from New Westminster, British Columbia, is among the 28 players on the team.

Canada will play in the 12-team WBSC Premier12 tournament in South Korea Nov. 2-17, with the two teams in the tournament qualifying for the 2020 Olympics.

The team that finishes first from the Americas will qualify, along with the top finisher in the Super Round/Finals from the Asia/Oceania region.

The top-12 baseball teams in the world rankings are in the tournament:

Chinese Taipei
Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic

Morneau was named the American League MVP with the Twins in 2006 and went on to win the National League batting title with the Colorado Rockies in 2014.

Morneau is now a part-time analyst during Twins games on FOX Sports North.

Ellis Burks Jersey

Few players in the history of major-league baseball have displayed each of the prized “five tools,” meaning the ability to hit for average and for power, to run, to field, and to throw. On that short list belongs the name of Ellis Burks, who began his major-league career as a 22-year-old rookie for the Boston Red Sox in 1987 and concluded it as a member of the 2004 Red Sox team that ended 86 years of frustration for the franchise with their World Series title. Burks had stops with four additional clubs, most notably with the Colorado Rockies, where he spent five seasons and where in 1996 he produced one of the greatest individual seasons in Rockies history.

Ellis Rena Burks was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on September 11, 1964. When he was 3 his family moved to the state capital, Jackson, where he completed elementary school and his father worked as an electrician. As a child in Jackson he had no real opportunities to play organized sports but he learned to love baseball by playing sandlot games with his cousins. He was not particularly skilled at the game as a child, however, and his cousins used to tease him because he batted cross-handed and they liked to inform him, “You don’t know how to play, Ellis, you don’t know how to play.”1

At 10, the family moved to Fort Worth, Texas, and Ellis started to get serious about baseball, playing in a summer league after his freshman year at O.D. Wyatt High School. His varsity baseball coach, Bill Metcalf, would become an important influence upon him. As a sophomore, Burks was more than happy just to earn a varsity letter but Metcalf conveyed to the 15-year-old that he had uncommon instincts for the game and could become a special player.2 As a senior, Burks transferred to nearby Everman High School, the local baseball powerhouse. He had an outstanding senior season at Everman, playing for coach Jim Dyer. It was at Everman that Burks adopted the batting stance of his favorite major leaguer, Jim Rice. “I tried to look exactly like that in high school,” he once said. “I had his number, 14. I adopted his stance. My feet were pretty much placed the same as his in high school, junior college, and the minor leagues.”3

Despite a torrid senior season at the plate, college scholarship offers were slow to materialize. On one occasion his grandmother, Velma Burks, asked him about his college plans and Ellis informed her that he would be going to Ranger Junior College, although the coaches at Ranger had not yet contacted him with an offer to play baseball.4 He also entertained the thought that he might be selected in the major-league draft, but he escaped the notice of scouts despite the fact that he capped his impressive senior season by being the first high-school player to hit a ball out of Arlington Stadium.5 (He did it in a high-school all-star game.) His grandmother died in March of his senior year but Ellis honored his promise to her and committed to Ranger even after other schools began to show interest.

At Ranger Junior College, Burks played for coach Jack Allen. Allen was a master of homespun homilies delivered to full effect with a Texas drawl and he had quite the influence on the 18-year-old Burks. On one occasion, Burks hit a routine groundball to shortstop and was running to first at slightly less than full speed. Allen surprised Burks by inquiring if he was, perhaps, nursing an injury of some sort. When Burks informed him that he was fully healthy, Allen lectured him in no uncertain terms and stated, “By golly, I don’t care if you can throw a strawberry through a battleship or run a hole in the wind … on this team we play at full speed!”6 It was a lesson Burks would never forget and his hustle became a trademark of his professional career. The Ranger team was a real powerhouse during Burks’s freshman year and he led the parade by tearing the proverbial cover off of the ball throughout the fall season. He was excited because a number of scouts planned to attend a coming game, and he was shocked when game day arrived and Allen told him he wouldn’t be in the lineup because the coach was afraid the scouts would see him and that Allen would lose Burks, his best player, in the coming January draft. Burks assured his coach that, even if drafted in January, he would not sign with a pro team until the end of the spring season and Allen relented and allowed Burks to play the game.

Indeed, the scouts had a very favorable opinion of Burks and on the advice of scout Danny Doyle, he was selected by the Red Sox with the 20th overall pick of the January 1983 draft. Five of Burks’s teammates were also selected in that draft, including future major-league pitchers Mike Smith and Jim Morris. As Burks had promised Coach Allen, he did not sign with the Red Sox until the end of the spring college season.

Burks made his first stop in professional baseball with the Elmira (New York) Pioneers of the New York-Pennsylvania League as an 18-year-old playing short-season A ball in 1983. At the plate he hit just .241 that season with two home runs but demonstrated his range of abilities as he stole nine bases and contributed five outfield assists. He was promoted to high-A ball at Winter Haven in the Florida State League the following season where he was a full three years younger than the league average but displayed a mature set of skills. In 112 games for Winter Haven, he stole 29 bases and contributed 12 outfield assists. Burks had the good fortune of meeting his idol, Jim Rice, then still with the Red Sox. “I met him in spring training. I was in ‘A’ ball, and I got called up for a split-squad game. He was in the clubhouse. I said, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Rice, my name is Ellis Burks. It’s a pleasure to meet you.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I know who you are, kid.’” Burks added, “I was like, whoa, how does he know who I am?” I happened to sit beside him on the bench that day. I was pretty much in awe. I was too scared to ask him any questions. The next year, I was on the roster, and he told the spring-training clubhouse attendant to put my locker next to his. It was unbelievable to grow up idolizing a guy, and now he wanted my locker next to his.”7

Burks spent the 1985 and 1986 seasons at New Britain in the Double-A Eastern League and it was here that he really caught the attention of the big club. Red Sox coach Johnny Pesky became an admirer and declared that Burks “can run, hit, throw, and catch the ball. He may be ready for the big leagues sooner than people may think.”8 Burks’s ascent through the Red Sox system was slowed slightly by two right-shoulder injuries but his power began to blossom with 24 home runs over the course of the two seasons. It was the 31 stolen bases that he collected during the 1986 season in New Britain, however, that really caught the attention of the Boston front office. The Red Sox system had many promising young hitters in addition to Burks, including Mike Greenwell, Brady Anderson, Todd Benzinger, and Sam Horn, but it was the baserunning abilities Burks displayed that made him stand out from the other quality hitting prospects as the big-league club was sorely deficient in basestealing. (The 1986 Red Sox finished a distant last in the major leagues in stolen bases with just 41, of which six were by 36-year-old first baseman Billy Buckner.)

