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Arizona Diamondbacks

A professional baseball team in the National League

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Lost in the Desert

  • Nov 20, 2012
  • by
In 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks took the baseball diamond for the first time. In 2001, they won the World Series. And, review!

What? Just that won't do? But the Diamondbacks haven't... Shit. Alright, let's get this one over.

The state of Arizona might not seem like a clean-cut, clear location to put a baseball team, but it makes perfect sense when you give it some real thought. There are two leagues for baseball's Spring Training months, where teams play their exhibition games: One is the Grapefruit League, in Florida. The other is the Cactus League out in Arizona. Furthermore, the greater Phoenix area in particular took a huge population leap from 1940 to 1990. In 1940, it was the 99th-largest city in the United States. In 1990, it was the ninth-largest. Its growth didn't end there; it still kept growing after that, and it is now the sixth-largest. Relocating to much warmer cities is always a popular pastime in the cold, baseball-mad northeast and northern midwest, so many of the people moving out to Phoenix were big-time fans of other teams from their home states. Major League Baseball picked up a huge following in Arizona. The teams with the largest followings became the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Besides, there were lots of minor league baseball teams in the area.

In 1993, Jerry Colangelo, owner of the Phoenix Suns NBA team, created an ownership group to apply for a Major League Baseball expansion team. The cocky Colangelo was so sure he would get his team that he even held a name-the-team contest, taking out a full-page ad in a February 1995 edition of the Arizona Republic. First prize? Lifetime season tickets! Winning choice? Diamondbacks! Only problem with an Arizona baseball team? Too damn hot! That problem was solved with a retractable roof ballpark, and so Colangelo's bid got a ton of support. Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the NBA's Chicago Bulls and MLB's Chicago White Sox, was all for it. More importantly, so was Bud Selig. So in March 1995, the inevitable happened, and Colangelo was given his team, to begin play in 1998.

In those days, the Diamondbacks started operating as basically a subsidiary of the Phoenix Suns. A lot of executives and managers took similar roles with the Diamondbacks. Colangelo wanted the team to appeal to the state, so he used the state's name, as opposed to calling the team the Phoenix Diamondbacks. And two years before they opened, the Diamondbacks hired Buck Showalter as their manager. He had been the American League Manager of the year in 1994 for getting the New York Yankees back on track.

The Diamondbacks first took to the diamond in 1998 against the Colorado Rockies, who beat them 9-2. Arizona went 65-97 in their first season, but the ball got rolling right after that. In 1999, the Diamondbacks won their first division title, with over 100 victories, only to lose the NLDS to the New York Mets. They followed that up with a second division title in 2001, and a third in 2002, and... Well, I should really expound a bit more on that 2001 title. See, the 2000 season was a little bit disappointing, and Showalter concluded that year by doing something he seems to do a lot after getting teams on the right track: Getting fired. For 2001, he was replaced by Bob Brenly, a former catcher and coach with the San Francisco Giants. They also set about grabbing two of the greatest pitchers in history to lead their team: Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. At the plate, they had respected slugger Luis Gonzalez. Led by those guys, the Diamondbacks rattled off 92 victories to win their division. In the playoffs, the Diamondbacks had beat the Saint Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves to surprise everyone, winning the Pennant and a trip to the World Series in only their fourth year of existence.

A trip to the World Series that year was usually written off as a forgone conclusion in that it meant a chance to get killed by the Yankees. Not only did the Yankees have superior talent, but they also had superior motivation. The September 11 terrorist attacks had happened that year, delaying a lot of ballgames and also delaying the the Series until November, so they were in a fighty mood. The Diamondbacks were expected to politely bow out, deferring to the Yankees, you know, outta respect. No one ever got them a copy of the script, though, so they managed to reel off victories in the first two games. The Yankees came back into the Series, winning the next three right at Yankee Stadium, and with the momentum, looked to lock up their first World Series title since.... Um.... Since, well, the previous year! When Arizona won game six to take the Fall Classic to a game seven showdown, everyone started thinking they might not have gotten enough credit. It was a matchup of two 20-game winners, Schilling and Roger Clemens. Brenly managed brilliantly, pulling Schilling when he trailed 2-1, playing Miguel Batista to get out Derek Jeter, then playing Randy Johnson, who started the previous night. The Yankees' 2-1 lead held up, though, and in the eighth inning, Yankees manager Joe Torre brought out master closer Mariano Rivera to finish off the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks did manage to even the score, though, before Gonzalez hit a soft single which flew just out of Derek Jeter's reach and won the game. The Arizona Diamondbacks were World Series Champions, and it had taken them only four years. They rightfully get the credit for being the team that broke up the late-90's Yankees dynasty. That World Series is considered a classic, and game seven has been called the best postseason game of the decade.

