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Desert Dogs: The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, an Ending of a Dynasty and a Championship Drought…

Celebrating the 2001 World Series.

Celebrating the 2001 World Series.

2001 was an interesting year for Major League Baseball. The New York Yankees where coming off of their 4th title in 5 seasons. The top draft pick was a guy by the name of Joe Mauer, who would become famous later. Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki would go on to win Rookie of the Year honors respectively. Barry Bonds won his fourth of seven MVP’s. It was also the year that an upstart team from Arizona would win the World Series and no team in Arizona Sports has achieved anything like it since. The Diamondbacks remain the only team professional team in Arizona with a title in one of the major sports.

The Diamondbacks entered a league that was rapidly changing and had to play a team for a championship that was at its peak of a dynasty. However, following that season Arizona has not eclipsed much to highlight since. Being an Arizona resident, it is hard to distinguish if their ever will be a team in Arizona sports that will ever be replaceable. However, it is true that the team that arrived that October night for a Game 7 in BankOne Ballpark (now known as Chase Field since 2005) will be one that will be remembered forever. With two Hall of Famers and a hit a that changed that scope of the game forever, this team has an impact on baseball history. The question really is, what happened following it.


1998-2000

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The 1990s where not good to baseball in retrospect. They opened with a cheating scandal that caused Pete Rose a shot at Cooperstown. It is also the only decade where a World Series was not played, which took place in 1994. It also opened the door to the greatest dynasty by one team ever between the 1996 and 1999 seasons where the Yankees won 3 World Series. However, in the Southwest, a region that had welcomed the Colorado Rockies in 1993, there was a storm brewing to bring a team to the home of Spring Training in Arizona. Phoenix already had a team in the NFL, NBA, and NHL. However, Major League Baseball was hungry to put a team in Arizona due to the state’s craving for baseball. Per discussions with the city, Phoenix was finally awarded the chance at a franchise in 1995. The team was called the Diamondbacks after the rattlesnake species that occupies the deserts that surround Phoenix. The team began play in 1998 as a member of the National League and in the same division as the Colorado Rockies who were their opening opponents that season.

The opening season for the D-backs was a dismal as expected with most new teams. 65 wins and no All-Stars. However, 1999 began the turnaround. With acquisitions like “The Big Unit” and Luis Gonzalez, the team seemed to have found success. The 1999 season brought much better vibes. The 100 win team made it to the playoffs in only its second season and won the division. They however fell to the Mets in the Division Series. Randy Johnson took home the Cy Young award. Johnson became the third pitcher in Major League history to win the award in both the National and American League. Johnson also won in 2000 but the Diamondbacks did not make the playoffs at all and fell to just above .500.


Buck Showalter, the first manager of the ballclub from 1998-2000.

Buck Showalter, the first manager of the ballclub from 1998-2000.

2000 was the early planting of what was going to be a cinderella story in the making. The Diamondbacks collected an additional ace to backup Randy Johnson. In the off-season, veteran starter Curt Schilling left his content life in Philadelphia after being traded to Arizona. The goal that the Diamondbacks had was to build a team to win the NL Pennant. A feet that was accomplished by the Florida Marlins several years earlier as they won the World Series over the Cleveland Indians in a fashion that no-one ever believed was possible. Schilling wanted to win and win badly. His 1993 pennant run was a bit of a roller-coaster. He led the Phillies over the Braves but lost the World Series that year to a Joe Carter walk-off in Toronto. Schilling finished in the top 5 in ERA, Strikeouts and Innings pitched behind his counterpart Randy Johnson that season. The stage was set, the Diamondbacks had the pieces, now they just needed to launch themselves ahead of everyone else in the game.

The Roster

Luis Gonzalez (Left), Tony Womack (Center), and Craig Counsell (Right)

Luis Gonzalez (Left), Tony Womack (Center), and Craig Counsell (Right)

Unlike most Major League Rosters, outside of their three all-stars the Diamondbacks did not really have any names to write home about. The fun-loving Tony Womack was a bright spot for the team as he was an All-Star in 1997 and led the league in stolen bases in 1998. Womack’s skills translated all over the field. He had the speed of an out-fielder and the glove of a shortstop which is why he played in both positions during his tenure in Arizona. In his first season in Arizona he led the league again in stolen bases with 72 which is still a Diamondbacks single season record. In the outfield was David Dellucci of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Delluci played both Football and Baseball in college at the University of Mississippi. Dellucci was selected by the team in 1998 in the expansion draft and remained with the Diamondbacks until 2003. Dellucci suffered from a degenerative bones disease called Kienböck's disease which affected his left wrist. Dellucci was able to participate in Spring Training in 2000 but was limited due to recovery. Amongst the veterans on the team was Jay Bell. A two-time All-Star and winner of a silver slugger in 1993. Bell’s crowing achievement was that he ended Ozzie Smith’s streak of 13 consecutive Gold Gloves. Bell was moved to second base in 1998 and the position stuck as he was able to make key plays from the position.