Burks made a strong impression on the Red Sox with an outstanding spring training in 1987. He was the team’s last cut, optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket.

The Red Sox did not have a strong sense of urgency to bring up their younger players to start the 1987 season; the team was coming off of a tremendously successful and memorable 1986 season in which they won their first American League pennant since 1975, and a heartbreaking seven-game loss to the New York Mets in the World Series. Lofty expectations for the 1987 Red Sox were misplaced as the team floundered to open the season. In late April, they had a 9-12 record and were in fourth place, 9½ games behind the high-flying Milwaukee Brewers. The Red Sox suddenly looked like a team that was past its prime and needed contributions from some of its talented prospects.

Burks had played a mere 11 games at the Triple-A level for Pawtucket when he was summoned to the big-league club. On the night of April 30, 1987, Boston manager John McNamara inserted 22-year-old Burks into the starting lineup as the Red Sox center fielder. Burks was batting ninth as the Red Sox faced pitcher Scott Bankhead and the Seattle Mariners in the Kingdome. Burks was hitless in three at-bats in a career that began with a weak groundball back to the mound, followed by a strikeout and a foul popup. He also dropped a line drive on which he had attempted to make a diving catch during the 11-2 Mariners victory. The game marked the first occasion that Burks had played on artificial turf,9 a circumstance that contributed to a base hit skipping past him in the outfield. Burks reflected great dismay and determination. “I felt bad after that first game. Everything happened so fast and I was not happy at what happened. I just wanted to come right back in my next game and show it wasn’t me,” he told a sportswriter.10 Skipper McNamara assured Burks that he would be in the starting lineup again the next game.11 The next night in Anaheim brought out the “real” Burks as he collected his first major-league hit in the second inning, a double down the right-field line off Urbano Lugo that brought home two runs. He went 3-for-3 as he shook off the jitters. In that series against the Angels, he showed a dazzling display of speed by sprinting from shallow center field to haul in a drive hit by Gary Pettis. Burks apparently liked Angels pitching because he connected for his first major-league home run, against future Hall of Famer Don Sutton, in the third inning of a game back in Boston on May 10. He later hit five home runs during a single road trip and brought his home-run total to 10 by June 18. When he hit a go-ahead home run off the Yankees’ Bob Tewksbury on June 21 it was the third time the rookie had provided the Red Sox with a game-winning blast.

Burks’s success fueled the Boston youth movement. In short order, Todd Benzinger, Sam Horn, and Jody Reed were promoted to the big-league club to join Burks and Greenwell and the look of the team began to change. Burks split time in center with Dave Henderson and they became close friends rather than rivals. In fact, Henderson provided great help to Burks in outfield positioning and in reading hitters and Burks later identified Henderson as one of his greatest influences and closest friends in the game.12 The front office liked what it saw from Burks so much in center field that it traded Henderson to Oakland on September 1. General manager Lou Gorman said, “Henderson’s home run put us into the World Series. He did everything we asked of him, but Burks just came along and took his job.”13 Don Baylor, who had provided enormous offensive and leadership contributions during the previous season, was also traded, to Minnesota. The 1987 Red Sox finished 78-84 but the infusion of young talent brought great excitement to Beantown.

Burks’s 1987 batting line exceeded all expectations with 20 home runs and 27 stolen bases to accompany 59 runs batted in and a .272 batting average. He became only the third Red Sox player to total 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the same season. He had 15 outfield assists, which as of 2017 remain the most in a season for a Red Sox center fielder. But Burks stood out for his entire game and his unusually refined skills, such as the ability to correctly read the flight of the ball off the bat. These defensive skills caught the attention of Lou Gorman who stated that Burks reminded him of a young Amos Otis.14 Don Baylor was notably impressed by Burks’ defensive prowess and paid him the highest of compliments by comparing him to Paul Blair.15

The young but talented Red Sox entered the 1988 season with high hopes. Burks set a personal goal of 40 stolen bases.16 However, a bone chip in his ankle required offseason surgery and he was unable to open the season with the team. Upon returning, he compiled six multihit games in his first nine games. A jammed left wrist slowed him temporarily but he finished the 1988 campaign with a .294 average, 18 home runs, 92 runs batted in, and 25 stolen bases. On September 4, the Red Sox assumed a permanent hold on first place in the American League East on their way to an 89-73 record and the American League East title. Postseason play was less noteworthy as the Sox were swept in four games by the Oakland Athletics as former Red Sox pitcher Dennis Eckersley saved all four games and Dave Henderson threw some salt in Boston’s wounds by going 6-for-16 with a home run. Burks was 4-for-17 in the series.

The 1989 season proved challenging for the team and for Burks. The team stumbled out of the blocks and was slow to recapture its form from the previous season. On April 30, the Red Sox faced the Texas Rangers in a game at Arlington as Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens faced off on the mound. It was not much of a homecoming for Burks as a Ryan fastball in the first inning glanced off his shoulder and caught him behind the left ear. He was removed from the game and was not pleased with the situation. Burks said, “Why should I be when a guy who throws 100, throws one at my head?”17 The same two pitchers were matched up in their next start, at Fenway Park on May 5. This time Burks exacted some revenge against Ryan and the Rangers by going 3-for-4 with a stolen base. In the seventh inning a Ryan fastball zipped under Burks’s chin, causing Ellis to glare out at the mound and Ryan to take a step toward home plate. “I was making a statement,” Burks commented.18 In return, Ryan said, “Everyone was on edge because of what’d been said or written after the incident in Texas.”19 When order resumed, Burks fouled off a couple of pitches and then singled home Jody Reed to give the Red Sox the lead for good in a 7-6 victory.

