Although I’m inclined to agree with our honorable skipper here at BSB, sometimes it’s just too darned difficult to accept the Rockies’ front-office shenanigans without wondering how things might’ve turned out if other, more competent people had been running things. Like the fans, for instance. Rockies fans, like my Grammy, with the team’s best interests at heart (she never would’ve traded “Ubie,” for starters). Particularly now after the handshake agreement — even if that was purely ostentatious.
Without going into it any further, suffice it to say we have reason to doubt the sincerity with which Rockies ownership and management speak of building a “culture of value.” Even for a guy like me — sitting at home in sweatpants, cursing at my broken record player, in need of a beer — the way D’Dowd uses the word “value” is too vague to signify anything meaningful; especially in the context of a baseball clubhouse. For if this is the same culture of value we read about in 2006, then I won’t be the only one grumbling at home all summer in my sweatpants.
But if maintaining the status quo continues to reap financial rewards for those in power, there’s little reason to believe profit-minded owners would be willing to strive for anything more than cost-efficient mediocrity. Owners get greedier, players get richer, and fans get shafted. Yet, this form of structural exploitation in baseball, like segregation and the reserve clause before it, is untenable and will someday be changed. But for now, we still show up to cheer on our home team. What can we say? Rockies fans love going to that beautiful ballpark in LoDo, which our tax dollars built. And against all odds, we continue to show up in massive numbers.
It’s well known that fan attendance figures at Coors Field broke all kinds of records in the early years of the organization, gradually falling off in 2003 (the team went 74-88) and then dramatically by 2005 (finishing in last place at 67-95), before settling in the top-half again last year (still only 73-89). Nonetheless, a steady flow of revenue. But what can Rockies fans, management, and owners expect for this year? Will fans continue to come through the turnstiles by the millions to see a Rockies team that ends up fifteen games below .500?
With the recent off-season acquisitions, who knows? We might, if the new team somehow proves itself to be full of extraordinary ballplayers who play all-out, even in defeat. Or if the franchise can somehow endear itself to the fans in more intimate ways than we’ve seen until now. Or if the Rockies are still relevant in August.
Or perhaps we Coloradans are just too complacent; we don’t really care if the Rockies win or lose, so long as ticket prices stay cheap and we can soak up some sun and sport for a few hours.
But I don’t think that’s how most of us feel. I’d like to believe most fans who follow the Rockies these days are very interested in seeing the home team win the division, and agonize when they don’t. Most fans make an emotional commitment that stretches far beyond all the time spent or the price of a ticket. And when this kind of investment isn’t reciprocated by the managers, the GM, or the owners, then fans feels slighted. Indeed, the lofty playoff proclamations made each year from the Rockies brass are starting to sound more and more hollow ever since the miracle run of ’07 and late season surge of ’09. Hey, maybe this year…?
Unfortunately for us fans, the primary concern of the front-office is to turn a profit, which does not necessarily preclude the allocation of resources for putting a winning team on the field. Not when ticket sales, national television money, dividends, merchandising, revenue-sharing, and other sources of income are steadily flowing into the franchise (even in spite of that shady deal Rockies majority owner Charlie Monfort made with media overlord Rupert Murdock in 2004). At the end of the day, owning and running a major league baseball franchise probably gets pretty stressful for those select few who are solely concerned with increasing their personal wealth.
Which is why they need to turn the ball clubs over to the fans.
Last April, sportswriter Dave Zirin proposed a solution to the L.A. Dodgers financial crisis (although in contravention of MLB bylaws): to become fan-owned and operated. Even at ESPN, similar suggestions have been made in regards to restructuring ownership models in all professional sports, by using the Packers model.
That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
We’d have strength in numbers, lots of new and different ideas, and most importantly a genuine desire to see our team play hard, have fun, and win. Make no mistake, fan culture (in spite of any perceived weakness for sweatpants and beer) is more nuanced and sophisticated in the contemporary country of baseball than it’s typically given credit for. We coach and play and watch the game with a well-spring of experience and knowledge ready at hand. We engage in intricate methods of scorekeeping, we reflect instantaneously on the movements and the action and the flow, we debate strategy, research the history, create new statistics, investigate uncharted areas of the diamond, and speak the language of baseball — all from uniquely different perspectives. Baseball fan culture nowadays is a reservoir of potential power, held back by barriers seen and unseen.
Perhaps some day very soon we’ll organize a Fan’s Union in Colorado, and, as baseball consumers, demand a higher quality product on the field, and accountability at the levels of management and ownership. And if ownership isn’t prepared to meet our demands, then we’ll just have to overturn those antiquated bylaws and restructure the organization from the ground up. I’m sure my Grammy and her fellow citizens of Denver will gladly take the team off their hands for ‘em. We’ve got your culture of value right here: a culture of VORP!
Of course these may seem like delusions of grandeur, typical of a frustrated baseball fan in late hibernation. And although there will always be some residual bitterness, I’m still inclined to see the bright side: after another long winter, I’ll once again be thrilled that baseball, no matter how it arrives, will soon be here with the spring.