The Diamondbacks won with guys who had extreme talent but often moved positions. It seemed like a team that was built together by fate rather than talent at one position. The Baseball God’s provided and the talent that the team delivered was nothing short of spectatcular. The roster’s bright spot was not at all pitching however despite common misconception. A player that would become special later was the team’s bright spot. Luis Gonzalez, who’s jersey can be seen literally all over the state of Arizona, was something special. Gonzalez was a veteran and was 33 by the time he arrived in Arizona to assist the Diamondbacks in their championship quest. He had played twice with the Astros, been traded to the Cubs and was a free-agent when he signed with Detroit in 1998. Gonzalez appeared in 5 All-Star Games with the Diamondbacks and was the club’s best hitter batting above .300 3 times. However, in 2001, the Diamondbacks where not even favored to get close to winning a World Series. Spring Training would say differently.


2001: April to June

Randy Johnson (Left) and Curt Schilling (Right)

Randy Johnson (Left) and Curt Schilling (Right)

In the film Moneyball (2011), Billy Beane, portrayed by Brad Pitt, notes “how can you not be romantic about baseball?” Well, he is not wrong. 2001 was a season where the Yankees where once again favored to win it all after having a Hall-of-Fame Roster that would make any team tremble. The Diamondbacks had something occur in Spring Training that was a bit odd that silenced everyone. Randy Johnson threw a routine fastball and killed a dove mid-air (video is attached here). It seemed like an omen that the team was destined for something great or disastrous. Well April was a telling sign that it was not going well. The team finished .500 at home and won 5 of its road games of 9. The two best pitchers on the team remained in good standing. Schilling was 3-0 and Johnson was 3-3. The tough schedule was something to contend with. Having played a tough Dodger team to open and then the Cardinals was a struggle that was met with a winning streak and then 4 straight losses.

May was a bit of a reverse with a road record that was one of the best ever in MLB history. 13-6 while struggling at home. Schilling lit it up finishing the month with an 8-1 record. The team had two win streaks of 5 and 6 to close out May. They also played a game against the Giants which took 18 innings to decide 1-0. June was the team’s best month during the entire season. They finished with 12 wins at home and 6 on the road, losing 9 games the whole month which was filled with one game where they got shut-out by the Astros and 1 that went into extra innings. What made May special was the pitching by Byung-hyun Kim, the Korean prospect who had 113 Strikeouts in 98 innings as a closer that season. Kim’s ERA was something else entirely but he was still young and replaced someone that the Diamondbacks had found value in. Kim came in off the bench in 2001 and was a gem that the Diamondbacks kept hidden during the 1999 and 2000 seasons as he was still developing. Kim closed out 78 games in 2001 which was the most by anyone on the team while Schilling and Johnson started 35 games each.


Divisional Crown and the Playoffs

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The Diamondbacks came very close to the Giants for first place. They inched the Giants out by 2 games. The team had won its second division title surpassing what was then one of the greatest San Francisco Giants teams ever featuring Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds. The Diamondbacks journey was not finished however as Johnson and Schilling had been in playoff situations before and the rest of the team was mostly a bit green to it. Johnson was known for upping his pitching innings in the playoffs as he did in Seattle almost to the point of exhaustion. Johnson had never pitched in a World Series however like Schilling who had come close previously. Gonzalez was the heart of the lineup as the left-fielder finished the season with a .325 batting average and 57 home runs. Gonzalez did something else that was special as well. He played in every single game that season. All 162 which is something that is very rare even today with load management and injuries. He scored 128 runs that season which was the most of his career and also appeared at the plate 728 times which was also a career high. These stats earned him a Silver Slugger and a finish for 3rd in MVP voting.

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Entering the playoffs, the D-backs faced the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a rough series for hitting as the Diamondbacks where not blowing the Cardinals out like they did to other teams in the National League. Curt Schilling was the bright spot, with two wins. The youthful lineup of the Cardinals helped secure a much needed contest. However, Game 5 ended in spectacular fashion due to Tony Womack hitting a game winning single to left field giving the Diamondbacks a victory and allowing them to move on their first ever NLCS. The Cardinals would become a great team later on, but they needed to earn that spot, this was the Diamondbacks time to shine.

