Rockies are part of a state baseball tradition
October 17, 2007
The frost is on the windshield, the cottonwoods are turning orange, fresh snow glistens on the big peaks – and so it’s baseball season? Granted, our October afternoons can be perfect for baseball, but drizzling October nights are perfect for staying home by the fire.Such inane scheduling of night games is not inspired by the hope of seeing players at their best. The idea is to get the maximum TV audience, thereby increasing revenues.Doubtless George Will has written eloquently about the difference between a baseball game that happens to be televised and a game whose starting time is determined by television ratings. So leave it to him to denounce the designated hitter, interleague play, extended six-division playoffs with wild-card teams, the departure of stirrup socks and other modern modifications.It’s a game I loved when I was a kid, though I wasn’t good at it. Thus I was scorekeeper for the Evans Rams in 1964 and 1965. I kept a slide rule on the bench so I could give players instant updates on their batting and fielding averages, and I had to make judgment calls about errors. It was also my duty to get the results to the Greeley Daily Tribune, thereby starting my journalistic career.Once in a while I got to go to a Denver Bears minor-league game, and yearned for the day when Denver would get a major-league team. In 1959, there were plans for a third major league, the Continental League, with teams in Denver, Houston, Minneapolis, New York City, Toronto, Atlanta, Buffalo and Dallas.Major-league baseball responded by adding two teams apiece to the American and National leagues, so the Continental never came about.The proposed league was indirectly responsible for Denver’s professional football team, though. In anticipation of Continental League baseball, owner Bob Howsam expanded Bears Stadium. After the baseball league fell through, Howsam had to find some way to pay for the new seats, so he took up football. With the Broncos, he became one of the founding owners of the American Football League in 1960.Another major-league hope came about 30 years ago, when I read that Denver billionaire Marvin Davis was buying the Oakland A’s from Charlie Finley and moving them to Denver. Friends and I excitedly made plans to be there the first time the Yankees came to town.It didn’t happen. By the time Denver actually got a major-league team in 1993, it was hard to care. This year’s phenomenal run has changed that, but you still can make the case that Colorado’s best professional baseball team played in 1882.That team was the Leadville Blues, a collection of big-city ringers put together to promote the mining town in the wake of some mining-stock scandals and a bitter strike.Duane Smith of Durango, a fine Colorado historian whose range extends from baseball to opera, wrote that the Blues’ best player was pitcher Dave Foutz, who would go on to play and manage for 13 years in St. Louis and Brooklyn, and that he had the second-highest winning percentage for pitchers in major-league history.The Blues walloped Colorado teams that summer. They beat the Denver Browns 30-5, the Colorado Springs Reds 8-1, and won five of six games against Colorado’s second-best team, the Longmont Utes. They went east, defeating Nebraska teams in Hastings and Omaha, before losing three straight to Council Bluffs, Iowa – which had imported some players from the Chicago White Stockings.They ended the season 34-8-1, with a winning percentage of .809. The Rockies haven’t even reached .600. The Blues did play some home games at 10,280-foot Leadville, where the visiting team was likely winded by the second inning.Smith notes that the “weather dumped snow on the town,” and “cold, blustery winds chilled spectator and player alike.” So perhaps the Blues were starting a Colorado baseball tradition.Ed Quillen is a writer in Salida, Colo., where he produces regular op-ed columns for The Denver Post and publishes Colorado Central, a small regional monthly magazine.