Arizona Diamondbacks (1998-Present)
National League (1998-Present)
National League Champion: 2001
World Series Champion: 2001
The Arizona Diamondbacks are the finest example of how to build a championship team quickly. In 1995, Phoenix was awarded an expansion franchise to begin play in 1998. Aggressive in the free agent market, the Arizona Diamondbacks wasted no time putting together a powerhouse team in the desert. They signed the best pitcher in baseball (Randy Johnson) in 1999. They added former All-Stars, Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley, Jay Bell, and Matt Williams and became the class of the National League Western Division. All these players were well into their thirties, but they could still play.
They won 100 games and the National League West Pennant in their second season. After fading to 85 wins their third season they added Curt Schilling to their pitching staff in 2001 and surged to a World Championship. Their epic seven game World Series victory over the New York Yankees was one of the most memorable Fall Classics of all time. The Diamondbacks had the quickest assent by an expansion team in Major League Baseball history. They won their first pennant in their second year, and then the World Series in their fourth.
The 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series is a great example of how modern sports media simplifies things that distorts certain realities. To most modern baseball fans the most important hit in Diamondbacks’ history was Luis Gonzalez’ bloop hit that drove in the winning run in Game 7, but was that really the most important hit of the inning?
Let’s detail the D-Back’s 9th inning of Game 7…
The Yankees led 2-1 on Alfonso Soriano 8th inning home run off Curt Schilling. That score stood until the bottom of the 9th. Mark Grace led off the inning with a single to center. David Dellucci ran for Grace. Damion Miller attempted to sacrifice, Mariano Rivera fielded the bunt and threw to second. The throw was wild and Dellucci was safe. With runners on first and second and nobody out, D-Back’s Manager Bob Brenly sent Jay Bell up to pinch hit for Randy Johnson.
Bell attempted to bunt the runners over, but bunted right back to Rivera, who threw to third to force Dellucci. Arizona now had runners on first and second with one out. Shortstop Tony Womack was next, he doubled to right, plating the tying run and leaving runners on second and third with only one out. Yankee Manager Joe Torre elected to move the infield in to prevent the winning run from third. Rivera then hit Craig Counsel loading the bases for Luis Gonzalez. Gonzalez hit an 0-1 pitch over the drawn in shortstop Derek Jeter head for the game winning hit.
It’s obvious that the key hit of the inning was Womack’s double. It tied the score for the home team, and put the winning run on third with less than two outs. Because Torre chose to bring the infield in to cut off the winning run at third, Jeter was unable to catch Gonzalez’ soft liner to left center. Womack’s hit was clearly more important than Gonzalez’. So why will Luis Gonzalez always be associated with the D-Backs World Series triumph, and Womack is largely forgotten?
Because explaining why Womack’s hit was the key to the inning is just to complex for modern media. They just won’t take the time to explain it.
Considering that Phoenix has been a top ten television market for quite some time, it was strange how reluctant the Major Sports were to put teams in the Valley of the Sun. The NBA came early, granting an expansion franchise to the city in 1968. The NFL was next when Phoenix lured the St. Louis Cardinals to town in 1988, followed by the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes of the NHL in 1996. The last of the major sports was the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998. The irony of this is that despite some success by the Suns and the Cardinals (the Suns made the NBA Finals in 1976 and 1993, while the Cardinals participated in Super Bowl XLII), the D-Backs Championship in 2001 is the only Championship the city has ever had.
The future seems bright for the franchise. Phoenix is now the 5th largest city in the country. The Diamondbacks have been the most successful of all the expansion teams created in the 1990s, both on the field and at the box office. They’ve never drawn fewer than 2 million fans, and have stayed in the playoff picture each of the last three years. The only drawback is the behemoth they must compete against in the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Miguel Montero (2006-2014) is the only reasonable candidate. A two time All Star who was also a positive force at the plate.
Paul Goldschmidt (2011-2018) was Arizona’s biggest home-grown star. He had good power with lots of walks. A perennial All-Star, who finished in the top six of the MVP ballot four times. The most effective offensive player in Diamondback history who was also a Gold Glove at first base.