New Red Sox manager Joe Morgan was very impressed with Burks and considered him to be highly capable in every aspect of the game. “He’s way above average in everything,” Morgan said. “Hitting, hitting with power, throwing, running, catching the ball. Everything. And he’s a good fellow. The other day I yelled out to him, ‘Burks, I hope you never change,’ and he said, ‘I won’t change.’”20 The biggest challenge Burks faced seemed to be staying healthy. While attempting to make a diving catch in a game against Detroit on June 14, he tore cartilage in his left shoulder. He underwent surgery and missed the next 41 games. The season came to an abrupt end for Burks during a September 6 game in Oakland in which Burks had gone 3-for-3 before he suffered a shoulder separation in a collision with Mike Greenwell in the outfield and surgery became necessary. Burks was limited to 97 games in the 1989 season, batting .303 with 21 stolen bases.

Burks completed a strong 1990 season that led to some overdue recognition as one of the top players in the game. He batted .296 and contributed 21 home runs and 89 runs batted in as the Red Sox compiled an 88-74 record and won the AL East Division title. His clutch hitting was particularly important as 23 of his first 43 runs batted in were delivered with two out. Against Cleveland on August 27, he became the 25th major leaguer to hit two home runs in one inning. The team’s stay in the postseason was again brief; they fell once again in four straight games to the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS. Burks went 4-for-15 in the series. Burks received a Silver Slugger Award as a recognition of his excellence over the 1990 season. He was the only 20-home-run hitter that season for a Red Sox franchise traditionally known for its power. He also earned his first Gold Glove Award, joining fellow outfielders Ken Griffey Jr. and Gary Pettis. He was selected for his first All-Star team although he did not play in the game due to injury. Burks finished 13th in the American League MVP voting.

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The subsequent two seasons in Boston brought a steady diet of frustration. The 1991 season was seriously compromised by tendinitis in both knees and continual back pain. The tendinitis disrupted Burks’s timing and power at the plate and he had only two home runs in his first 29 games. The back pain increased over the course of the year and kept him out of the lineup for 11 games during a key late-September stretch run. The back problems proved to be a persistent foe over the coming years and Burks was later diagnosed with a bulging disk. His totals for the season reflected the extent to which he played hurt as he had only a .251 average with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs. A better reflection of the effects of the injuries was his uncharacteristically poor success rate on the bases with only 6 stolen bases in 17 attempts.

Trade talk percolated after the 1991 season but new Red Sox manager Butch Hobson was committed to Burks and batted him primarily in the leadoff spot in 1992. The knee problems compromised Burks’s speed and these issues were compounded when he played on artificial turf. The back problem did not respond to rest and medication and his season was limited to 66 games and 235 at-bats, which yielded an uncustomary .255 batting average with 8 home runs and 30 runs batted in. The Red Sox did not tender Burks a contract for 1993 and he was left off the team’s original 15-man protected list for the expansion draft, only to be pulled back when the Rockies selected Jody Reed.21 Nonetheless, the Red Sox made no effort to sign him.

The Chicago White Sox emerged as the club with the greatest interest in Burks and he signed with the team in early January of 1993. The White Sox had assembled a talented and experienced team, and in spring training, GM Ron Schueler commented, “ … Right now, Ellis looks as good as I’ve seen him look since I was scouting him years ago. If we can keep him going, he would give us a whole added dimension.”22 On April 16, and in his ninth game as a member of his new team, Burks made his return to Fenway Park. Facing Danny Darwin in his first at-bat of the game, Burks turned on a 3-and-2 pitch and launched a shot well over the left-field wall. As he rounded the bases, Burks received a standing ovation from the 26,536 fans. He commented, “It hasn’t been an easy transition. … I gave it a lot of thought this winter how it would be in this game. In spring training it hit me — I was wearing different colored socks.”23 The 1993 season marked a strong return to form for Burks. He batted .275 with 17 home runs and 74 RBIs. More importantly, he was able to stay free of serious injury and played in 146 games. The White Sox realized expectations in winning 94 games against 68 defeats and claimed the American League West title. They met the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series but fell, four games to two. Burks went 7-for-23 with a home run.

Burks became a free agent after the season and all indications were that he would re-sign with the White Sox, where he felt wanted and appreciated. “I’ll take anything — three years, five years, ten years — whatever they want,” he said. “It’s been great here. One of the reasons I wanted to come here in the first place was a chance to win, and we’re doing that.”24 But the White Sox offered only a two-year deal and wanted Burks to play right field25 and so he was willing to consider other offers. The Colorado Rockies sorely needed a quality center fielder and offered Ellis a three-year, $9 million deal, which Burks accepted.

A new chapter in Burks’s career began when he signed with the Rockies but the story had some familiar elements. In Colorado he was reunited with two teammates from his rookie year in Boston in manager Don Baylor and hitting coach Dwight Evans. Playing for the Rockies had an additional allure as the franchise had just set a major-league attendance record in their inaugural season by drawing nearly 4.5 million fans to Mile High Stadium. Playing there was a hitter’s dream and a pitcher’s nightmare as the altitude and reduced air resistance translated into additional carry on batted balls. Defense became a priority in this park, and particularly in the outfield, where outfielders needed speed and arm strength to handle the largest outfield in the majors. Playing 81 games a year in Denver also came with costs, including the physical demands of playing long games and chasing down a lot of batted balls yielded by a pitching staff that had the National League’s highest ERA during the previous season.

The 1994 season was the second and final season for the Rockies at Mile High Stadium. They moved to Coors Field in 1995. Burks began the 1994 season just as he and the Rockies had hoped. He hit a home run off Curt Schilling of the Philadelphia Phillies in his first at-bat at Mile High Stadium and he was batting a lofty .354 with 12 home runs through his first 34 games. However, in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 17 he tore a ligament in his left wrist on a checked swing. He missed the next 70 games and when he returned to the club, every swing of the bat proved to be painful. He was limited to 42 games but still managed to hit .322 with 13 home runs. The 1994 season was shrouded by the specter of labor unrest and there was little movement in talks between owners and players as the season progressed. Indeed, the players union struck and the season concluded for the Rockies and all of the other major-league teams on August 11, and the 65,043 fans in attendance that night witnessed the last major-league baseball game to be played in Mile High Stadium, an otherwise forgettable 13-0 pasting of the home club by the Atlanta Braves. The Rockies finished 53-64 in their abbreviated season. Burks underwent surgery immediately after the season ended and his wrist remained in a cast for three full months following the surgery.

