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Woody Paige: Rockies' Monforts may come around to being appreciated

April 11, 2017 Updated: April 12, 2017 at 6:29 am
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photo - Colorado Rockies co-owner Dick Monfort chats with players as they take batting practice before hosting the San Diego Padres in a baseball game Friday, April 8, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Colorado Rockies co-owner Dick Monfort chats with players as they take batting practice before hosting the San Diego Padres in a baseball game Friday, April 8, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) 

Frequently, during the telecast a week ago of the Rockies-Brewers game at Milwaukee's Miller Park, the camera that focused on the batter also revealed, in the background, a solitary figure, seated in an otherwise empty section.

The "fan'' was Rox co-owner, chairman and CEO Richard L. "Dick'' Monfort.

The scene seemed sad. Monfort was alone and impassive, and unaware that viewers in Colorado were watching him.

The eerie observation was rather reminiscent of the nickname given Curt Schilling when he was a Red Sox pitcher eschewed by teammates - "Table For One.''

For a man who has been vilified by Rockies' followers and the sports media for years (primarily because of his own undoing), it must be peaceful to be far away from the detractors and disparagers in a stadium where nobody knows his name.

And it must be gratifying for Monfort to see his team get off to such a good start and have such grand hopes for success this season. Although the Rox have lost two straight before Tuesday, they won the first two series (3 of 4 and 2 of 3) and are playing above the norm of this decade in Denver.

Perhaps Dick is intent on removing the chip from his shoulder and the chimp from his back.

And the Bros. Monfort can turn the tide of disrespect among the sports masses to respect as the Bros. Phipps once did ... by producing a winning franchise.

Richard and Charles Monfort are scions of a famed and proud Colorado family, just as Gerald and Allan Phipps were. Each pair of brothers, who inherited wealth from their fathers, ultimately were enticed into professional sports ownership.

The Phipps' father, Lawrence, was a Carnegie Steel executive who retired to Denver in 1901 - and became an investor-philanthropist and, eventually, a U.S. senator. He owned the famous ranch south of Denver that has become the colossal Highland Ranchs residential-business development.

Gerald Phipps became owner of a major construction company, and Oxford-educated Allan was one of the city's top attorneys. When the Broncos struggled on the field and financially the first few years of existence and were threatening to leave the city, Gerald persuaded his brother to join with him in taking over as the team's owners.

The Broncos were a joke for a dozen years, and the Phipps Brothers had to endure the verbal punishment and hit to their reputations. Gerald ran the team, and Allan generally stayed way in the background. When John Ralston was named coach and led the Broncos to their first winning season, and the stadium was expanded, the Phipps were lauded.

Then, the Broncos went to the Super Bowl for the first time and became annual contenders. The Phipps sold the franchise. Gerald would be added to the Broncos' Ring of Fame. And when Gerald died in 1993 and Allan in '97 (the season the Broncos won their first Super Bowl), both were described in memorials as "saviors of the Broncos.'' Charles Monfort moved his family from Illinois to Greeley early in the 20th century, and son Warren grew the small family farm into a large cattle and feedlot business. Eldest son Dick was supposed to be the company successor, but died as a B-17 navigator over Germany in World War II. Younger brother Kenny would assumed control and created the Monfort Meatpacking Co., which would become one of the major companies in the field in the country. Ken was elected to the Colorado legislature, but fell short in his bid to be a U.S. Senator.

Sons Richard and Charles were expected to follow in the family's footsteps, and both did work for the company. But it was sold to ConAgra. Dick, the more serious older brother, and "Good Time'' Charlie inherited hundreds of millions when their father died.

Dick, president of Monfort Meatpacking for a few years, resigned and built a Palm Springs hotel, was co-owner of the Brett Favre Steakhouse in Green Bay and started his own cattle company. Charlie would become a general partner in the Rockies' bid for an expansion franchise - putting up more money than anyone else, he told me (approximately $20 million) - and his brother Dick bought in when another partner went bankrupt. They bought out the team's first CEO - Jerry McMorris - and owned a majority stake in the Rockies.

Charlie served as team CEO for years until Dick took the position in 2011. Combined, the two brothers, who reside in side-by-side mansions on a lake outside Greeley, have contributed more than $100 million to charities, universities and hospitals. The baseball franchise, which cost $95 million, has increased in value, according Forbes Magazine, to $1 billion.

After fortuitously reaching the World Series in 2007 and the postseason again in 2009, the Rockies have been one of the worst major-league teams and organizations since.

Disapproval of the Monforts reached a low in 2014 when the team won only 68 games, Dick became involved in email arguments and mused that "maybe Denver doesn't deserve a franchise.'' A new website, "DickMonfortmustsell.com,'' recommended a boycott, and Coloradans were fed up with the team, general manager Dan O'Dowd and the Monfort frugality.

Charlie, who had drunk driving problems, no longer was actively involved, and Dick stopped talking publicly, or writing emails.

The Rockies' fortunes actually began to improve - almost in spite of Dick. He wanted to extend O'Dowd's tenure, but the general manager resigned. Instead of a national search, Monfort promoted Jeff Bridich. The team's most popular star, Troy Tulowitzki, was traded for several players. Although none of those players are on the Rockies' roster this season, the club's minor-league system produced several prospects, mostly pitchers. Even though Monfort wanted to keep Walt Weiss as manager, he backed off when Bridich decided to move on and hire a quality manager in Bud Black.

Monfort agreed to increase the payroll to over $100 million and eat Jose Reyes' $22 million salary this year. Bridich was able to sign two outstanding relievers and the most expensive free agent position player in team history.

The Rox are no longer on the rocks and appear to be in contention for a playoff berth this season.

The Monforts could become as appreciated as the Phipps finally were.

Dick doesn't have to sit at home alone.

At the Rockies home opener Friday, behind the dugout, the Monforts were surrounded by family, friends, fans and former foes.

The Rockies and the Monforts won.

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