A bit more than a week ago, a Denver television station broke the story of a Colorado Rockies fan who received a surprisingly terse email from team owner Dick Monfort after the fan submitted a comment card following the Rockies game on July 4. Michael Ferguson traveled several hours with his family of five, paid nearly $300 for tickets for the Independence Day game and watched the Rockies lose 9-0 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. As he was headed out of the parking lot, Ferguson wrote on a team-supplied comment card that it's frustrating to pay so much for tickets and travel so far just to see the Rockies lose all the time. Two days later, he received an email from Monfort that read: "If you don't like the product, don't come!"
That wasn't a one-off experience for Monfort.
Around the same time, according to a report by a different Denver TV station, Monfort responded to a Rockies season-ticket holder who had sent in comments via the team's general fan feedback line. "The Monforts have no business owning a baseball team and their missteps in hiring 'the good old boys' for front office and management positions is solid evidence of their ineptitude," wrote the fan.
Monfort replied by email: "By the way you talk maybe Denver doesn't deserve a franchise, maybe time for it to find a new home. Thanks." Monfort confirmed that he wrote the email, but told KCBS in Denver that he meant maybe the owners didn't deserve the team, not that Denver didn't deserve the Rockies.
After these emails surfaced, Monfort issued a formal apology in which he touted the fans as the team's greatest asset and told them they deserved a winning baseball team. The same day, several fans created a Facebook page named "Dick Monfort Must Sell." As of Friday morning, the page had 253 likes.
Whatever prompted Monfort's intemperate emails to the Rockies fans, it's clear from his words and actions that he's emotionally invested in the Rockies' performance and in how fans perceive the team. In fact, after these emails were made public, Monfort told a Denver Post sports columnist that he "wasn't sleeping" and was in the worst shape of his life "because of baseball." "I live in fear all the time," Monfort told the columnist, "fear of losing."
Several days after those comments, Monfort sat down for breakfast with a longtime Rockies fan who wrote to the owner after she learned of his email outbursts to other fans. Christine Voss told the Denver Post after the breakfast that she had asked Monfort if would ever replace Keli McGregor, the well-respected team president who died suddenly in April 2010. "He felt that bringing in an outside person would negatively impact the culture of the Rockies," Voss told the Post. After Voss talked about the breakfast on a local sports radio show, a team spokesman told the Post that "if someone had the right skill sets and experience [Monfort] would not be opposed to bringing someone from outside of the organization to the Rockies in a leadership role."
Then Monfort threw assistant general manager Bill Geivett under the bus, telling a Denver radio station on Wednesday that Geivett was responsible for the Rockies' 40-55 record at the All-Star Break. (With two more losses in Pittsburgh to open up the second half, the Rockies are in last place in the NL West and have more losses than any team other than the injury-plagued Texas Rangers.) Yet Monfort has consistently defended general manager Dan O'Dowd against any and all criticism.
Having an owner who's emotionally invested in his team is a good thing, to a point. Too often, owners operate their teams like any other business -- with an eye solely on profits and losses -- and fail to fully grasp the emotional attachment fans have to the team and its success. But too much emotion can cloud a person's judgment and his ability to make smart strategic decisions. It can also exacerbate a kind of bunker mentality reflected by Monfort's comments about not wanting an outside person to negatively affect the Rockies culture.
It may be time for someone to suggest that Monfort take a step back from some of his duties for a bit of time.
Monfort's words and actions cast a negative light on the Rockies organization and, by extension, Major League Baseball. Yes, sports owners say and do things all that time that upset fans, and commissioners rarely step in. Commissioners serve at the pleasure of owners, after all. Commissioners typically act against an owner only when other owners feel threatened by the conduct of one of their brethren, as we saw with the NBA and Donald Sterling's indefensible racial comments. Obviously, Montfort's foolish emails and public comments in absolutely no way whatsoever rise (or sink, perhaps) to the level of the horrific things Sterling said. Still, is it really in the best interests of the game to have Monfort as the public face of the Rockies right now?
Beyond his responsibilities as Rockies chairman and CEO, Monfort is a member of the committee charged with finding Bud Selig's replacement as commissioner. Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. chairs the committee, which also includes Phillies president David Montgomery, Angels owner Arte Moreno, Pirates chairman Bob Nutting, Twins CEO Jim Pohlad and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. That committee is operating in secret. We don't know the extent of Monfort's involvement. But do MLB owners, in selecting the next commissioner, want to rely on the advice of another owner who calls this "the worst time of his life" and who has interacted with fans in such an inappropriate manner?
Maybe the last few weeks simply reflect how the Rockies' recent struggles have worn on Dick Monfort. Now that he has apologized to the fans, perhaps he should be taken at his word and be given the benefit of the doubt. Or maybe it's time for him to put a bit of distance between himself and the organization, for the good of himself and the franchise.