Resolution of the labor dispute was not reached until April 2, 1995, after a 232-day work stoppage that wiped out all 1994 postseason play. After an abbreviated spring training, the Rockies opened the 1995 season on April 26 in their brand-new ballpark, Coors Field. The 1995 lineup featured the “Blake Street Bombers,” so named because Blake Street bordered the new ballpark on the east side and the lineup contained an assemblage of certifiable sluggers that included Burks, Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, and Larry Walker. Vinny Castilla proved to be an unexpected but formidable additional power source and became the fifth member of the brigade. On April 26, the Rockies baptized their new park in unforgettable fashion as Bichette hit a three-run walk-off home run in the 14th inning off Mike Remlinger of the New York Mets to provide the 47,228 fans with an 11-9 victory. Burks was not able to join the fun until May 5 when he came off of the disabled list. The strong play of Mike Kingery in center field in his absence, and the presence of Bichette in left field and Walker in right field resulted in limited playing time for Burks for the rest of the season. His first home run of the season did not come until June 2 when he launched a walk-off pinch-hit three-run homer against Dan Miceli to beat the Pirates. Burks was able to play in only 103 games with 14 home runs and a .266 batting average to show for his injury-limited 1995 season. The team finished just one game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West and they earned their first postseason berth courtesy of the wild-card spot. The Rockies lost three games to one in the first round of the postseason to the eventual champion Atlanta Braves as Burks went 2-for-6 in limited postseason playing time.

Burks arrived at spring training three days early in 1996 knowing that quality preparation and good health were going to be the keys to his success during the coming campaign. “For years I’ve just been trying to stay healthy and to get rid of that stereotype that I can’t stay away from injuries,” he said.26 More than anything, he was determined to erase the memories of 1995 when he was relegated to a role as the Rockies’ fourth outfielder. He was slotted to spend more time in left field during the season as manager Baylor wished to minimize the wear and tear on Burks and to see if center field might be a fit for the athletic Larry Walker.

A full season of good health enabled Burks to have a remarkable turnaround in 1996 and he carried the Rockies offensively as injuries to Walker and Bichette severely affected the team’s attack. Burks played in a career-high 156 games, and 129 of those games were spent in left field. His .344 batting average was second in the National League only to Tony Gwynn’s .353 mark, and he led the league with 142 runs scored and also drove in 128 runs. Burks’s 93 extra-base hits, 392 total bases, and .639 slugging average all led the league. Although some skeptics attributed his numbers to the “Coors Field Effect,” his road statistics were more than sufficient to reject that notion. Away from home, Burks hit .291 with 17 home runs and had 49 runs batted in with a .903 OPS in 75 games.

As Burks went, so went the Rockies in 1996. He batted .413 with 10 home runs when leading off an inning. He hit .362 with runners in scoring position and .369 with two outs and runners in scoring situations that year. Against the vaunted Atlanta Braves staff that featured three future Hall of Famers (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz), Burks hit .380 (19-for-50). His 32 stolen bases were more than he had compiled in the previous five seasons combined. He joined Henry Aaron as the second player in history to record 40 home runs, 200 hits, and 30 stolen bases in a season. He finished third in the NL MVP voting behind Ken Caminiti and Mike Piazza and he received his second Silver Slugger Award. His WAR of 7.9 led the Rockies. Galarraga (47), Burks (40), and Castilla (40) became the first trio of teammates to reach 40 home runs in a season since Davey Johnson, Darrell Evans, and Henry Aaron accomplished the feat for the 1973 Atlanta Braves.

Burks became a free agent but was re-signed by the Rockies for the 1997 and 1998 seasons with an $8.8 million deal that included incentives. Burks had no regrets about re-signing and commented, “I signed early because I knew what I wanted. I’m sure I could have gotten a lot of money elsewhere. But money isn’t the main issue with me.”27 Preseason expectations were high for the club in 1997 as Walker and Bichette were expected to make stronger contributions after their previous injury-plagued seasons. In fact, Walker contributed even more than expected with 49 home runs, 140 RBIs, and 33 stolen bases to accompany a .366 batting average that earned him the National League MVP Award. Burks began 1997 slowly but his first four hits were home runs. His biggest nemesis during the season was a groin injury that caused him to miss a full month and he reinjured the groin in his second game back. He also had wrist and ankle injuries that lingered throughout the season and limited him to 119 games. Nonetheless, he batted .290 with 32 home runs and 82 RBIs and had a .934 OPS. His season total of just seven stolen bases, however, was evidence of the physical limitations he encountered during the year.

As the 1998 season opened, Burks said he felt he could not continue to play center field beyond the current season due to the effects of the hamstring, back, and knee problems that continued to limit his mobility.28 One of the major highlights of his season occurred on April 2, when he connected off the Diamondbacks’ Brian Anderson for his 100th home run in a Rockies uniform. The Rockies fell from contention early in the season and they made a move to fill their need for a younger center fielder capable of patrolling spacious center field at Coors. At the July 31 trading deadline, they sent Burks to the San Francisco Giants for center fielder Darryl Hamilton and minor-league pitcher James Stoops. They later received another minor leaguer, Jason Brester, to complete the deal. Burks concluded his time with the Rockies with a .306 batting average and 115 home runs in 520 games, and his 1996 season will be remembered as one of the greatest individual seasons in Rockies history.

Burks was a solid contributor to the Giants, batting .306 with 5 home runs and 8 stolen bases as the team went 31-23 following his arrival to conclude the 1998 season in second place in the National League West. Manager Dusty Baker planned to play him in right field during the 1999 season and to provide Burks with scheduled rest days to reduce his injury risk. Two offseason knee surgeries resulted in pain and soreness that compromised his power as he began the season. As the season progressed, Burks began to drive the ball into the gaps. Despite playing just 120 games in 1999, he concluded the year with 31 home runs and 96 runs batted to go with a .282 batting average and a .964 OPS. He nearly became the first National League player to drive in 100 runs in fewer than 400 at-bats as he fell just four short of 100 in 390 at-bats. The Giants once again finished second in the NL West.

