As Sam Sees It
As the baseball season heads into the final week of the season, one can’t help being tempted to speculate on the future of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The team fell from being World Series Champions in 2001 to National League Western Division Champions in 2002 to the worst record in baseball and in franchise history in 2004. From that scenario the future would appear to be pretty gloomy. It doesn’t have to be. There are some reasons to hope for a quick turn in the right direction.
The first season of their existence, the Diamondbacks finished at the bottom of their division and established a record of futility that stood until this star-crossed season. The next season (1999) the team won the National League Western Division. What more proof could one ask that such a drastic improvement in record is possible? Experience will tell you that it is.
The key to winning the division in 1999 was the acquisition of one of the best pitchers in baseball, one Randy Johnson. The team rode the “Big Unit” into the play-offs where they were eliminated by the New York Mets.
In 2000, the Diamondbacks made the move that set the stage for their 2001 World Championship. They acquired another of the greatest pitchers in the game today, one Curt Schilling. Unfortunately, Schilling was still recovering from arm problems and did not provide the spark that was expected. He also did not get the support he expected and should have gotten. The team folded at the end of the season and finished out of the playoffs.
The Schilling deal paid off in spades in 2001. Arizona stormed through the regular season on the strong arms of the two best pitchers in the game. Schilling and Johnson were as good a pitching combination as the game has ever seen. Of course, career years by Luis Gonzalez and several of his teammates were also necessary ingredients. Even the timely contributions of such players as journeyman pitcher Robert Ellis were of paramount importance in keeping the dream season going well.
The dismantling of the Diamondbacks began almost immediately after the Diamondbacks were hit with injuries at the end of the 2002 season. Gonzalez and Tony Womack were lost for the playoffs. Slugging first baseman Erubriel Durazo got into the team’s doghouse and was traded for considerably less than his real value. He is an important reason for the Oakland Athletics success this season.
At the end of an injury plagued 2003 season, the Diamondbacks made two major trades that both backfired. Schilling was thought expendable and traded to Boston in a deal that rivaled the Durazo deal for its one-sidedness in favor of Boston. That left the team with only one ace and a very promising young pitcher (Brandon Webb) without his role model. Regardless of what else happened, the Diamondbacks without Schilling were unlikely contenders indeed.
A host of popular players were traded for Milwaukee Brewer slugging first baseman Richie Sexton. Sexton healthy would have improved the team’s offense considerably. Unfortunately, Sexton didn’t stay healthy for long and has been on the disabled list for most of the season.
It all still sounds like gloom, doesn’t it? It isn’t. The Diamondbacks have the nucleus of a pretty good team of position players. That is true whether Sexton signs again or superb outfielder and free agent to be Steve Finley returns. Finley is on his way to leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to postseason glory. Incidentally, Schilling is doing the same with Boston and Womack is starring with the St. Louis Cardinals who are definitely bound for the post season.
Webb has the tools to be a dominant pitcher. After that, it is up to the management to obtain the arms. Pitching is still the name of the game, something we had better have learned from the disastrous Schilling trade (and the brilliant one that brought him here in the first place).
The Diamondbacks should be better next year. How much better, time will tell.
Local Athletes Update
Thanks to the readers who have contacted me about Winslow High School athletes playing at the next level.
In addition to those named in that column, I have learned that Adam Reeves, a standout on last season’s Bulldogs football team is playing at Mesa Community College. With Reeves at Mesa is an earlier WHS graduate, Herschel Clark. Brandon Guzman, WHS class of 2003, is playing at Scottsdale Community College.
There are other former Bulldogs playing at the college or junior college level. Winslow is a town noted for good athletes. As far back as the 1930’s such WHS graduates as Boyd Shumway (ASU) and Bish Wickham (UofA) were playing college basketball.
Anthony “AC” Carter is making his presence felt at New Mexico. John Sullivan is happy with his situation at Haskell University, which upset the 19th ranked NAIA team in the nation two weeks ago. Reeves and Clark are part of a very good Mesa CC team.
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