The Rockies played their first game in 1993, and this year will be their 20th season. Twenty years of baseball and not a single number (other than Jackie Robinson’s “42”) has been retired. Can this really be true? Sure, the Rockies have not been the most successful franchise over those years (only qualifying for post-season play three times), but not even one player receiving such an honor is a sad statement on the quality of ball players to wear purple for the last two decades. The eternal optimism of the start of spring training inspired us to take a look back to determine which, if any, players deserve to have their number retired and be recognized for their contributions to the franchise.
Looking through the records, it quickly becomes clear why no one is clamoring for a Broncos-like “ring of fame” at Coors Field. Although the rankings lack depth (did you know that Jeff Cirillo is in the top three for batting average?), some of the more storied players in Rockies history deserve attention. Our review included both position players and pitchers, but no pitchers made the final cut (apologies to Aaron Cook and Pedro Astacio). We also limited our consideration to players’ performances as members of the Colorado Rockies. For example, Brett Saberhagen and Dale Murphy both had remarkable major league careers, but they do not make the list because their short time with the Rockies was less than spectacular.
The four players that made our final list, in alphabetical order, are Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, and Larry Walker. Their cases are presented below.
Dante Bichette was a Rockie for seven years, playing from 1993 through 1999. He appeared in over 1000 games as a Rockie, good enough for fourth all time. Always a fan favorite, Bichette’s offensive numbers were excellent and earned him four All-Star selections. During his seven years in Colorado he hit for power and average, producing 201 home runs (fourth) and 826 RBI (third) with a slash line of .316/.352/.540 (OPS of .892). The shocking part of his résumé is his 105 stolen bases (third most in Rockies history). Not surprisingly, he never won a Gold Glove. Although his arm strength was fairly good, his overall defense was always a liability and he made a habit of making sliding catches out of routine plays.
Vinny Castilla set the standard that to date has not been attained by any other Rockies’ third baseman and is ranked third in games played for the Rockies with 1098. He was a vacuum cleaner at third, with a quick-flick throw to first. Clint Hurdle aptly summed-up Vinny’s offense—“I think he can pull a bullet.” Although Castilla did not put up the same batting average as some of the other Rockies’ greats, he still had an impressive career. In eight full seasons with the Rockies, he batted .294/.340/.530 (OPS of .870) with 239 homers (third) and 745 RBI (fourth). He had two All-Star appearances, won a Silver Slugger, and had three consecutive 40 home run seasons.
Andres Galarraga, the Big Cat, only played five years for the Rockies, but he remains beloved by Rockies’ fans for his infectious smile and his great play. Galarraga, with his menacing open-stance, became the first “star” for the Rockies when during the inaugural season he flirted with .400 for a large part of the year. During his time in Colorado, he hit .316/.367/.577 (OPS of .944). Although Galarraga only appeared in 679 games for the Rockies, he ranks fifth in both home runs (172) and RBI (579). He made three All-Star appearances as a Rockie, and was a sure-handed defender who could have been awarded several Gold Gloves at first base. His tenure with the Rockies was cut short when he was non-tendered after the 1997 season to make room for a young upstart named Todd Helton. On a side note, although Galarraga was a Brave at the time, he played an integral part in one of the most memorable Rockies games ever: he charged the mound in the 11th inning of a game against the Rockies in which Brent Mayne (yes, the catcher) was the winning pitcher.
Larry Walker was signed as free agent by the Rockies in 1995 and primarily played right field until he was traded to St. Louis in mid-season of 2004. Walker appeared in the second most games (1170) for the Rockies and slugged 258 home runs (second) with 848 RBI (second). During his ten years as a Rockie, Walker batted an insane .334/.426/.618 (OPS of 1.044). He was a four time All-Star for the Rockies and was the National League MVP in 1997 when he had a batting average of .366 and an OPS of 1.172. Walker won three batting titles, five Gold Gloves and two silver sluggers. Widely regarded as a true five-tool player, Walker’s awesome offensive numbers were matched by his base running and defensive skills. His 126 stolen bases are good enough for second place in Rockies history, and he had an incredible 92 outfield assists as a Rockie.
Bichette’s offensive production puts him near the top, but his defense is a problem that prevents his “10” from retirement. Castilla was a similar offensive player to Bichette, and even though he was a better defender, his batting average and OPS are not quite elite considering the era (pre-humidor and PED glory days). Galarraga, despite both stellar offensive production and slick defense, did not log enough seasons as a Rockie to earn the distinction of having his number on the outfield wall. Walker’s production at the plate is staggering even in the context of the era in which he played. Those offensive statistics combined with his defensive prowess make him arguably the best Rockies player in franchise history. We believe that Walker deserves to have his “33” retired and be officially recognized for his incredible contributions to the organization.
Todd Helton was a late season call-up in 1997 and has been the Rockies’ opening day starter at first base every year since 1998. In his fifteen years as a Rockie, Helton has hit .323/.421/.550 (OPS of .971) and is the Rockies leader in most categories including games played (2054), home runs (347) and RBI (1308). His 554 doubles puts Todd at number 24 on the all-time doubles list, (currently tied with Bobby Abreu), which is more than Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. He is a five time All-Star and has won one batting title, three Gold Gloves and four silver sluggers. Helton’s 2000 season was one for the ages: his slash line of .372/.463/.698 (OPS of 1.162) led the NL in every category to go along with 147 RBI (also first in NL), 42 home runs (seventh in NL), and a WAR of 8.8. Helton did not meet our criteria for consideration as his career is not over, but we expect when his playing days are over, “17” will have a prominent place on the outfield wall, if not a ticket to Cooperstown.
Troy Tulowitzki has become the face of the franchise since he claimed the shortstop position in 2007. Tulo carries on the proud mullet tradition of the Rockies and is the prototypical modern shortstop—big, rangy, and a power hitter. He has hit .293/.364/.505 (OPS of .869) and is already in the Rockies’ top ten for home runs (122) and RBI (443). Tulo has been selected to the All-Star team twice, has won two Gold Gloves, and has won two silver sluggers. He is possibly the best defensive shortstop in baseball and has finished with a top five WAR for position players in each of the past three years. As he matures as a hitter, only bigger and better things are expected of Tulo.