Craig Counsell (2000-2003, 2005-2006) toiled 58 games at shortstop, 55 at second, and 38 at third in Arizona’s World Championship season. For his entire stay in the desert he played more games at second base than anywhere else. He hit like a typical middle infielder, but he clearly belongs on the team.
Mark Reynolds (2007-2010) led the league in strikeouts during three of his 4 years in Arizona, with the astounding totals of 204, 223, and 211. His batting averages were also not good, hitting a combined .242 during his time, with a pedestrian .334 on base percentage. But what he could do was hit home runs, averaging 30 big flies in his four seasons in Arizona. Matt Williams (1998-2003) had a monster year in 1999, hitting 35 home runs with 145 RBI. That year he finished third in the MVP vote. The ability to sign players the caliber of Matt Williams was one of the main reasons Arizona was able to jump into contention so quickly. This is close. The years in Arizona were Reynolds first four in the Majors, while Williams six seasons were his last ones. The formula we use gives Matt Williams (1998-2003) a slight edge.
Stephen Drew (2006-2011) was nothing special, but he was the D-Backs regular shortstop for four years. His competition is Jay Bell (1998-2002). Bell’s best years were in Pittsburgh, but he was another of the quality players who came to Arizona in their initial seasons. The 2001 Championship season was his last year as a regular. Another close call, but this time we’ll go with the youngster, Stephen Drew (2006-2011).
Luis Gonzalez (1999-2006) got the most famous hit in franchise history. His ninth inning single off the best closer in baseball history (Mariano Rivera) won game 7 of the 2001 World Series. He’s also, by the metric we use, the third best player in franchise history. His 2001 season was the best of his career, hitting 57 home runs and driving in 142. An easy choice in left field.
Gonzalez’ outfield partner in 2001 was Steve Finley (1999-2004). Another veteran player brought in late in his career to help Arizona to win now. He is the choice in center over the recent occupant, and current Dodger, A.J. Pollack (2012-2018).
Right Field: The choice for the third outfield spot is between two long time teammates, Justin Upton (2007-2012) and Chris Young (2006-2012). When they played together Young was in center and Upton in right. That indicates that Young was better with the glove. This is very close. By the metrics we use they are so close that the difference does not mean much.The tie goes to the better defensive player, Chris Young (2006-2012).
In Randy Johnson’s (1999-2004, 2007-2008) first four years in Arizona he won an unprecedented four straight Cy Young Awards. He was simply the best pitcher in baseball. In the conversation as the greatest southpaw of all time.
In 2006 #2 Brandon Webb (2003-2009) also won a Cy Young Award with the D-Backs. He followed that season with two consecutive second place finishes in 2007 and 2008. After going 22-7 in 2008 his career came to an abrupt end due to a shoulder injury. He was only 30 years old.
#3 Curt Schilling (2000-2003) was co-MVP of the 2001 World Series, sharing the honor with Randy Johnson. In 2001 and 2002 he was the second best pitcher in baseball (behind teammate Randy Johnson), finishing second in the National League Cy Young Award both years. He went 58-28 in his four years in the desert.
For being such a young franchise, the Diamondbacks have an awesome list of pitchers. The #4 pick is also a Cy Young Award winner. Zack Greinke (2016-2019) won his with Kansas City, but in four years in Arizona he had a record of 55-29. Like Johnson and Schilling his final destination should be Cooperstown. One of the five best pitchers of his generation.
This one is also easy. Bob Brenly’s (2001-2004) entire managerial career was 3 1/2 seasons with the D-Backs. It’s quite a record. Two Western Division Titles and a World Series triumph included. His overall record was 303-262, an incredible record considering it was year 4-7 for the new franchise.
The choice is either Paul Goldschmidt (2011-2018) or Randy Johnson (1999-2004, 2007-2008). Goldschmidt’s numbers are impressive, the best every day player in Diamondback history. The formula we use shows him narrowly ahead of Johnson. But as we’ve said before the formula tends to underrate pitchers. Randy Johnson’s (1999-2004, 2007-2008) six year run in Arizona is as impressive as any pitcher since Sandy Koufax, and maybe before that. He was the most important cog in the franchise’s only World Series Championship. Despite the formula we feel this is an easy choice, Randy Johnson (1999-2004, 2007-2008).