Commentary

Rockies born of Monus' work, but he never saw his baby grow up

Updated: October 23, 2007, 10:27 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Mickey Monus answers the phone on the second ring. Moments into the call he begins to laugh, as if he's amused, as if he knew someone would eventually track him down and put his baseball legacy, such as it is, together with the moving parts of this 2007 World Series.

"I'm publicity averse," he says.

Mickey Monus
AP Photo/Mark DuncanMickey Monus arrives in court in November 1995 to be sentenced. He served more than 10 years.
That's because Monus almost never grants interviews. It appears he last spoke to a reporter in 2000, for a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story done while Monus was still serving the latter part of a 10-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, Ohio, the same prison where he married his wife in 1998. Now, two years after his release, he lives in Florida and watches with mixed, bittersweet emotions as the Colorado Rockies -- his Rockies, in a business sense -- prepare for the World Series.

"If it wasn't for me," Monus says, "there wouldn't be a baseball team out there. Period."

The 432-page, 2007 Colorado Rockies Information Guide is thicker than a porterhouse steak and yet there isn't a single mention, not one, of Monus or then-business partner John Antonucci. They're conveniently ignored in the official version of the Rockies' 15-season history. After all, nobody wants to remember all those messy details, especially during the feel-good times of Rocktober.

"They didn't even mention John?" says Monus.

Not Monus. Not Antonucci. The two men are nonexistent to the franchise. They're ghosts.

"Who were they?" says Vinny Castilla, one of the original Rockies chosen in the 1992 expansion draft and now a special assistant to Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd.

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Well, for Castilla -- and the rest of America -- Monus and Antonucci were the parents of a bouncing baby expansion franchise called the Rockies. Date of birth: July 5, 1991, the day MLB owners unanimously awarded Denver and the Monus/Antonucci-led ownership group a National League team.

Monus and Antonucci weren't locals. They were from Youngstown, Ohio, grew up as Cleveland Indians fans, but did business in Colorado. They even co-owned a vacation home in Vail.

But nobody seemed to mind their out-of-state addresses when it came time to write checks to help finance Denver's bid for a MLB franchise. Monus, the president of a mushrooming discount drugstore chain called Phar-Mor Inc., and Antonucci would become the managing general partners of the ownership group, which included a handful of other Denver area-based investors.

"I knew it'd be successful from the beginning," says Monus, who along with his partners helped choose the franchise name and logo from fans' suggestions. "It's America's pastime."

Stadium financing for what would later become Coors Field was in place. There wasn't another MLB franchise within 600 miles. The city and region were rabid for big league baseball.

"Everything was beautiful," says Monus' father Nathan, also an original investor, "until all hell broke loose."

In February 1993, less than two months before the Rockies would play their first-ever regular-season game, Monus was indicted by a federal grand jury on 129 counts in a $1 billion embezzlement and fraud case. By then, Monus had been fired by Phar-Mor and forced to sell his interests in the Rockies.

Then, in May 1995, the same year the Rockies would reach the playoffs for the first and only time (until now), Monus was convicted on 109 counts of fraud and embezzlement. He was later sentenced to almost 20 years of prison time, which was eventually reduced to a little more than 10 years.

"Monus, unfortunately, hurt a lot of people," says Antonucci, who briefly ran the day-to-day operations of the franchise, sold his shares in early 1993, and then returned to Ohio where he oversees the family beverage and alcohol distributorship business. "But the [Rockies] ownership group there was strong enough, committed enough. I didn't think there would ever be a day that we wouldn't see [a 1993] Opening Day. And that credit gets spread far and deep."

He'll get no argument from Monus, who praises Antonucci, among others, for his work during the early days of the Rockies. Despite the compliments, Monus hasn't spoken with his former friend and business partner in 13 years, though he says he's made a recent effort through intermediaries.

Two months ago Monus turned 60. He has yet to see Coors Field in person and, he says, "I don't think I'm ever going to go." There is no bitterness in his voice, only a certain sadness when he talks about the lost years of his life.

What happened to me is both tragic for me and a lot of people. If we were able to change things in life, do you think I'd be interested in doing that? But that's not the way it works.

--Mickey Monus

"What happened to me is both tragic for me and a lot of people," says Monus, who watched Rockies and Indians ballgames while in prison. "If we were able to change things in life, do you think I'd be interested in doing that? But that's not the way it works."

Instead, he is remembered in Denver as a villain, a shady (that's one of the favorite newspaper descriptions) carpetbagger whose criminal troubles jeopardized its MLB franchise (new investors had to be found at the last minute; baseball officials considered selling the Rockies to an investment group from Tampa, Fla.).

"I don't want to get into that," Monus says. "That kind of stuff goes into a one-way street." A few moments later: "I realize there are people who are mad at me, and there are people who know the truth."

Antonucci, who still does business in Colorado, says he has received several invitations to attend a World Series game at Coors Field, but hasn't decided if he'll make the trip. Had the Indians not channeled the 2004 New York Yankees and blown a 3-1 ALCS lead to the Boston Red Sox, Antonucci would have definitely been at Jacobs Field for a Rockies-Indians game. His family has had Indians season tickets for years.

Meanwhile, Monus isn't going anywhere. For the record, he says he would have rooted for his childhood favorites, the Indians, to beat the Rockies. But without the Indians in the World Series, Monus turns to his second baseball love.

"You've got to be excited," he says. "It's something you created and now to see how they got where they are."

So Monus will watch every World Series game on TV. A 60-year-old man will try to be a kid again. The ghost of the Rockies' past reappears.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography, "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

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