The 2000 season marked a strong return to excellence for Burks despite two additional knee surgeries in the offseason. He batted.344, which equaled his best mark, set in 1996 with the Rockies, and he complemented the high average with 24 home runs and 96 RBIs. Burks’s contributions in San Francisco were duly noted as the team had the best record in the National League with a 97-65 mark and won the NL West title by 11 games over the Dodgers. They fell in four games to the New York Mets in the National League Division Series, in which Burks was 3-for-13 with a home run.

Burks became a free agent after the season and the American League seemed like the logical destination: He could serve as a team’s designated hitter and limit his time in the field to accommodate the knee issues. In only 284 games in a Giants uniform, Burks had hit .312 with 60 home runs and 214 runs driven in. Remarkably, Burks had a better OPS with the Giants (.971) than he had in his previous five seasons in Colorado (.957).

The Cleveland Indians signed the 36-year-old Burks to a three-year, $20 million offer in 2001 with the hope that he could play 100 to 120 games a year. Burks broke his right thumb in mid-July but still hit 28 home runs and drove in 74 runs with a .290 batting average. The Indians won their division with a 91-71 record and headed to the ALCS, where they faced a Seattle Mariners team that had compiled an all-time major league record of 116 wins. Burks went 6-for-19 in the series with a home run but the Mariners prevailed in five games.

Burks assumed the designated-hitter role for the Indians during the 2002 season and showed what he could do when provided a full season with the bat. He played 138 games and had 32 home runs and 91 runs batted in to accompany a .301 average. He completed his fourth consecutive season with an OPS above .900 (.903) with each coming after the age of 34. After the season, Burks required surgery on his left shoulder but he was in the Indians’ starting lineup again on Opening Day in 2003. He began the season well and continued to drive the ball with authority through the early part of the year. However, right elbow pain hampered his swing and he was required to end his season on June 7 in order to undergo ulnar nerve reconstruction surgery. In his abbreviated third season with the Indians, Burks batted .263 with 6 home runs and 28 RBIs. The Indians released Burks after the season, but he was not yet ready to retire from the game.

Burks’ career came full circle when he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent on February 6, 2004. At a press conference he said, “I can let you know that I will retire a Red Sox.”29 He was attracted to Boston by his wish to finish out his career where it had started and also felt that the team had a chance to reach the World Series. In turn, the Red Sox felt that Burks’s leadership abilities provided an important contribution to a team hoping to finally end their World Series drought.

Burks appeared in nine of the team’s first 17 games but underwent additional knee surgery in late April. Although he was unable to resume playing for many months, Burks remained with the team and even accompanied the Red Sox on road trips as he recovered from his injury. His commitment to the team was duly noted and appreciated by his teammates and Burks later commented that he wanted to contribute in whatever way that he could to a team that he felt was destined to win the World Series.30 After missing nearly five months with the injury, he returned to the lineup on September 23. In the season’s next-to-last game, at Camden Yards in Baltimore on October 2, manager Terry Francona inserted Burks into the lineup for his 2,000th major-league game. Batting fifth and in the DH role, he singled in his first at-bat in the second inning of that game for his 2,107th and final career hit. In the bottom of the fourth inning he was replaced by rookie Kevin Youkilis. The Red Sox capped their dream season with their first World Series title since 1918 by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series although Burks was not on the roster for the playoffs.

The 2004 World Series title vanquished the bitter memories of previous seasons and will always be regarded as one of the greatest accomplishments in Boston sports history. A largely unknown part of the story involves the team’s triumphant return home from St. Louis. As the plane approached Boston, Pedro Martinez asked for everyone’s attention and delivered an impromptu speech in which he recognized the contributions of the players on the field in contributing to the historic accomplishment. As Martinez continued, he singled out “The Old Goat” in reference to Burks and provided special praise for the teammate who had remained with the club and who had contributed his knowledge and leadership over the five long months of his injury rehab. At the request of Martinez and his teammates, Burks led the team down the steps of the plane to the tarmac at Logan Airport carrying the World Series trophy overhead.31

Ellis Burks retired after the 2004 season with a .291 lifetime batting average to go with 352 home runs. He is one of just a few major-league players to have hit 60 or more home runs with four separate teams. Injuries robbed Burks of the opportunity to put up even more impressive numbers and a possible berth in the Hall of Fame, but he looked back on his career with no regrets and said that he “loved every minute of it.”32 Burks received the respect of his peers for his professionalism and his willingness to play with pain. He remained in the game, working for the Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, and San Francisco Giants.

The Ranger College baseball team now plays at Ellis Burks Field. As of 2017 Burks worked for the San Francisco Giants as an instructor, scout, and talent evaluator. He, his wife, Dori, and their daughters, Carissa, Elisha, and Breanna, resided in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. His son, Chris, began his own professional career in the Giants’ minor-league system in the summer of 2017.

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Welcome to the 2019 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2019. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

The Colorado Rockies were beat up on the pitching side of things in more ways than one this past season. Relying once again on a batch of young starting pitchers, they saw their rotation get hit hard on the field and with injuries that kept guys off the field.

Antonio Senzatela’s 2019 season came to represent both sides of those struggles. The injuries to his counterparts meant that he pitched a lot, making 25 starts and pitching 124.2 innings. He registered enough decisions to go 11-11, so if you want to be cute next season you can refer to him as a 10-game winner.

As you know if you watched him, or as you could figure from that -0.6 rWAR, Senzatela was also one of those pitchers who got battered on the field. He had a ghastly 6.71 ERA and a career worst 77 ERA+. He allowed a career-worst 19 home runs and issued a career-high 57 walks. If there was a way to be bad, Senzatela probably pulled if off.

The most concerning change in Senzatela’s numbers was the drop in strikeouts. He just could not miss bats. To wit: Senzatela struck out 69 batters in 90.1 innings in 2018; he struck out 76 batters in 124.2 innings in 2019. That’s a dip from 6.9 K/9 to 5.5 K/9. He’s never going to be a big strikeout guy, but he’s not going to survive in the big leagues if he gets hit that often and that hard.

