Troy Tulowitzki’s stellar 3-5, one homer, three RBI debut performance for the Toronto Blue Jays was no surprise to this Colorado Rockies fan. Tulo, my beloved Tulo, over whom the Rockies broke my heart, is as good as any player at any position in the game. Unaware at the time, I took in Tulo’s final home start on July 25th. Nothing pains me like knowing I was sitting high in the nosebleeds when the Coors Field audio guys led us in a “TULO!” chant and I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d ever get to do it. Like I said it’s heartbreaking. I didn’t care that he was in the midst of an 0-21 slump, he was still the best shortstop in the game, my favorite player, the man I’d defend to death in any argument. I was there, I was there right before his Colorado career died, and I didn’t get to say goodbye.
As you can tell, I’m more than rattled, and I’m still trying to figure out how to move on. Not only as baseball fan but from listing to my Spotify playlist of past Tulo walkup songs, and many more things. As a 20-year-old this is the hardest breakup I’ve ever had to deal with.
I agreed to write this article for my friends over at Blue Jays Plus because I’m seeking closure. Maybe I will find it by introducing you to my favorite player, Colorado Rockies (Toronto Blue Jays) superstar shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki.
Tulowitzki is a dirtbag. Literally. He played his college ball at Long Beach State (the team name is the “Dirtbags”) before being drafted seventh overall, one pick after Rickey Romero (sorry, I had to go there) in the 2005 MLB Draft. Tulo barely played 150 games in the minors before getting the call up to the big club late in 2006. The next year, Tulowitzki would lead the Rockies to the World Series with a ridiculous 5.2 WAR in his rookie campaign, just losing out on the NL Rookie of the Year award to Ryan Braun. The following offseason, the Rockies made it clear he was the next face of the franchise. They extended Tulo, then still in pre-arbitration, and yet to play 200 MLB games, to a six year, $31 million deal. Three years later, the Rockies gave Tulo another six year deal, and extended him through 2021 on a massive (for the time, and Denver market) $120 million deal.
The Rockies have only had five players in their almost quarter-century history play more than 1,000 games. Tulo ranks fourth on that list, even despite his long injury history, which I will get into, and comparing him to other Rockies does not do him justice. Through his age 30 season, Troy Tulowitzki’s wRC+ of 125 is the same as Cal Ripken Jr’s. It is higher than a few guys you may know who go by the names of Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, Robin Yount, and Derek Jeter. That’s two Hall of Famers, one future Hall of Famer and a guy that probably should be. Tulo’s wRC+ in his first 1,049 games is only lower than Ernie Banks’ by a few points, and it’s well known in the Rockies community that wRC+ judges the Rockies unfairly. Tulowitzki also would have easily won the NL MVP last year had he stayed healthy, with an obscene 5.3 WAR in 91 games. Even this year, he is still feeling the effects of that injury in my opinion, so we are just starting to see a fully healthy Tulo for the first time in 2015.
Will you ever see a fully healthy Tulo for an extended period of time I can’t answer that, but what I can say is his last surgery supposedly fixed everything that was bothering him. Not only that, but Tulo’s injury history has been fluky. It’s not like he has Brandon Morrow‘s shoulder. He has broken his hand slamming a bat, been hurt by pitches thrown at him, and his exceptional athleticism has cost him a bit of durability when he pushes it too far in terms of pulled muscles and other similar ailments. And that’s where things start to get strange with Tulo.
Let me stop in my transition and say, I’m not going to be giving you numbers you can find anywhere, such as how Tulo is a top twenty shortstop in the live ball era by fWAR through his age 30 season, and that his DWAR/UZR/DRS are all down. You’re reading this, or at least I hope you still are, because you want the Tulo fan perspective.
Where things started to get strange with Troy Trever Tulowitzki was when he got his contract extended. From that point forward his expectations became too high, not only as a player but as a human being. As Billy Shakespeare once said “Expectation is the root of all heartache.“ Tulo became expected to not only be the best player in baseball and lead the Rockies to a World Series (with very little to no help from 2011 forward), but he was expected to sign autographs when anyone asked, and kiss babies if need be, ironically both things he did upon his debut at Rogers Centre.
