The Colorado Rockies joined the National League as an expansion franchise in 1993, along with the Florida Marlins. Their first pick in the expansion draft was pitcher David Nied from the Atlanta Braves organization. Nied pitched four seasons for the Rockies. The team's first home at-bat was a memorable one, as lead off batter Eric Young hit a home run for the Rockies.
The team set attendance records in its days back at Mile High Stadium, and was the second team (Toronto was first in 1991 in the SkyDome) in the history of Major League Baseball to record over 4,000,000 fans in annual attendance. The 1993 Rockies still have the largest ever season attendance, with 4,483,350, and the team led the National League in attendance every year from 1993 to 1999.
Since their inception, the Rockies have always tended to have a strong hitting squad and home record, which are offset by a weak bullpen and road record. This can be attributed to the conditions of Coors Field, whose thin air (due to the high altitude of Denver) makes hitting much easier, as the ball travels farther, and pitching more difficult, as the reduced air resistance makes breaking balls less effective than at sea level.
In their opening year of 1993, coach Don Baylor rehabilitated the career of Andres Galarraga, realizing Andres' eye focusing problems were preventing him from seeing incoming pitches properly. He changed "the Big Cat's" batting stance from a fairly standard one into an open stance where Andres squarely faced the pitcher, then would at the last instant would step back to a more standard position as he swung the bat. Andres responding by winning the batting title in 1993 with a .370 percentage.
In 1995, the Rockies moved into a new stadium, Coors Field, where they have played their home games ever since. That year, they made their first and, to date, only post-season appearance as the National League Wild Card team where they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Braves.
In 1996, the team had three players who hit at least 40 home runs each, Andres Galarraga with 47, and Ellis Burks and Vinny Castilla with 40 each. Dante Bichette added 31. Burks and Bichette also collected more than 30 stolen bases each in 1996, only the second time ever that two players on the same team accomplished that feat in the same season. (The first was the 1987 New York Mets).
The first several years of the franchise provided a lot of excitement as the team stocked up in the early years on players with enough offensive firepower to create real problems for opponents, especially when playing at Coors Field. A local columnist coined the term "Blake Street Bombers" soon after Coors Field opened (on Blake Street in Denver) to describe the heart of the batting order, and the first several years at the new ballpark saw a lot of run production. Galarraga, Burks, Castilla, Bichette, and eventually Larry Walker all thrived at Coors Field during those years.
Since their inception, the Rockies have always tended to have a strong hitting squad and home record, which are offset by a weak bullpen and road record. This can be attributed to the conditions of Coors Field, whose thin air (due to the high altitude of Denver) makes hitting much easier, as the ball travels farther, and pitching more difficult, as the reduced air resistance makes breaking balls less effective than at sea level. As an example, the Rockies' career best in ERA is a mediocre 4.56 over 503 innings by Armando Reynoso. It is rare to see a Rockies pitcher with an ERA below 5.
Another factor in pitching at Coors Field is the extreme low humidity in Denver. In 2002, a humidor was installed to store baseballs at the manufacturer's specification, and while still debatable, it appears to be making a difference; in 2005 the average number of runs scored each game dropped dramatically, a trend that seems to be continuing in 2006. Columnists in Denver's newspapers also speculate that most players are stopping the use of steroids because of the increased testing and penalties, so less home runs are hit at Coors Field.
The Rockies tried to mitigate the effects of mile-high pitching by signing high profile pitchers to large contracts, always ending in disaster for the pitcher and the ballclub. Free agents Bill Swift (signed after the 1994 season) and Darryl Kile (signed after the 1997 season) along with Bret Saberhagen (traded for in July 1995) all experienced ineffective pitching and injuries related to pitching in such extreme conditions. In 2001, the team signed top pitchers Mike Hampton to an 8 year, $121 million contract and Denny Neagle to a 5 year, $51 million contract to see if they could turn around the team's fortunes. However, the two went a combined 23-21 that season and Hampton was traded the next year after going 7-15. Neagle was granted free agency in 2004 after compiling a 19-23 record with the team. The experiment with the two pitchers was generally considered to be a disaster.
After years of futility with signing big names, in the early 2000's the Rockies adopted a policy of instead acquiring young quality prospects at all positions, and building through their farm system. 2006 is the first year the team holds any expectations of seeing increased success because many of 2005's rookie players returned with a year of major-league experience under their belt, and the Rockies' farm system is generally regarded as well-stocked with more up-and-coming talented players.
The Rockies have had a number of well-known players throughout the years, including Todd Helton, who came up through the club's farm system, Andres Gallarraga, Ellis Burks, Larry Walker, Andy Ashby, Darryl Kile, Dante Bichette, Mike Hampton, Preston Wilson, and Vinny Castilla.