Here’s the good news: Senzatela is still just 24 years old. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that he’s still learning on the job, especially since he kicked back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen in 2018 before returning to full-time starting duties this year. Nick Groke wrote a piece at the beginning of September that looked at Senzatela’s struggles missing bats that also covered the steps that the Rockies were taking to help him adjust. I mention that to emphasize that this could all change quickly, as we have seen for better or worse with a number of young pitchers recently.

So what needs to change for the better? Those contact and strikeout numbers match up with what your eyes might tell you, which is that Senzatela’s fastball looks awfully flat. Maybe he develops more late movement or maybe he improves his secondary pitches to be able to set up hitters better. Maybe the Rockies focus on using him as a reliever so his velocity can play more in shorter bursts.

It takes a special starting pitcher to survive at Coors Field by primarily pitching to contact. I’m not here to tell you that Senzatela can’t be that pitcher or that he can’t make adjustments to strike more hitters out. I don’t know that, and you don’t either when it comes to a pitcher who’s still just 24. But the 2019 season told us that Senzatela isn’t a pitcher who can survive that way yet, and he’s got a long way to go to figure things out.

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After hitting leadoff in 799 of the 967 games he has started in a Colorado Rockies uniform, Charlie Blackmon slid down in the order in late August and September as Trevor Story primarily assumed the leadoff role with Blackmon behind him.

Colorado manager Bud Black felt the shift was a positive in order for the Rockies to take advantage of Story’s speed (the All-Star shortstop led the team with 23 stolen bases in 2019) as well as Blackmon’s ability to move him around the bases.

“Trevor’s base-stealing ability puts the pitcher (and) catcher in a little different spot with a true base-stealer,” Black told Rox Pile and other media members in late August. “Plus, if Trevor’s on, and they have to hold him, Charlie’s ability to pull the ball with certain pitches becomes greater. Charlie might get more fastballs if Trevor’s on base with a threat to steal. All the traditional baseball theories come into play a little bit, and both guys are good with it.”

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In one of his final interviews before the 2019 season concluded, Blackmon admitted that his days as Colorado’s leadoff hitter could be limited in 2020 … and that’s something he’s going to think about and work on this winter.

“Having hit a little further down in the order this year, pitch selection is going to be the key for me,” Blackmon said inside the Colorado clubhouse as he looked ahead to the offseason and 2020. “I’m trying to limit my swings out on the periphery of the strike zone so I’m going to be focusing on that in the offseason, which is hard to do without pitching and feedback but I think I’ll be doing some more drills to help me swing at better pitches.”

Blackmon is a career .307/.364/.523 hitter in the leadoff role and has made a name for himself around Major League Baseball with his historic feats from the top spot in the lineup. This isn’t. however, the first time that the discussion about the 33-year-old Blackmon moving into more of a traditional power lineup spot has occurred. Rockies fans well remember 2018 spring training when talk of DJ LeMahieu in the leadoff slot and Blackmon behind him was a big topic of conversation.

Batting anywhere but first, Blackmon knows the selection of pitches he sees will be different.

“If you’re hitting further down in the order, you’re going to be in situations where guys aren’t going to come right after you with a first-pitch fastball,” Blackmon explained. “They’re going to want to keep that run off the board and they’re going to try to pitch to the edges and mix it up a little more. I think that will help me give away less at-bats.”

So is Blackmon OK with moving out of the leadoff spot? Absolutely, he said.

“I like hitting in other places (in the lineup),” Blackmon said. “I like watching someone else hit leadoff. It’s something I enjoy doing and it’s something I’ve gotten comfortable with.”

While Rockies fans have been warned against the team making “some great big splash” in the offseason, Blackmon expects next year’s lineup to be somewhat different … even if it involves the same players.

“I don’t think it will look exactly like it looked this year,” Blackmon said. “I think we’ll try some new things out and reevaluate the best way to structure our lineup.”

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On Thursday, Troy Tulowitzki announced his retirement from baseball. Tulowitzki, 34, signed with the Yankees this past offseason after being released by the Blue Jays. With the Yankees, Tulowitzki played in five games to start the season at shortstop, but he then went on the 10-day injured list with a left calf strain. The Yankees transferred Tulowitzki to the 60-day disabled list on June 7.

A five-time All-Star, Tulowitzki spent parts of 10 years with the Rockies and parts of three with the Blue Jays before injuries derailed his career. Tulowitzki missed all of 2018 after having surgery to remove bone spurs from both his heels. He also suffered an ankle injury in 2017, playing only 66 games that season with Toronto. He played more than 130 games just three times over his 13 seasons.

Here’s part of Tulowitzki’s retirement statement:

“For as long as I can remember, my dream was to compete at the highest level as a Major League Baseball Player … to wear a big league uniform and play hard for my teammates and the fans. I will forever be grateful for every day that I’ve had to live out my dream. It has been an absolute honor.

“I will always look back with tremendous gratitude for having the privilege of playing as long as I did. There is no way to truly express my gratitude to the fans of Colorado, Toronto and New York. They always made my family and I feel so welcome.

“I want to thank the Yankees organization and Brian Cashman for giving me the opportunity to wear the Yankees uniform and live out another childhood dream. I wish that my health had allowed for a different ending to that chapter.

“While this chapter is now over, I look forward to continuing my involvement in the game that I love … instructing and helping young players to achieve their goals and dreams.

“I’m saying goodbye to Major League Baseball, but I will never say goodbye 2 the game I love. Thanks again 2 all of you!”

Colorado drafted Tulowitzki as the 7th overall pick of the 2005 MLB Draft out of Long Beach State. Although Tulowitzki grew up on the west coast, he often cited longtime Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as his favorite player growing up. His jersey number with the Rockies and Blue Jays was No. 2 because of Jeter.

It’s not hyperbole to say that if Tulowitzki had not been forced to fight against injuries, he could have garnered a career worthy of consideration for the Hall of Fame.

