It's Holliday Time Again in Colorado
Matt Holliday had been playing baseball seems like since the day he could walk and grip a bat, until last spring. At the age of 38, and after 20 years in professional baseball, Holliday found himself watching from afar last March, taking a job as a part-time analyst for MLB radio when an offer never came for him to continue his career.
Four months into the season, however, Holliday still had that urge, and found the Rockies, the team that originally drafted him in the seventh-round back in June of 1988, willing to give him a chance to go to Triple-A Albuquerque and confirm the belief that he could be a bonus off the bench for a team very much in the National League post-season mix.
The proving is done.
Holliday's contract was purchased by the Rockies, and he is in the lineup, playing left field and hitting fifth in Thursday's series finale against the Padres. And then, in a touch of irony, will be in uniform for the weekend series with the Cardinals that opens at Coors Field on Friday night.
He will wear No. 7, his original Rockies No. 5 now being worn by Carlos Gonzalez, who came to the Rockies in the trade that sent Holliday to the Oakland A's after the 2008 season.
Infielder Garrett Hampson was optioned back to Albuquerque to make room for Holliday, but will be recalled when the roster is expanded from 25 to 40 players in September.
Prior to the 2008 season, the Rockies signed Holliday to a two-year, $23 million deal to cover his final two years of arbitration, but when agent Scott Boras rejected a four-year, $72 million extension to cover the first four years of free agent, general manager Dan O’Dowd became convinced that agent Boras was intent on taking Holliday on the free-agent market following 2009.
As a result, in November of 2008, a year removed from free agency, Holliday was dealt to the A’s for a package that included Gonzalez.
By the middle of 2009, the A’s shipped him to the Cardinals, where he was a factor through the 2016 season, being a part of six post-season teams, including two that advanced to the World Series, including a 2011 team that won a world championship.
The Rockies, however, always remained a special team for him, the organization that originally signed him and gave him his opportunity when the late Jerry McMorris, the front man of ownership at the time, stepped in to personally handle the negotiations after hesitations by then-general manager Bob Gebhard.
Holliday, one of the top four quarterback recruits in the country and committed to play football at Oklahoma State, received an $840,000 signing bonus, a record for a seventh-round draft choice.
It’s more than Holliday will receive this time around, in the big leagues, but this is about a chance to say goodbye. This isn’t about money. This is about a chance to finish a career where it began – with the Rockies.
He has passed the first test with his strong showing in the minor leagues.
Holliday hit .345 in 16 minor-league games, the first game coming at Rookie-level Grand Junction, and the last 15 with Triple-A Albuquerque, where Holliday was used at first base, in the outfield, as a DH and a pinch-hitter and hit .346 with three home runs, four doubles, 14 RBI and nine walks. He has played in only one game in the last four days.
The Rockies created the spot on the 40-man roster for Holliday by placing Double-A catcher Chris Rabago on waivers. The Yankees claimed Rabago on Wednesday. That left the Rockies with 39 of 40 spots on the roster filled, creating the opening to add Holliday.
By activating Holliday before Sept. 1, he is automatically eligible for the post-season roster.
Rockies manager Bud Black was careful in answering questions about Holliday's situation on Wednesday, but it was apparent he would be wearing a Rockies uniform.
“He’s checking off the boxes,” Black said. “The main thing all of us were looking for, and I’ll include Matt, is just how he feels physically. And how he’s getting into baseball shape, just how a player would in spring training.
“The thing that we’re very happy with is the physical side of it,” Black said. “But mentally, Matt has been a long-time player and he can get back up to speed real quick.”
Ironically, it was nine years ago Friday that the Rockies made a similar move, signing a 38-year-old Jason Giambi, who had been released by the A's, to provide a veteran influence and left-handed-hitting streak for a team deep in right0handed hitters.
Giambi delivered, hitting .292 in the final days of that season -- with two home runs, 11 RBI and seven walks in 31 plate appearances -- as the Rockies claimed the NL wild-card for a second time in three years. Giambi was such a strong clubhouse influence he wound up spending the next three seasons with the Rockies in that limited bench\major clubhouse influence role.
Holliday had been working out on his own to stay in shape, just in case, and when there were signs the Rockies could have interest, he returned to Stillwater, Okla., where he grew up, and where his brother Josh is the head baseball coach at Oklahoma State.
While Holliday's primary role will be that late-inning threat off the bench that the Rockies have been lacking, he also will provide a needed right-handed bat to step in when a left-hander starts against a Rockies team that features four left-handed hitters as primary outfielders -- Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, David Dahl and Gerardo Parra.
For Holliday it would be exciting to be a part of getting the Rockies back to the post-season. He was a critical factor in the 2007 season when the Rockies made their only World Series appearance.
And for Black, it would interesting for him to have Holliday on his side -- this time.
Holliday was the impact bat on that 2017 team that rallied from fourth place in the NL West, 6 1/2 games out of first place, on the morning of Sept. 16, and in the next 15 days, won 13 of 14 games, rallying to tie the Padres for second place in the NL West, two games back of the Diamondbacks, but more importantly forcing a one-game playoff at Coors Field with the Padres to decide the NL wild-card.
Holliday not only hit .340 with 36 home runs and 137 RBI that season, finishing second to Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies in NL MVP Voting, but was the NL Player of the Month that September when he hit .365 with 12 home runs and 32 RBI.
He, however, will be remember forever in Rockies history more for his head-first, controversial slide into home plate on a Jamey Carroll sacrifice fly to shallow right field that lifted the Rockies to a 9-8, 13-inning victory against the Padres and into the post-season.
The Padres had actually taken an 8-6 lead in the top of the 13th and had Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman on the mound, but with one out, Troy Tulowitzki doubled in a run to cut the lead to 8-7, and then Holliday followed with a game-tying triple, and after an intentional walk to Todd Helton, Carroll delivered that controversial sacrifice fly that left Holliday dazed at the plate, and Black only wondering what might have been had instant replay been in place back then.
"He still hasn't touched the plate," Black said with a smile.
Tim McClelland, the home plate umpire that night, said the ultimate decision was the ball eluded Padres catcher Michael Barrett.
"Michael Barrett stuck out his leg, but he didn't have it planted in the ground," McClelland said. "What I saw was Holliday kind of slide through that leg and touch the plate. He would have been safe no matter what, but when the ball came out (of Barrett's glove) it made it a no decision."
Safe, or out, 13 years ago, Holliday is now ready to be back "in" at the big-league level, this time with Black as his manager, and this time, instead of being that middle-of-the-lineup, right-handed force, as the looming veteran threat off the bench, waiting for that opportunity to provide another chapter in his book of magical moments with the Rockies.
The Holliday Files
THE 2018 PREPARATIONS FOR A BIG-LEAGUE RETURN
The MLB Resume