When Tulo didn’t do these things that some expected from him, he was made out to be a bad guy. And when Tulo didn’t care that people thought he was a bad guy, those same people made Tulo into a scapegoat for what is a culture identity crisis for the Rockies. Those Rockies fans then jumped on every rumour (or even made rumours up) to #TraidTulo for pitching. Everything he did from that point (2011) forward became Tulo and Dick Monfort, the much maligned Rockies owner, versus the fans. Really, the Rockies organization has been a gongshow since team president Keli McGregor suddenly died and Monfort took over as president. Did you know Dan O’Dowd was the second longest tenured GM in MLB until last year when he stepped down? Or that the Rockies tried to extend the GM who brought his team to the playoffs just twice in 15 plus years? The fans have had a lot to gripe about.
This is important in understanding why some fans hated Tulo. Really, since Huston Street blew the 2009 NLDS for the club, and the 2010 club fell apart, fans have been bitter. Troy, the face of the franchise took most of the blame. A thing that hurt him in my opinion was how different he was from the prior face of the franchise, Todd Helton.
Denver is a kind of town where the Broncos are most important, second most important, and third most important, much like how Toronto is with the Maple Leafs. Every other sport is lucky to get a mention on the local news without reference to a topical Broncos joke. Todd Helton is a football guy. And Helton wasn’t just some random football guy, he was the starting quarterback at Tennessee until an injury forced Peyton Manning into his job. It seemed as if he would play through most anything, at least in the first half of his career. In contrast, Tulo sat many a day game from 2012 forward to rest his “heavy legs.” He sat so much in preservation for durability that it often upset people, particularly the fans who went to the most attended games on Sunday afternoons. Troy almost never played those games, and when he was playing, he wasn’t giving his all. Why was he doing that? Doesn’t Don Cherry want a good ole’ Canadian boy? Well the fact is, Troy not diving for a ball to keep from risking an injury to preserve his bat in the lineup was of more value to the Rockies than him on the disabled list. That occasional lack of hustle turned more people off and thus began the “trade the bum, he isn’t earning his $20 million sitting on the bench” cycle all over again. Tulo is a west coast kid and Helton is from the south. Denver’s socioeconomic and political beliefs variance is astounding, to the point that one player can almost be typecast as liberal and the other player a conservative in a swing state. I don’t know if this entered anyone’s minds, even subconsciously, but it showed in the way each player acted.
Helton always wanted to be a Rockie for life and he ended up being one. Tulo wanted to win first and be a Rockie second, and that is what happened. Tulowitzki DOES NOT CARE WHAT YOU THINK. HE DOES NOT CARE WHAT I THINK. All he wants to do is WIN. At the end of the day that is all that has mattered, and will ever matter to Tulo (besides his family).
Moving on from Tulo the person, who didn’t meet the awfully high expectations of the minority, to Tulo the player, who didn’t meet the high expectations of the majority. Troy Tulowitzki not reaching these expectations as a player was far from his fault as injuries completely derailed several of his seasons. The ones not ruined by injury were at least affected at some point by injury. When he is healthy however, he is a first ballot Hall of Fame talent. I don’t know how much TSN and Sportsnet cover the Rockies, but our national media gives the Rockies little to no attention. When the Rockies do make our national highlight shows, whether it’s on ESPN or FS1 with Jay and Dan, each network agrees it’s not a Rockies highlight without Tulo.
If you were to make a film of how to not only play shortstop, but to be a shortstop, Tulowitzki would be your star. He nails the intricacies of the position, he calls daylight pickoff moves at the exact right moment, and he makes the big play right when it is needed. He’ll make the gold glove play right as you’re thinking “where’s Tulo?” When the pitcher is struggling, Troy will be the first to the mound to get his butt in gear. Some will point to the drop in his defensive stats this year, but as my editor at Rockies Zingers, Richard Bergstrom has talked about, Tulo’s numbers are down because he hasn’t had to cover as big of an area with the Rockies being way better positioned though shifts. Not only that, but third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is on his way to a third Gold Glove in his third season, has taken many a ball away from Tulo. Arenado is fielding balls that in the past would’ve led perfectly to a patented Tulo jump throw.
It didn’t seem that Tulo was upset that Nolan took his balls or some of his stardom, because Tulo helped Nolan get to where he is now. In the winter Nolan would workout with Tulo before Nolan even reached the majors, and when Nolan was in the minors Tulo would call up and check in on him. This could be seen again with Tulo and this year’s first round pick Brendan Rodgers. Tulo was one of the first to call Rodgers after he was drafted by the Rockies. It was even said recently that Troy has been keeping track of Rockies highly ranked prospects Jon Gray and Eddie Butler’s starts in AAA. Troy even sported a Hartford Yard Goats hat recently.