His time in Colorado certainly won’t ever be forgotten by Rockies fans. Tulowitzki’s emergence as one of the best shortstops in the game was a big reason for the team’s surprise NL pennant in 2007. Tulowitzki secured the final out in game four, with his signature jump throw to first base.

In the 2007 World Series, the Rockies were swept by the Red Sox. It was Tulowitzki’s only World Series appearance during his career as well as the only World Series appearance in Rockies franchise history.

Tulowitzki was also a two-time Gold Glove winner, two-time Silver Slugger and finished in the top 10 of NL MVP voting in each season between 2009-2011. He was also a second-place finisher in NL Rookie Of The Year voting in 2007. From 2006-2015, he hit .297/.369/.508, with 193 home runs.

Tulowitzki will stay busy with baseball. Nearly immediately after he announced his retirement, the University of Texas announced that he has been hired as an assistant coach.

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On the 161st Street subway platform, and massed in and around Yankee Stadium for Games 3 and 4 of the American League Championship Series, plenty of fans were adorned in Yankee jerseys bearing No. 2, the number of franchise icon Derek Jeter. But there was also a new number emblazoned on many jerseys and T-shirts: No. 26, the identifier of DJ LeMahieu. The first-year Yankee star has won over skeptical fans who were initially disappointed that he was the club’s big position player free-agent signee last winter, not Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

But it shouldn’t be surprising that LeMahieu has won over so many in New York. No player since Jeter has hit more like Jeter than LeMahieu.

Jeter’s trademark inside-out approach to hitting gave him an unusual batted-ball profile and helped him to 3,465 career hits. Of all major league hitters with at least 1,000 at-bats since 2002, the only right-handed batter to hit a higher share of opposite-field balls than Jeter and also come close to hitting his share of ground balls1 — all while batting .300 — is LeMahieu.2 Jeff Sullivan noted the similar profiles last offseason for FanGraphs after the Yankees signed LeMahieu to a two-year, $24 million contract. And LeMahieu has only continued to hit more like Jeter.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters earlier this month that his front-office assistants were pounding the table for signing LeMahieu last winter, and none more so than Jim Hendry, special assistant to Cashman. Hendry, the former Cubs GM, is close friends with LSU’s Paul Mainieri, who coached LeMahieu on the 2009 national championship team. Hendry had followed LeMahieu at LSU and through the minor leagues, and he thought the second baseman’s swing — and his versatile glove — would play anywhere.

“What I loved about him in college was that his natural swing was to right field and dead center, and he did it with a little bit of authority,” Hendry told FiveThirtyEight. “You can teach a guy to pull the ball down the road a lot easier than if you’ve got a pull guy, who isn’t a 40-homer guy, to hit the ball hard the other way. His natural swing was what I loved about him to begin with.”

That natural swing should feel very familiar to Yankee Nation.

While most ground balls are pulled, balls in the air are typically distributed more evenly around the outfield. Yet Jeter and LeMahieu own some of the most prolific opposite-field line-drive and fly-ball seasons on record since 2002, when batted-ball data became available. Among batters with at least 1000 at-bats since 2002, Jeter and LeMahieu rank second and third, respectively, in terms of the share of balls hit in the air to the opposite field. In an age of trying to pull the ball, LeMahieu is doing the opposite — just like Jeter did. Consider the Jeter and LeMahieu spray charts of balls hit in the air, from their five most recent seasons:

In his age-27 to age-30 seasons, Jeter produced a .305/.373/.456 slash line with a 118 OPS+, while LeMahieu compiled a .316/.373/.463 slash line with a 111 OPS+ in those corresponding seasons.

There were concerns that LeMahieu’s stats had been inflated by the thin air in Coors Field, where he spent seven of his first eight years in the big leagues. But LeMahieu’s offensive production has never been dependent on home run totals, so perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that he has succeeded away from Denver. If anything, the switch to Yankee Stadium and its short right-field porch helped him hit a career-high number of home runs (26) this season. Twelve of those home runs — including 11 at Yankee Stadium — were to right field, which tied for the fourth-greatest total in baseball.

“That’s his natural swing,” Hendry said.

LeMahieu’s batted-ball distance on fly balls to the opposite field also jumped by 22 feet to 324 feet this season, seventh in baseball. He hit a combined nine home runs to the opposite field from 2015 to 2018. Moreover, he has produced the most batted balls — including ground balls — to the opposite field this year. Those batted balls have come with a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 185, meaning that his opposite-field hits are 85 percent above league average in offensive performance.3

LeMahieu’s high-contact approach has made him even less dependent on ballpark environment. That method is perhaps aided by letting pitches travel longer before making contact, explaining his opposite-field tendencies.

LeMahieu’s approach might also be shift-proof, at least when it comes to infield defense. He led baseball this season in terms of plate appearances with a ball put in play when a shift was not in place. But in 2017, his batted-ball profile on balls in the air was so dramatic that teams employed some unusual outfield shifts. Since 2017, he has faced the second-most shifted outfield defenses in baseball.

While he doesn’t run like Jeter did in his prime or play shortstop — New York was drawn to him in part for his defensive versatility — LeMahieu does hit like Jeter. And Hendry also believes that LeMahieu excels in pressure situations. “He’s quiet, but the moment never gets to him,” Hendry said. And with New York trailing the Astros in the ALCS, the Yankees now need that calm under pressure more than ever.

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Last of a five-part series looking at the Rockies of 2020. Today: catchers

Rockies manager Bud Black is not prone to hyperbole. So it meant something when, late in the season, he said: “Tony Wolters has made himself into one of the best defensive catchers in baseball.”

The eye test and statistics back him up.

Wolters, 27, the former second baseman, has harnessed his athleticism — nimble feet, quick release, solid glovework — to become an excellent receiver. He was charged with just one error and four passed balls and threw out 34% of would-be base stealers this past season. Among National League starting catchers, only Philadelphia’s J.T. Realmuto (47%) had a better throw-out rate.

“Tony’s improved in lots of different ways, and it all goes back to his preparation and his work ethic,” bench/catching coach Mike Redmond said. “The way he blocks (the ball) to save runs, the way he receives, the way he’s continued to improve each year whether statistically it shows it or not. The impact he has on our team is huge because he’s been a difference-maker in the way he plays defense and the way he controls our (pitching) staff.”

