Last Monday marked 17 years since Eric Young led off the first Colorado Rockies baseball game with a home run that triggered a collective, mile-high orgasm for the 80,227 spectators gathered in the old Denver football stadium.
The advent of the expansion Rockies also launched a Pharmboy laboratory birthday celebration week tradition marked by two days off: one for a lab ski day in the high country followed later in the week with a Rockies game and the finest handcrafted ale offered by Denver’s Wynkoop Brewery. I was reminded of this by my Twitter buddy, Mike Smith (@M1k303) who taunted me a couple of days ago with this picture from Loveland Pass during his trip to Arapahoe Basin.
The beauty of Denver at this time of year is that many ski areas are still open and often get considerable fresh snow. However, the prices drop by 50%, enabling a then-young assistant professor to treat the lab to lift tickets. But down in Denver, one could often wear shorts for baseball’s opening week. Uhh, you still had to prepare for snow down there as well, but never mind.
The Youngstown Connection
In the summer of 1991, said assistant professor was still a postdoctoral fellow and the announcement of the Denver Major League Baseball franchise was tarnished by a bit of a pissing match among the ownership team that became known as The Colorado Baseball Partnership. In 1990, Denver voters had passed a 0.1 sales tax increase for construction of a new baseball stadium if the city was awarded one of the two new National League expansion teams first proposed in 1985.
But putting the money together to launch the team was a bit of a problem. Then-Governor Roy Romer called a meeting of parties interested in joining the leadership team and, if I recall correctly, said that he asked those gathered, “What’s your name and how much money do you have?”
Those with the most money were not local business leaders. The Colorado economy was rather sluggish at the time due to lower oil prices, mortgage foreclosures, and the late 1980s savings and loan crisis embodied by the practices of Neil Bush and others in the collapse of Silverado Bank, a major Denver S&L.
So, the Colorado Baseball Partnership was led instead by others with substantial cash: John Antonucci, an Ohio beverage distributor, and Mickey Monus, the head of the now-defunct Phar-Mor pharmacy chain headquartered in Youngstown, Ohio.
While a few Denver-area business were part of the team, namely KOA Radio and the also-now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, the out-of-towners exerted an influence that was not taken to kindly by Denver politicians and sportswriters. Woody Paige of The Denver Post, now known to many as an ESPN commentator, referred to Antonucci and Monus as “the Youngstown 2” or the “Phar-Off owners.”
Antonucci and Monus, who?
In fact, Antonucci and Monus don’t even appear by name in the Rockies’ official history online or in their 400+ page information guide. What ultimately happened was that two months before the 1993 opening day, Monus was indicted for embezzlement from the pharmacy chain to the tune of $330 million to $1 billion, jeopardizing the launch of the team. In the end, Monus was convicted of pocketing “only” $10 million but still served 11 years of a 19-year prison term. This 2007 ESPN article where Gene Wojciechowski interviewed the two principals provides a bit more of the sordid history.
Like it or not, it is entirely possible that the Colorado Rockies baseball club would not exist today without them.
But in the summer of 1991, when Denver and Tampa Bay were awarded the new franchises on July 5th, the Youngstown 2 were merely just unpopular.
I remember locals pushing hard for the team to be named the Denver Bears after the legendary minor league club that played on those refreshing summer nights at Mile High Stadium (they became the Denver Zephyrs in 1984).
Instead, “Colorado Rockies” was selected, believed to show the leadership’s ignorance of local history as this was the name of NHL hockey team that played in Denver from 1976 to 1982 (logo, left).
(The NHL Rockies became the New Jersey Devils in 1982 when they moved to my original stomping grounds of the Meadowlands.)
Moreover, the primary logo that was designed for the baseball team met with harsh criticism. The main one on the left was only used in promotional materials and was deemed by some to look more like an iceberg than the majestic mountains visible west of Denver.
Today’s fans will notice that the original “Colorado” banner had small, narrow font that minimizes the state’s name and the baseball is tiny, looking more like a golf ball, and centered low on the mountains. The current logo launched for opening day 1993 was tighter, with better color matching, and a more prominent “Colorado” and baseball. (These are taken from the excellent historical resource, sportslogos.net)
But it was the intertwined C and R design that caught my attention.