The next round belonged to a team that was a bit of a thorn in the side of the National League. The Atlanta Braves are to this day, the most dominant regular season team in recent history. They where not to be messed with and their roster speaks for itself. However, they where known for coming up short due to poor managment. The Braves stunk it up with 7 errors in the series. With the exception of Game 2, the series was dominated by Arizona. However, Atlanta did keep it interesting statistically. They had 35 hits to Arizona’s 40. However, they could not place the runners in scoring position to finish the series off. As he has done all season, Kim stepped in and closed the series off with two scoreless innings. The Diamondbacks were headed to the World Series.


In a year that seemed reminiscent with omens and odd occurrences, the Diamondbacks found themselves at the pinnacle of baseball history. The team had accomplished something that no one had thought possible, especially in the infancy of the franchise. They would be the second team since the Florida Marlins in 1997 to win a World Series within the first five years of coming into the league. The problem was the one that the Padres, Mets, and Braves had dealt with in the World Series. The New York Yankees. A team that historically is the best in all of American Sports. They were becoming a powerhouse yet again. Behind the names of future Hall-of-Famers and of course a pitching core that could only be defined as legendary, the Yankees has cruised to 4 World Series titles. Following 9/11 the Yankees almost seemed destined to bring the Commissioner’s Trophy back to the Bronx.

The Diamondbacks where provided home-field advantage to begin the series. The Diamondbacks where initially picked to lose the series in 5 games. The Yankees where heavily favored due to the Core 4 of Jeter, Petite, Posada, and Rivera who had led the Yankees to all of the World Series in the previous decade. What the Yankees didn’t expect was the dominance of Curt Schilling. Schilling held the Yankees to 1 run and with the help of two relievers, the score stayed that way. The Diamondbacks scored 9 runs including back to back 4 run innings in the 3rd and 4th. New York lost due to errors more than anything. 2 errors that cost them big. Game 2 was not much different. The Yankees got shut out 4-0. Randy Johnson proved his worth by pitching a perfect game. This was as pleasant as it would get for the Diamondbacks early on as the Yankees were never usually the underdog in any series they played in. However, this time they where. Going down 2-0, they were on their way back to the Bronx.

In the 41 times the Yankees have played the Bronx is somewhere special. The Yankees hardly ever lose there. Well, this World Series they didn’t disappoint. The Yankees started Roger “The Rocket” Clemens in Game 3 who gave up 3 hits and the Diamondbacks had 3 errors to capsize worse. Game 4 saw the arrival of Derek Jeter as “Mr. November” as he walked off of Kim who has been solid all year. After a performance by Curt Schilling that kept the Diamondbacks alive it seemed like the Yankees were coming back yet again. Game 5 ended up on an Alfonso Soriano single for the game winning RBI. It just seemed like the series was slipping away. The title that Johnson and Schilling had sought after was once again in jeopardy because of something else called fate.


The Manager

Bob Brenly

Bob Brenly

Bob Brenly was a journeyman in the Major Leagues just like most of his team. Brenly didn't play in the Majors until he was 27 years old. He started as a catcher for the Giants for 7 seasons and was an All-Star in 1984. He also had one of the highest fielding percentages in Major League history with a .995. By 1989, Brenly was traded to the Blue Jays but this did not last long and soon he was dumped back to the Giants before retiring in 1989. His career was over but he wanted to stay in the game.

Brenly served as a coach for the Giants soon afterwards and remained their until 1996 when he soon became interested in broadcasting. Brenly seemed like he would never coach again but then the Diamondbacks came calling after Buck Showalter was laid off by the Diamondbacks despite successful seasons in Arizona. Brenly was voted to be the next leader of the team. Like many coaches who lead a ballclub to a championship in their first season, Brenly was given very little credit for assembling the team. However, he did have a knack for motivating his players. He was considered a bit hard-nosed and hungry to win. Guys like Johnson and Schilling liked Brenly’s approach. Brenly proved it all along that the pieces where there but it was up to the team to reach the mountaintop of baseball on their own. 2001 would be Brenly’s defining career moment as a manager as following 2001 it seemed to be a bit a of pitfall for him and the team.


