DENVER -- Jeff Francis never worried about pitching at altitude when he joined the Rockies as a rookie in 2004, and he certainly didn’t have it on his mind during his magical 17-win 2007 -- the year the club made its only World Series trip.
“I didn't have any basis of comparison,” Francis said. “It was my home. It was the first place I'd played. I think that helped me. No. 2, I think we had a group of young players who just came up and didn't know any better.”
Maybe knowledge is overrated.
Francis’ solid work in two stints with the Rockies during 11 Major League seasons, along with his accomplishments with the Canadian National Team that included the 2015 Pan Am Games gold medal, earned him election to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. The honor was announced officially on Wednesday, and he will be inducted during a ceremony at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Marys, Ontario, on June 18.
Francis, a native of Vancouver, will enter the Canadian Hall with a 2020 class that had its ceremony postponed because of the pandemic. That means he will go in with another former Rockies star, Justin Morneau, a teammate during their high school years. Also being inducted are first baseman John Olerud, pitcher Duane Ward and broadcaster Jacques Doucet.
The Canadian Hall will have a Rockies look. Larry Walker, the only Colorado player and the first Canadian position player to earn induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., entered Canada’s honored Hall in 2009.
Francis also pitched for the Royals, Reds, Athletics, Yankees and Blue Jays. But he is best known for his time with the Rockies, for whom he ranks third in their history in starts and wins and is in the top 10 in numerous other categories.
The biggest memory, though, is 2007. Francis went 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA and anchored a starting staff that lost three of its original five members for the season by early August. The Rockies' finish -- 14 wins in 15 games to end the regular season and 21 of 22 before being swept by the Red Sox in the World Series -- made the year forever special.
“I like that I was a part of one of the more memorable teams in Colorado, not necessarily the biggest part,” he said. “We had some pretty famous guys who had some pretty amazing careers -- some Cooperstown-level careers. Even if the Rockies win a World Series in the next few years, our 2007 team will be remembered.”
Given the difficulty of pitching at Denver's mile-high altitude at the sport’s highest level, many would be surprised that any pitcher could make it to any Hall of Fame based on his Rockies accomplishments. Over eight total seasons in Colorado (2004-08, 2010, 2012-13), Francis went 64-62 with a 4.96 ERA.
“There is a long list of players who have been able to pitch there for a year or two or three and really have success for a short period of time,” Francis said. “There’s a short list of people who have had extended success there -- Jorge De La Rosa, maybe Ubaldo Jiménez and Aaron Cook.
“People like me would have two or three really successful years, then we would have trouble replicating those years. But I would never use the excuse that it was hard to pitch there because of altitude. It’s just really hard to pitch in the Major Leagues.”
The induction will be a special moment for Francis and Morneau. They were children when the first Canadian to enter Cooperstown, Fergie Jenkins, was inducted in 1991. They grew up watching players such as Walker and Olerud.
During their 11th- and 12-grade summers, Francis pitched and Morneau caught -- and they roomed together during travel tournaments -- for the North Delta (British Columbia) Blue Jays. Francis was the team’s cleanup hitter, but pitching was his future.
“That was back when I was still catching,” said Morneau, who was drafted by the Twins out of high school. “Jeff wasn’t throwing as hard as when he got to college. He was probably 20 pounds lighter. He worked as hard as anybody I’d ever seen in high school to put on strength, but he was the best pitcher I’ve ever seen in high school.”