Being one of the guys that had been in the organization longest Tulowitzki was an organization man. He would do anything to win, but he wanted the Rockies organization to win if he could pick any organization to win with. That’s why it’s not only painful for me a Rockies and Tulo fan to see him in a different, albeit more aesthetically pleasing uniform, but it must be hard for Troy.
Another strange thing with Tulo was he had propensity to not be clutch. This was funny because the mics at Coors Field were turned up too high so you often heard Tulo dropping F bombs after big strikeouts on TV. Maybe batting him leadoff regularly will work out, he’s never really done it, but it takes away some high leverage situations away from him. I’m skeptical to batting him leadoff long term since he is a huge mental guy. People have projected him to move to first base for years now to save his legs. Tulo never had any of that, replying, that he is a shortstop, and that is his position, and that is what makes him special. I have a feeling he will eventually want to hit somewhere between 2-5 again. You’re probably saying he has never had this many talented hitters in a lineup he has been in, you’re wrong. Just last year the Rockies had All Star Charlie Blackmon, former batting title champion Michael Cuddyer, triple crown threat Carlos Gonzalez, the batting title champion and former MVP Justin Morneau, soon to be All Star Nolan Arenado, and slick hitting Corey Dickerson.
When Tulo is on, he is on. It’s not like he is a streaky player, he just happens to go from great to exceptional for a series, or a week, or a month, or half a season. His recent 40 plus game on base streak was one of the longest in Rockies history. Yes, you read that right, before he went 0-21 he had a 40 plus game on base streak. Still his power numbers are billed to increase in 2015. Presumably Tulo could be 2008 Manny Ramirez. If he does that instead of Mannywood please make “Tdot,” Tulodot.
The often injured, misunderstood superstar, that was underrated playing at the best hitter’s park in baseball while being considered one of best defensive shortstops is now yours Toronto. He is yours until 2021, treat him right and he will take you to the promised land. Treat him right so Troy Tulowitzki gets into the Hall of Fame. Maybe he’ll even wear a Rockies cap upon his hopeful arrival in Cooperstown.
Troy Tulowitzki always did me right in rooting for him, and I admired his blunt approach to winning. No matter how hard the times got with the Rockies, he was always worth the price of admission, from an unassisted triple play, to walk off winners, to amazing plays, to straight up bombs, Troy not only provided the power, he provided the entertainment.
Alex Anthopoulos made a trade he won’t regret no matter how good Jeff Hoffman, Jesus Tinoco, and Miguel Castro tun out to be. He got a bona fide superstar better than anyone currently on the Jays, Leafs, Raptors, or Argonauts. You could make a case that Tulo is the best athlete now in Canada (how did McDavid even end up on the Oilers?). Besides the star power which is obviously important, Tulo is a winner and that’s all he wants to do. The Blue Jays have afforded him an opportunity to win for the first time since 2010. I can guarantee you that Tulo will do everything in his power to make good on what he does best, win, and prove Anthopoulos a genius all while saving Rogers a few bucks from that awful Jose Reyes contract.
Some more analysis on the trade:
LaTroy Hawkins, also another favorite of mine, was dealt in this deal. LaTroy will always have a special place in my heart as he was the first player I ever interviewed. Not only did I get to interview him, but he was such a gentleman. He set the whole thing up when I told him what the topic would be. He recognized my inexperience and made me feel comfortable.
That’s who you got in LaTroy, the absolute nicest guy in baseball. He said it himself on his blog that he was “blown away” by the move. I think the only remaining goal of his career was to get into the top ten appearances of all time list in baseball history. Now he has a new goal, help a club win. Which if you go check out his blog, he seems more than ready for.
LaTroy Hawkins in the dugout.” width=”300″ height=”209″ />
Hawkins is a 21-year big league veteran and has played for almost every team, and has if anything gotten better over his career. I know this is a big move for the Jays since their bullpen has struggled, and Hawk will be up to the task. He was closing games for the Rockies at the start of the year and last season he went 23-26 in save opportunities. Adam Ottavino won the closer’s role more than LaTroy lost it and soon thereafter both went on the DL. Since coming off the DL he has pitched 16.1 innings while allowing only two earned runs.
The Blue Jays got exactly what they needed from the Rockies in this deal. Maybe the Jays won’t make the playoffs; you guys know better than I do, but I can tell you the Blue Jays are a better ballclub now than they were before this deal took place.