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D-backs' title club built with plan in mind

D-backs' title club built with plan in mind

D-backs' title club built with plan in mind
PHOENIX -- In the early days, when then-general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. and his cohorts began building the Arizona Diamondbacks, they had no idea they'd be able to put together a World Series championship club so quickly.

"It was assembled in just about every way a team could be assembled," Garagiola Jr. told MLB.com recently. "It was -- I don't know how to describe it -- it was a multifaceted work, I guess."

What began as an expansion team in 1998 emerged into a club that defeated the vaunted Yankees in a thrilling seven-game 2001 World Series only three years later. The Yankees had won four of the previous five Fall Classics with a core of excellent players. The D-backs were a collection of players put together by Garagiola and managing general partner Jerry Colangelo for that time and space through key free-agent signings and trades.

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"We found ourselves in 1999 competing," Garagiola recalled. "A big driver for Jerry was this: He said, 'Look, one thing about sports is that you never know when the window is going to open, and you never know how long it's going to stay open. So if you have a chance to win, you don't hold back. You go for it.'"

In 2001, that window was wide open and the D-backs jumped through it.

The D-backs will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of that championship at Chase Field this weekend when the Padres are in town. The actual reunion itself is on Saturday. Garagiola, Major League Baseball's discipline czar and based in Phoenix, said he expects to be at the ballpark where Luis Gonzalez's dink base hit over Derek Jeter won the only major professional sports championship in Arizona history.

Colangelo is slated to throw out the first pitch.

In retrospect, what made the club were the acquisitions of Randy Johnson and Gonzalez -- coming 18 days apart in 1998 -- and Curt Schilling less than two years later. Gonzo was acquired in a trade with the Tigers on Dec. 28, 1998, for Karim Garcia in a swap of outfielders. He returned to the organization last year as an advisor to club president Derrick Hall and is perhaps the D-backs' top ambassador to the community.


"We found ourselves in 1999 competing. A big driver for Jerry was this: He said, 'Look, one thing about sports is that you never know when the window is going to open, and you never know how long it's going to stay open. So if you have a chance to win, you don't hold back. You go for it.'"

-- Joe Garagiola Jr., on Jerry Colangelo

Johnson was signed as a free agent to a five-year, $70 million contract. Garagiola then picked up Schilling in a July 26, 2000, deal that sent four players to the Phillies, including Travis Lee and Omar Daal.

Schilling and Johnson were 43-12 during the 2001 regular season and were named co-MVPs of the World Series. Johnson pitched the ninth inning of Game 7 in relief a day after he started and won Game 6. He earned the victory in the finale after the D-backs came back against Mariano Rivera from a 2-1 deficit capped by Gonzo's walk-off hit for a 3-2 win.

Johnson had been traded from the Mariners to the Astros late in the 1998 season and pitched in that postseason for Houston in a losing National League Division Series to the Padres. A Phoenix resident, Johnson surprised many by signing with the D-backs, who were 65-97 in their expansion season. In 1999, with Johnson, Arizona was 100-62 and lost to the Mets in the NLDS.

"The fact that we were starting to build so quickly was one of the things that was so attractive to Randy," Garagiola said. "If you remember the press conference, he must have been asked 10 times if the reason he signed with the D-backs was because he lived in Phoenix.

"Finally, he got pretty exasperated and said, 'Don't you think I could have afforded to buy a house anywhere I'd gone? That's not it. I see what they are doing here. They want to win. They're putting some people in place who know how to win. And I want to be a part of that. That's why I signed here.'"

Unlike the Yankees with Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, Andy Pettitte, Rivera and Roger Clemens, the D-backs put together a bevy of veteran players who knew how to win, but certainly didn't have the experience. Among the position players, only third baseman Matt Williams (1989 Giants, '97 Indians) and Steve Finley ('98 Padres) had even played in a World Series. Williams lost in four games to the A's in '89 and seven to the Marlins in '97. Finley's Padres were swept by a Yankees team that set a record by winning 125 regular-season and playoff games in '98.

Among the pitchers, Schilling played for the 1993 Phillies, who lost to the Blue Jays in six games, and Brian Anderson was also on the '97 Indians.

Williams, now the D-backs' third-base coach and a limited partner, is a charter D-backs, having been obtained from the Indians in a Dec. 1, 1997, trade for Travis Fryman and Tom Martin. Finley was signed as a free agent on Dec. 18, 1998, fresh off that terrific San Diego season.

Then you add to the starting lineup first baseman Mark Grace, a current TV color analyst working for the club and signed as a free agent on Dec. 8, 2000; second baseman Jay Bell, signed as free agent on Nov. 17, 1997; right fielder Reggie Sanders, signed as a free agent on Jan. 11, 2001; and utility infielder Craig Counsell, released by the Dodgers on March 15, 2000, and signed as a free agent five days later.

Shortstop Tony Womack was acquired in a Feb. 25, 1999, three-player trade with the Pirates. Closer Byung-Hyun Kim was signed as an amateur free agent out of Korea. Left-handed hitter Erubiel Durazo was purchased from the Monterrey club in the Mexican League. Catcher Damian Miller and Anderson were original D-backs, selected in the Expansion Draft.

That team was a real hodgepodge, and as Garagiola noted, certainly "was assembled in just about every way a team could be assembled."

"Tony Womack was always one of the unsung heroes of that team," Garagiola said about the player whose ninth-inning double in Game 7 knocked in the tying run in the World Series. "He played right field, he played shortstop. You heard that he didn't bunt enough, that his on-base percentage was low. He was another player who had had individual success, but had never really experienced it on a team level.

"That was a common theme of that team. These were veteran guys, All-Stars, Cy Youngs and whatnot who had not experienced a lot of team success. They were all hungry for that. They realized that it was a very special group of guys who had a chance to go a long way."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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