Enormously popular, extraordinarily productive… No wonder Andres Galarraga is the first former Colorado Rockies star inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
The best $500,000 the Rockies ever spent went into the contract Galarraga signed as a free agent on November 16, 1992. He was a career .267 hitter at the time and coming off a season with the St. Louis Cardinals in which he struggled to hit .243 with 10 home runs in 95 games. The year before, with the Montreal Expos, he hit only .219 with nine homers in 107 games. At age 31, the first baseman’s best years in baseball seemed to be behind him.
But the Big Cat wasn’t done. Turns out, he was the purr-fect acquisition for the National League expansion franchise, which debuted in 1993.
Galarraga was an immediate hit with the Rockies, winning the 1993 NL batting title with a .370 average. He starred for the Rockies through the 1997 season, powering the creation of the Blake Street Bombers with a .316 batting average, 172 homers and 579 RBIs in his five seasons in Denver. He was the Rockies’ first all-star and still has the only six-hit game in team history. He led the NL with 47 homers and 150 RBIs in 1996, the year after he had the first three-homer game in team history. He led the NL with 140 RBIs in 1997. Talk about a great investment. Galarraga didn’t disappoint.
If the Rockies saw it coming, they must have remembered Galarraga batted .305 for the Expos in 1987 and .302 for them a year later, when he hit 29 homers and drove in 92 runs. But the Venezuelan’s career clearly was in decline when he arrived in Denver. Galarraga not only revived his career while playing for the Rockies, he thrived. He was one of baseball’s premier players when he signed with the Atlanta Braves as a free agent after the 1997 season. When he retired from the game in March 2005, after surviving a battle with cancer, he was a five-time all-star, two-time Gold Glove winner and career .288 hitter who had 2,333 hits (including 399 homers) and 1,425 RBIs in 2,257 games with seven franchises.
“When he caught it on the screws, it sounded like a rifle shot,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle told The Denver Post, referring to Galarraga’s hitting ability. “You won’t meet someone more deserving (of being in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame). He was one of the kindest gentlemen, who could really mash a baseball.”
Hurdle was the Rockies’ hitting coach and first base coach in 1997, when Galarraga launched a remarkable rocket against the Florida Marlins in Miami. It was one of Galarraga’s six grand slams with the Rockies, a 529-foot blast off Marlins pitcher Kevin Brown that still ranks as the longest homer in Rockies history.
“My favorite memory of Cat? When he hit the grand slam off Kevin Brown in Florida,” Hurdle said. “That was the first time I ever got chills when someone hit a home run. I couldn’t believe someone could hit a ball that far.”
That was the first time I ever got chills when someone hit a home run. I couldn’t believe someone could hit a ball that far.