Now the Diamondbacks had placed themselves among baseball's elite teams. In 2002, they won their third division title. That was the last anyone heard from them in some time, though, because in 2003 they went 84-78 - certainly good, but no one feared them anymore. It was good enough for third place in the NL West. In Arizona's case, it marked the beginning of a downward slope which saw them visit the lowest depths of the National League the following year. In 2004, Randy Johnson pitched a perfect game, but it was the only highlight of a year in which Arizona went 51-111, the league's worst and one of the worst in the Modern Era. Bob Brenly was fired halfway through the season.

Part of the problem was that Colangelo was trying to be George Steinbrenner without actually having enough money to pull it off. The team was financially bleeding in 2004, and Colangelo was forced to resign his role as managing general partner. He had been willing to go into debt to grab top priority free agents. He defended his actions by saying that his biggest need was to immediately establish a fan base, pointing out the other direction the fellow expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays were going in, and saying he expected more money to come in than he was getting.

After 2004, the Diamondbacks hired new manager Wally Backman, whose tenure lasted all of ten days because of a few shady things in his past. And they still didn't learn anything about heavy spending on free agents. Troy Glaus, Russ Ortiz, Javier Vazquez, and Shawn Green all became Diamondbacks, and they also made a verbal agreement with David Wells, who backed out when he was offered a chance to re-sign with his beloved Yankees. That big-time lineup of guns made them chic picks to win their division in 2005, but they went 77-85 instead. At least it was an improvement, and hey, it was also good enough to finish second in the weak and woeful NL West, five games behind the San Diego Padres.

2006 wasn't any better, although standout performances by Orlando Hudson and Brandon Webb helped redeem the team. In 2007, it was decided to shake things up by creating a new identity for the Diamondbacks. The team's color scheme included purple and the traditional Arizona colors of copper and turquoise, but in 2007, it was changed to something called sedona red. Fans mostly hated it. More so, the team's faces also changed around quite a bit, and old fan favorites like Miguel Batista and Luis Gonzalez were given their pink slips. They wanted young legs, arms, and bats, and it worked. The Diamondbacks were outscored over the season, but they still posted the best record in the National League, 90-72. They even beat an up and coming Cubs team in the NLDS, but were quickly swept by the Colorado Rockies in the NLCS.

Expected to build on that successful season, the Diamondbacks started struggling again, and dropped off until they won their division again in 2011, losing to the Milwaukee Brewers in the playoffs. They dropped to third last season.

The Diamondbacks don't have any Hall of Fame players yet, but they did retire their first number, Luis Gonzalez, in 2006. Gonzalez dominates all their batting records at this point, and Randy Johnson owns virtually all their significant pitching records. Johnson was the co-MVP of the 2001 World Series, along with Curt Schilling.

Being the new kids on the block, the Diamondbacks really haven't had a lot of time to develop very much yet. They already changed their colors to a scheme that a lot of fans hate, which is never a good sign. It's easy to see them developing hard rivalries with the nearby Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. The Padres will probably be the top rivals, because the Dodgers are too busy fighting that nasty land war with the San Francisco Giants which will consume them until the end of time.

Young teams don't have a whole lot of moents of aspects with which to define them, but the way the Diamondbacks have been identified so far doesn't bode very well. They're already piling up debt because they understand spending but don't understand the ideas of team chemistry or finding the right players for the right roles. They've also had big financial problems. Their willingness to spend themselves into debt hasn't resulted in anything other than bad records - that 51-111 debacle in 2004 is one of Major League Baseball's all-time worst. Yet, they have a defining moment with their 2001 World Series title, which they won over the mighty Yankees, and which is theirs forever.

I can't recommend siding with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The one time they've shown they know what they're doing was with Buck Showalter as manager. He may have been the only reason for their early consistency, but they way this team looks so far, they might see an occasional great year among many bad ones. And not standout bad, either; inauspicious bad, which means they'll be relegated to the desert for some time.

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Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #17
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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