Finally, Bob Gebhard gets well-deserved recognition

Serious fans of the Colorado Rockies will have the opportunity to salute one of the team’s biggest stars—and its most overlooked—in a couple weeks. On September 29 Bob Gebhard finally will be inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

Hired in 1992 as the first general manager of the Rockies, Geb is the man who assembled the Blake Street Bombers AND built the first National League Wild Card playoff team—both in only three years—and did it despite a first-year budget that was less than 10% of what it is 28 years later.

Combining tireless effort, shrewd baseball judgment and personal relationships built on trust, he fashioned from scratch a team that turned heads by succeeding faster than any before it. 

It was assumed the expansion Rockies would lose more than a hundred games in their first season, 1993; they lost 95. It also was assumed that it would be years before they’d be competitive; they were in the post-season two years later.

“I would argue that was the best team in Rockies history,” Dante Bichette said in a recent interview, “simply because of the bullpen and Bombers.  I think it was the best bullpen they’ve ever had.” (Geb stocked that, too, wisely choosing Darren Holmes, Steve Reed, Bruce Ruffin and Curtis Leskanic in the expansion draft, and signing Mike Munoz as a free agent early in the Rockies’ first season.)

The formal ceremony at the Hall of Fame Dinner at the Denver Hilton downtown comes a year after Geb’s selection—delayed when the 2020 induction was canceled because of the Covid pandemic. Beyond that, the recognition itself is long overdue.

Geb and his wife Nancy never left Colorado, even though his time with the Rockies ended late in the 1999 season. He worked the next 20 seasons in the front offices of the Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals before retiring late last year to conclude 56 years in professional baseball. 

“Ever since we got here, we’ve thought of Colorado as home and knew we would stay here,” he says on the CSHOF website. “We just love it here, and all three of our children and our eight grandchildren are 10 minutes from our house (in Heritage Greens, now part of the south suburb of Centennial).”

The Colorado Sports Hall of Fame was established in 1965 and currently has 264 honorees.

Among them are Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Larry Walker and their manager, the late Don Baylor—all of whom Gebhard brought to Color-
ado.

How each of those Hall of Fame players and Baylor came to the Rockies explains why Gebhard himself belongs in the CSHOF with them.

Accurately judging Baylor’s leadership ability and the value of his demeanor in turning a group of players who didn’t even know each other into a cohesive team, Gebhard made the man called “Groove” the Rockies first manager—even though Baylor had never managed before at any level. (In his third season, Baylor was named National League manager of the year.)

Agent Jim Bronner, who respected Geb despite the predictably contentious relationship they had across the bargaining table, called and offered The Big Cat a few days before the expansion draft.  Faced with limited resources, Gebhard nonetheless found a way. (Galarraga won the NL batting title in the Rockies’ first season, was a two-time all-star, and in five years batted .316 with 172 homers and 579 runs batted in, and.)

Sal Bando, general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers at the time, trusted Geb enough to agree to trade Dante Bichette for Kevin Reimer, even before Gebhard had selected Reimer from the Texas Rangers when the Rockies and Marlins chose players from the dispersal pool. (Bichette became a Rockies star, hitting 201 homers, driving in 826 runs, matching Galarrga with a .316 average over seven seasons, and making four All-Star Game appearances. Reimer was in Japan two years later.)

Relying on his own judgment, Geb overruled others who wanted him to choose a more experienced player, instead picking Castillafrom the Atlanta Braves with Colorado’s seventh choice in the second round. (Then a shortstop, Vinny moved to third base and became one of the Rockies’ most popular players of all time, and arguably the greatest Mexican-born position player ever, second only to lefthander Fernando Valenzuela. Vinny hit 239 home runs in nine seasons with Colorado.)

And, drawing on his knowledge of now-defunct Montreal’s dire financial condition coming out of the 1994-95 players strike, he within hours of the end of the walkout signed Larry Walker, who had not been offered a contract by the Expos.  Walker, the NL Most Valuable Player in 1997, batted .338 in a decade with the Rockies and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last week.  (As Walker was signing with the Rockies, Gebhard also snapped up free agent pitcher Bill Swift after a dinner meeting with Swift and his wife.)

All of those players were instrumental in the historic 1995 season, when the Rockies shocked baseball—and briefly transcended the Broncos—by making the post-season with a victory over the San Francisco Giants in the regular season’s last game.  There are many other distinctions—a remarkably productive initial amateur draft in 1992, record attendance, and numerous innovations as Coors Field was being built— that could be detailed. 

But you get the idea. Induction into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame is fitting recognition.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at info@comservbooks.com.