Where had I seen that before?
I mulled this mystery over in my head as I worked in lab through the mind-numbing preparation of double-banded plasmid DNA on isopycnic CsCl gradients for mammalian cell transfections (just before Qiagen kits, you young whippersnappers).
I grabbed a block of dry ice in its brown wrapper, put a few smashed pieces in my ice bucket, added some ethanol, then threw the wrapper in the trash can. Just as I was about to go off and do something else while the DNA precipitated, I looked in the garbage and had what was sadly my first “Eureka!” moment as a postdoc.
The Colorado Rockies logo was the same CR as that of the dry-ice manufacturer, Carbonic Reserves of San Antonio, Texas.
Woody and Me
I knew that Woody would love this chance to further vilify Antonucci and Monus. Of course, I would have just blogged it then but remember, this was 1991. I didn’t even have an e-mail account until a year later when I was using TurboGopher before NCSA’s Mosaic became available as a Web browser.
So, I cut out the wrapper label, wrote a letter on official University of Colorado Health Sciences Center letterhead (to look all official), and mailed it to The Denver Post offices addressed to Woody Paige.
A week later on the bright Saturday morning of August 31st, I walked down my very steep driveway in the foothills of Evergreen, Colorado, and saw this on the front page of sports section of the post (click on the page below to get a full-sized version you can read).
This was hysterical. If you read the article, Paige called up the headquarters of Carbonic Reserves and asked about the coincidence. Paige wrote:
Although Carbonic Reserves displayed the image first and holds the rights, 15 years from now, when Denver is in the World Series for the first time, some people will accuse Carbonic Reserves of copying its logo.
Not bad Woody: the Rocks were in their first World Series 16 years later.
I also enjoyed my role in a bit of corporate discomfort. When Woody called the owner of the Youngstown design firm, he was told:
“At the request of my client, because of all the controversy, I will not make any comment or give any information on the design of the logo or its origin.”
Paige’s article was also prescient in another way: he referred to me not as a postdoc but as a professor, probably because of the official letterhead and the fact that the term “postdoc” is not widely appreciated outside of academic circles. It just so happened that the last minute retirement of a long-time professor opened up two faculty positions, one of which I scored. (My compatriot ended up being far more successful and was just elected an AAAS Fellow.)
But I never followed up on what happened between the dry ice company and the Rockies organization. I wish I had because the CR logo has not changed to this day. This is pretty amazing when one considers the millions of dollars that official Major League Baseball apparel sells, not to mention its popularity among the Crips gang (for “Crips Rule”).
I should have at least hit up Woody Paige for a couple of beers at a game.
What I do know is that Carbonic Reserves was acquired by Airgas in 1997. Buddy Collen, the founder and president of Carbonic Reserves during its 10-year existence, is now division manager of Reliant Pacific Dry Ice, a part of Reliant Holdings. Reliant is primarily a supplier of carbon dioxide to the oil and gas industries.
I’ll send the URL of this blogpost to Woody Paige and Buddy Collen to see if they can provide any further insights.
“The Carbonic Reserves” might have been right: a Colorado geology moment
In the meantime, just one last point of geological interest that further qualifies this post for inclusion at ScienceBlogs: Much of the carbon dioxide used by Carbonic Reserves and now Airgas and Reliant actually comes from Colorado. I stumbled upon this factoid when I was venturing to Rancho Pharmboy in Huerfano County, Colorado, and came across a point of interest placard at a turnoff on Colorado State Highway 69.
I learned there that in 1983, Arco and Exxon built a 408-mile, 20-inch diameter pipeline to transport CO2 from carbonic reserves (heh) under Sheep Mountain to the Permian Basin of west Texas to force oil out of the ground. In fact, I could have purchased a 35-acre lot with the pipeline going under it for $17,900. (I didn’t, but settled on a different parcel 20 miles south where construction of a cabin awaits…and waits.)
I still cannot believe that it is cost-effective to have such a long pipeline to transport a simple gas to improve oil recovery but, then again, I’m not a petroleum geologist or economist.
So, for now I will just focus on the Rockies playing the Padres today at Coors Field.
Happy Sunday to all of you.