Game 6-7

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If games 3-5 did not happen, it would have seemed like Arizona was a clear favorite because Game 6 was nothing short of disappointing if you where a Yankees fan. Andy Petite started the game and was gone within 3 innings. After an 8 run 3rd that ended with Petite being relieved and then Jay Witasick allowed four straight singles. The Yankees offense didn't score until the sixth but by then the score was already 15-2. No chance for a miracle comeback it seemed like. Arizona had 22 hits and 0 errors. Arizona was now on the pinnacle of Major League History and had one game left to go before it was all going to be over. Randy Johnson started Game 6 the night before and then played reliever in Game 7. Johnson’s counterpart was Roger Clemens, who made history that night as the oldest pitcher to ever start a Game 7 at 39-years old. It was the kind of matchup that you waited all year for. A pitching duel that would feature the two best pitchers in baseball versus a bullpen that was nothing short of spectacular all year long. The duel lasted 6 innings before the Diamondbacks scored a run. The downfall of the Yankees would come in the form of errors from Clemens, Mariano Rivera and Second Baseman Alfonso Soriano who had 4 in the playoffs. Soriano though also had a home-run in the contest which kept the Yankees hopes alive. Clemens retired after six and then the ball was handed to Mike Stanton to finished the inning. Stanton played it perfect only to be relieved by Mariano Rivera. The greatest closer ever has a stat that would blow the minds of any statistician or baseball fan. More people have walked on the moon than men who have scored against Mariano in the postseason. Rivera’s role was one of intimidation. He had closed out a series before but the Yankees had not been in this position ever in this era. Mariano had to do it clean.

The Yankees had tied the Game in the 7th and then taken the lead in the eighth. All they had to do was maintain the lead and they would win their 5th championship in 6 years. It all started with a single to centerfield from Mark Grace. Grace was replaced by David Dellucci who had been a clutch factor all year long for the Diamondbacks. Dellucci ran on a bunt attempt by catcher Damian Miller who arrived safely at first after Dellucci did his best to thwart a double-play. Miller remained the only runner at first but was relieved by Midre Cummings who was sent in as a pinch-runner. Mariano proceeded to load the bases on walks and some rather fancy plays by the Diamondbacks who now had the dream of a lifetime sitting just 90 feet away at third. Stepping up to bat was Luis Gonzalez. Gonzalez was hitting .259 in the series and 4 RBI’s already. Gonzalez took the first pitch, called strike and the count was 0-1. On the next pitch Gonzalez did as he had been doing all season and made contact providing a slow floater right past Shortstop Derek Jeter. The game was over, the series was over and the world was shocked. The might Yankees had been dethroned as champions of baseball. This would be Mariano Rivera’s only loss in the postseason in his career.

From their, the talk began of a dynasty. The team had appeared like the Miracle Mets of 1969 and come from nowhere to win it all. However, the 2001 World Series would be the beginning of the end for the Yankees dynasty and for the success of the Arizona Diamondbacks.


2001 would be the last time an Arizona Professional Sports Franchise would win a championship. The Phoenix Suns are the closest team to do it since. The dominos began to fall and as teams do the team that had won it all began to split apart. First, All-Star Curt Schilling left after the Boston Red Sox, another Yankees foe, gave him the opportunity to defeat the Yankees once again. In 2004, with the help of Schilling, and a bloody sock, the Red Sox broke the curse of the Bambino. Schilling played his last inning in 2007 and retired soon afterwards. Randy Johnson remained with the club until 2004 when during the Winter Meetings he was signed by the Yankees. Johnson was elected as an All-Star two more times before he departed from Arizona. Despite his time playing in Montreal, Seattle and New York, Johnson’s career is most recognized when he played in Arizona. Johnson won his last Cy Young in 2002 after being the most dominant pitcher in the game between 1999-2002 winning the award 4 years in a row. Johnson finally retired in 2009 with the Giants in 2009 never tasting the sweet satisfaction of victory that he had anywhere else. He was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015 as a First Ballot Member. Luis Gonzalez remained in the spotlight becoming an All-Star in 2002,2003 and 2005. Gonzalez reached the 2000 hit milestone in 2004 but his season ended with Tommy John surgery that August. The Diamondbacks did not reach the playoffs either. Gonzalez reached his boiling point in 2006 after a newspaper article noted him as being one of those that had used performance-enhancing substances. Gonzalez denies that this ever happened and Gonzalez was never proven guilty. The Diamondbacks decided not to resign him the following season and he left for Los Angeles to play for the Dodgers. Gonzalez retired in 2008 with the Florida Marlins. His number with the Diamondbacks is retired as of 2010.

As for the team, the Diamondbacks have not played in a World Series since and have won the Division in 2007 and 2011. However, their hasn’t been a big success in any category. They signed Paul Goldschmidt who became the team’s leading hitter for several seasons but he was dealt to the Cardinals. The Diamondbacks are not looking like World Series contenders frankly because the other teams in their division are potentially contenders. The Dodgers, Padres, and Giants all are serious contenders while the Diamondbacks sit at the bottom of the charts currently. That 2001 season was a special one and most likely one that we won't see in Arizona for a long time coming.


World Series: Games 1-5

"Mr. November", Derek Jeter.

"Mr. November", Derek Jeter.

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