Rockies' president mourned, beloved
Colorado mourns loss of McGregor, who ran club since 2001
The death of Keli McGregor, a former football star who was president of the Rockies since 2001, sent shockwaves throughout Major League Baseball, and nowhere more than in Colorado, where he was more than a sports figure to many.
Rockies chairman and CEO Charlie Monfort, who was with McGregor on a business trip in Salt Lake City when McGregor was found dead in his hotel room Tuesday morning, spoke for the organization, and spoke from the heart.
"Words cannot describe the level of shock and disbelief that we all are feeling this morning at the loss of Keli," Monfort said in a club statement. "Our thoughts, our prayers are with Lori and the entire family as we all try to cope and understand how such a tragic loss could occur with such a wonderful man."
McGregor was 48. He is survived by his wife, Lori, and four children.
Salt Lake City Police Det. Rick Wall said officers were called to the Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City around 9 a.m. MT when associates were unable to reach McGregor. Wall said members of the fire department and paramedics were unable to revive McGregor, who was in Salt Lake City with Monfort and executive vice president Greg Feasel.
Wall said there was no suspicion of foul play and McGregor's death was "consistent with natural causes." The investigation has been turned over to the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office, which is standard in such cases.
"On behalf of Major League Baseball, I am very saddened by the sudden and unexpected passing of Keli McGregor," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "As president of the Colorado Rockies, Keli was one of our game's rising young stars. He was a great athlete and equally great as a baseball administrator. Also, he was a great human being. All of baseball will miss him. I offer my condolences and deepest sympathies to his family, friends and the Rockies ballclub."
After news of McGregor's death circulated, it was apparent how much of an effect McGregor had not only on the Colorado sports scene but also on baseball as a whole.
"This sport lost a true friend and gentleman today," said D-backs president Derrick Hall, who worked closely with McGregor as the two teams worked on moving their Spring Training facilities from Tucson to the Phoenix area. "Keli has quickly become one of my closest friends over the last few years. In recent months, our collaborative work and vision on creating our new spring home has made that bond even tighter. I am deeply saddened that he will not see the project upon its completion, but even more distraught over the tragic thought that this beautiful family will be without its loving husband and father. We will miss him dearly."
Rangers batting coach Clint Hurdle was the Rockies manager for seven seasons, including the 2007 World Series season, and as a member of the organization for 15 years had grown quite close to McGregor.
"You grieve," Hurdle said. "Just a really great man, a great family man, a man of faith. He stood for so many things all the time. I love him. This is one you don't have any words for."
The Rockies in uniform didn't need words to show their tribute Tuesday, displaying a McGregor jersey with No. 88, his number as an All-American tight end at Colorado State, in the dugout during their game at Washington on Tuesday night.
Once on the field, the Rockies put up an eight-run third inning, their biggest inning of the season, to break out to a lead over the Nationals. Colorado went on to win, 10-4.
"We're not the only organization in baseball over the past few years that has experienced tragedy and had to deal with it. When it hits you, your professional mettle is tested," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said before the game. "And you know something? Knowing this group of people and knowing this man that we represent and this organization we represent, we'll pass. We're going to pass this test, I promise you that."
Don Baylor, not only the team's current hitting coach but the team's manager for its first six seasons, said McGregor was the type of leader who put the team first.
"Every time you talked about him, it was about the Rockies. It was never about himself," Baylor said. "It was always about improving the club on the field. He's going to be really missed by so many people that knew him."
McGregor had been president of the club since Oct. 17, 2001. He joined the Rockies in 1993 as senior director of operations, became senior vice president in 1996, and then executive vice president in 1998 before assuming the club's presidency.
His death was felt by many players who had previously played for the Rockies, including a pair of Nationals players who faced the Rockies on Tuesday night. Many knew him as an athletic executive who cared about all aspects of the organization.
"It's a big loss for his family and for his kids," said Nationals starter Jason Marquis. "We had good conversations in the weight room. We were just talking baseball and the Rockies. My heart goes out to his family and the Rockies organization.
"The loss is going to linger because he meant a lot to people in Colorado and the Denver area. He did some great things."
Said Nationals outfielder Willy Taveras, part of the 2007 World Series team: "To me, he was a great baseball guy. The guy was a big part of the success of the team. We went to the World Series. I used to see him pretty much every day. I would see him at the gym. The guy was working out -- great body, he looked in great shape. It was very surprising."
Giants lefty Jeremy Affeldt, who pitched for Colorado in 2006-07, had much the same experience with McGregor, the rare combination of athlete and executive.
"It's sad, man," Affeldt said. "That grieved me when I read that. ... He was in the weight room a lot when I was doing cardio. I talked to him all the time."
As current Astros backup outfielder Cory Sullivan, who was drafted by the Rockies in 2001 and played with them through 2008, knew well, McGregor was much more than what you'd find in the front office or in the gym.
"I knew him as well as a player could know the president," Sullivan said. "Every time I did charity work he was there. He would really back the team and he was big in the city of Denver with the fans. It's a tragic loss and you feel for his family and his four kids. Hopefully they can find some strength and move forward."
Before joining the Rockies, McGregor had a long career in football as a player and coach, and in collegiate athletics as an administrator.
Born Jan. 23, 1962, in Primghar, Iowa, McGregor arrived at Colorado State as an undersized football player out of Lakewood (Colo.) High School who didn't have a scholarship. But then-Rams head football coach Sark Arslanian, who knew McGregor's father (who was his high school coach), convinced him to join the team. He played as a walk-on in 1981 and was awarded a scholarship by new coach Leon Fuller the following year.