Wolters, who supplanted veteran Chris Iannetta as the regular catcher, made 102 starts and caught in 112 games, the most for the club since Wilin Rosario’s 103 starts in 2013. Iannetta, 35, was released in early August.
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Because of the demands of catching games in Denver’s mile-high altitude, Wolters’ workload likely reached its top end in 2019, so it will be vital for Colorado to find a solid backup this offseason. The Rockies would be wise to sign a journeyman catcher because it’s doubtful they will attempt to sign free agent Yasmani Grandal.

Wolters is never going to provide power. He hit just one home run with a .666 OPS. The Rockies’ .667 OPS from the catcher’s spot ranked 13th in the National League and their nine homers tied with Pittsburgh for last in the NL. And Iannetta hit six of those home runs. That power outage will likely continue in 2020.

Wolters, however, using a more consistent, simplified approach, made big strides as a hitter in 2019. After batting .197 with four doubles in 182 at-bats in 2018, he hit .262 with 17 doubles in 359 at-bats in 2019.

He did, however, slump in the second half. He hit .285 with a .732 OPS and 11 doubles before the all-star break and .233 with a .583 OPS and six doubles afterward. Fatigue might have been a factor, but like many of his teammates, Wolters struggled to hit away from Coors Field. He hit .281 at home vs. .241 on the road, including a 1-for-24 road funk at the end of the season.

Wolters doesn’t care much about his stat line.

“The team’s success is all I’m focused on,” he said. “There’s always room for individual growth, and I feel like I’m taking the necessary actions to do that. I love being a catcher and I plan on playing for a while.”
Masked men

Manager Bud Black places a high premium on a catcher’s ability to receive and call games. Finding a solid platoon catcher will be a priority for Colorado in 2020:

Tony Wolters (.262 batting average, 1 home run, .666 OPS): Wolter’s ability to call games impressed his coaches and teammates, but he provides little pop at the plate.

Dom Nunez (.179, 2, .643): Nunez ran hot and cold in the minors and he’s likely not ready to be Colorado’s primary backup. He played in just 16 games.

Drew Butera (.163, 0, .643): He’s a free agent and the Rockies could attempt to re-sign him to a minor-league deal to provide depth. If that’s the case, Colorado will have to find a low-cost veteran to pair with Wolters.

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Brian McGregor still has difficulty talking about his late son, Keli McGregor. The holiday season is a time when families get together, but for the fifth year Keli won’t be part of any McGregor family gathering. In April 2010, Keli McGregor, the president of the Colorado Rockies and looking as if he still could play four quarters on the football field, died in Salt Lake City while on a business trip. The cause of death for McGregor, just 48, was attributed to a rare virus that infected his heart muscle.

The report of McGregor’s death shocked baseball, the Rockies organization, the Colorado sports community and the McGregor family.

“I still can’t stop the tears when I think or talk about Keli,” Brian McGregor said. “I have a picture in my wallet of Keli, myself and Todd Helton.”

While the loss was devastating, the legacy left behind by Keli may have been the very thing that helped Brian McGregor regain his enthusiasm for life.

“Keli and the Rockies organization had a number of benefits for Children’s Hospital and they raised a lot of money to help its operation,” Brian McGregor said. “I even ended up being a volunteer at the hospital for several years.”
Growing up

Brian McGregor didn’t live a pampered early life. He walked 2.3 miles each way to attend school. His mode of transportation from Montreal to Dubuque, Iowa, to attend Dubuque University was to hitchhike.

“I had $165 in my pocket, and the bus fare was $65,” McGregor said. “In those days, I hitchhiked everywhere. It was either that or riding a streetcar or a bus.”

McGregor’s life quickened after college. He made a stop with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, turned down a chance to run his wife’s family farm in Iowa, and visited a friend in Denver to see the area.

“I wanted to be a teacher and a coach,” McGregor said.

He arrived in 1963 and found an opening on the coaching staff at Lakewood Junior High School. He moved to Arvada West the following year as assistant football coach and head track and field coach. He soon became the head football coach, and his 1972 Arvada West team won the state championship.
Baseball a family game

McGregor doesn’t minimize the impact Keli’s connection to the Rockies had on his mind-set. He had retired after 26 years as head football coach at Arvada West in 1993. He stepped aside after 29 years as track and field coach the same year.

Growing up in Canada, McGregor played football, hockey and baseball and competed in track and field. Baseball was just something to fill the summer months.

“Baseball never was a big thing for me. But when Keli became involved with the Rockies, I became very interested,” McGregor said. “I rarely missed a game.”

Keli’s death was the beginning of an unbelievably difficult time. Brian’s wife died in 2012, and in January 2013 Brian suffered a broken neck from a fall on an icy driveway.

He has since recovered, but how did he get through it all?

“I’ve got 10 grandchildren and one great great-grandchild,” McGregor replied.

He still can have a family gathering for the holidays.

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If not, you would think that at least the Colorado Rockies would make decisions to try to win games in the present. The last thing you would expect is for them to make a decision that hurts them now AND in the future. But that is exactly what they are about to do.

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think the Bryan Shaw signing was a mistake, but despite that, it appears the Rockies are about to repeat the same mistake all over again.

Shaw has only one year left on his contract, but he has an option for 2021 that automatically vests if he has 60 appearances this season (please see note at bottom of article). He is currently sitting at 56.
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If he reaches the 60-appearance threshold, not only will Rockies fans have to endure another season of abysmal pitching, but the team will have to dish out another $9 million in 2021 that could instead go to a player who is helping the team win.

Allowing an overpaid veteran to vest an option would be one thing if the player was contributing to the team in any way, but in his two seasons with the Rockies, Shaw has posted ERAs of 5.93 and 5.25. That includes an 8.31 ERA in the second half of 2019.

Why would the Rockies ever want to waste that kind of money for another year of terrible pitching when they have a clear way out? Especially considering Shaw is in the middle of a stretch where he’s given up about a run per inning since the All-Star break.

At this point, the Rockies might just be further ahead to designate Shaw because right now, bringing him in to pitch doesn’t just hurt their chances of winning that particular game, it hurts their chances of winning in 2021.