A chapter in Denver's baseball history has come to a close with the passing
Rapp died on New Year's Eve at age 87, leaving behind a long career in baseball at a time before big paychecks and team payrolls that far exceed $100 million a year.
While Rapp made it to the major leagues twice as a manager — with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds — he earned his baseball wings with the Denver Bears.
Rapp was a catcher as a player and first came to Denver in 1958 to play for the Bears. He was back with the Bears as a coach in 1960, when they won the American Association title under manager Charlie Metro.
Rapp got his chance to manage in 1976 and guided the Bears to the regular-season championship and a postseason championship. The Bears, a farm system of the Montreal Expos organization at the time, won the regular-season title by 13½ games.
"Except for maybe the pitching, I think our 1976 team was right up there with the Yankee (farm) teams of the 1950s as the best-ever in Denver," Rapp said after the 1976 season. "We were five games out on the Fourth of July and came on to win."
Rapp's connection to Bob Howsam in Denver led to his gaining managerial jobs with the Cardinals in 1977 and the Reds in 1984. After guiding the Cardinals to an 83-79 record in 1977, he was replaced after a 6-11 start the next season. He left Cincinnati after a 51-70 start in 1984, getting replaced by Pete Rose, who took over as the player/manager.
Rapp's introduction to baseball came at a time when there were few frills, and he managed that way.
"I wanted my players to play hard, run out groundballs. That was just part of the business," Rapp said. "I was a no-nonsense manager. I expected my players to be on time. I treated them as adults."
Bears general manager Jim Burris held Rapp in high regard.
"Vern was a very good manager who knew the game," Burris said. "He was tough but fair. Players responded to him very well. The 1976 team had one of the highest winning percentages (.632) of any of our clubs. He was the minor-league manager of the year."
Rapp stayed in Colorado through his retirement years. He liked to fly-fish, and he had a favorite spot on the Poudre River west of Fort Collins.