By the time he was done, McGregor had grown into a 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end who earned All-American status from The Associated Press and United Press International in 1984. He was named to the CSU All-Century team in 1992 and its Hall of Fame in 1996.
According to a statement released by CSU, he toured the school's new athletic complex recently. One of McGregor's children attends CSU, and his godson is a sophomore on the football team.
"This is an enormous and tragic loss for CSU and all of Colorado," CSU President Tony Frank said in the statement. "Keli was a true champion in life and on the field, who exemplified what we'd want for all our graduates -- an honorable and successful business leader, dedicated family man, and loyal alumnus who was unwavering in his support for CSU and our students. The McGregors are an important part of our CSU family, and our hearts are with them and his Rockies colleagues at this difficult time."
CSU athletic director Paul Kowalczyk said in the school's statement, "We are deeply saddened. Keli was a man of integrity and class, the finest representative of Colorado State University and Ram Athletics."
CSU head football coach Steve Fairchild planned to address his team about McGregor prior to Tuesday's spring practice, according to the school's statement.
"I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for Keli, not just as a leader, but as a person," Fairchild said. "He was so successful, so accomplished, but he carried himself in such a humble manner. He's always been someone I looked up to.
"Two summers ago, Keli and I spent an entire day at Coors Field, in his box. We were all by ourselves and we just spent the day talking about everything, from pro sports vs. college sports, how to assemble a good team, the meaning of character, genuine leadership and mentoring. I'll never forget that day. I'm a better person because of it."
Former Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick discussed his positive impressions of McGregor some time before his death.
"From the first time I met him, he was an impressive individual because of his convictions, his dedication, and his desire. You could see that whatever Keli chose to pursue, he was going to succeed," Lubick said.
McGregor was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round and played for the Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League.
"Keli was a wonderful person and a highly respected professional whose loss will be felt throughout the entire Denver community," Broncos Chief Operating Officer Joe Ellis said in a statement. "The Denver Broncos extend their deepest sympathies to Keli's wife, Lori, their children and the entire Colorado Rockies organization."
After his playing career, McGregor served as an assistant football coach at the University of Florida in 1988 and 1989, and earned a master's degree in education with an athletic administration emphasis. McGregor also had a four-year stint at the University of Arkansas as an associate athletic director.
While at Colorado State, McGregor became close friends with Michael McMorris, son of Jerry McMorris, who would become the first owner of the Rockies. It was in October of the franchise's first season in 1993 that McMorris hired McGregor to oversee much of the team's business operation.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland was managing the Rockies in 1999 and came across McGregor as he was learning the ropes from McMorris.
"You can tell just getting involved with the baseball business that he was eager to learn, good guy, really a good-looking kid," Leyland said. "Everybody talked about how well-liked he was out there. This has got to be just an absolute tragedy. I can't even imagine."
Over the years since, McGregor impressed many around baseball with his acumen and personality.
"I had the pleasure of spending time with Keli at quarterly owners meetings over the years, and his death is stunning and tragic," said Brewers executive vice president of business operations Rick Schlesinger. "Keli was one of a handful of executives who was universally respected by every baseball executive. It's a sad time for all of us in the front offices around baseball. He will be greatly missed."
Said Padres president Tom Garfinkel: "Keli cared deeply about his family, his community, and everyone in the Rockies organization. The baseball fraternity lost a good friend, a good leader and a good man today."
Indeed, it's a loss that is being felt around baseball.
"Our whole organization feels so terrible for his wife and four kids," said Marlins president David Samson. "It's another example of how short life is."
Added Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association: "Keli's contributions to the Rockies franchise will long be remembered by the Denver community."
McGregor's accomplishments with the Rockies included several innovations that helped the franchise grow over the years.
On April 1, 2001, the Rockies opened the Coors Clubhouse -- a seating area behind home plate with access to a VIP-style restaurant. This year, McGregor helped spearhead the creation of the Mountain Ranch Club in the ballpark, and the Helton 17 Burger Shack, a concession area named for one of the greatest players in Rockies history, current first baseman Todd Helton.
McGregor may be best known for being instrumental in creating a variable pricing structure by which fans can buy tickets that include high-profile games without having to buy an entire season ticket. The Rockies are credited with being the first in baseball to come up with such a structure. Many other clubs have developed similar plans.
Before his death, McGregor was focused largely on the development of a new Spring Training complex on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community near Scottsdale, Ariz., which the Rockies and D-backs are scheduled to move into next spring.
In addition to his day-to-day work with the Rockies, McGregor was co-founder and served as president of the Reaching Out to Youth Foundation in the battle against cystic fibrosis, served as a board member on the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Mountain Stats Employers Council, and was appointed by Colorado Gov. Bill Owens to serve in an advisory position on the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
In a relatively short time in the game, and in life, McGregor made a lasting impression.
"Keli McGregor was one of the finest individuals I've known," said Mariners president Chuck Armstrong, in his 25th season in that role. "He was an outstanding human being. We had a great relationship, I had utmost admiration and respect for Keli, and it's just a tragedy. It again points out how fragile life is. It's really tough.
"It's a huge loss. Forty-eight years old. It's shocking."
Thomas Harding and John Schlegel are reporters for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Steve Gilbert, Chris Haft, Bill Ladson, Adam McCalvy, Brian McTaggart, Doug Miller, T.R. Sullivan and MLB.com contributor Pete Kerzel contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.