Author’s Note: This is my first post in my new position at Rant Sports covering the Arizona Diamondbacks. I’m looking forward to providing some great coverage of this team as they defend their 2011 NL West title, and it is my hope that this site can become a great go-to resource for news on baseball in the Valley.
The Major League Baseball off-season lends itself to a lot of hot topics, especially in the run-up to spring training when all the free agent signings from the winter are finalized, but at dead points, writers often succumb to the urge to write puff pieces. These pieces can include historical reflections, prospect profiles (which we will do as well before Opening Day on Friday) and various other articles, but one of the most trusted is the Mount Rushmore piece.
In those type of pieces, writers will select the four most important figures in their team’s history, and oftentimes there is plenty of debate as to whether or not X-person belongs as a chiseled face on the granite mountain monument to a team’s past. Unfortunately for Arizona Diamondbacks fans, their team history only spans 15 seasons, and so the pool of players to choose from is limited.
Nonetheless, Athlon Sports did their best to come up with a well-rounded Rushmore for the Diamondbacks in their annual baseball preview issue, and their selections weren’t exactly ground-shaking. They ended up choosing outfielders Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez, as well as pitchers Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb. None of those choices are egregiously bad, but there were a few other potential candidates that they overlooked.
OF Justin Upton – 2006-Present
Upton is still one of the league’s youngest stars, but he has made a significant impact in Phoenix during his time with the club. He had 26 HR, 86 RBI, and 20 SB’s in 2010, and last year he had an even better year, slugging 31 homers, knocking in 88 runs, and stealing 21 bases. He has also been elected to the All-Star Game twice, and finished fourth in MVP voting last year.
He is also a dynamo in the field with his glove, and along with Chris Young and Gold Glover Gerraldo Parra, he helps make up one of the deepest defensive outfields in all of baseball. He will be a threat to win more MVP awards as time wears on, and he is looking to be a contributor to many more years of success for the D’Backs in the desert.
3B Matt Williams – 1998-2003
Williams was an original Diamondback, and he drew a lot of fans back in the days when the downtown ballpark was still known affectionately as the BOB. He may have missed a lot of games late in his career as his body deteriorated, but he did help lead the Diamondbacks to their World Series championship in 2001, and his 1999 season is still arguably the best in the history of the franchise.
Finishing third in MVP voting that year, as well as getting elected to the All-Star Game, Williams slugged 35 home runs and blew away his previous career high in RBI by collecting 142 of them that year. His season helped the D’Backs make it to the playoffs in only their second year of existence, and even though they were knocked out in the first round that year by the Mets, it did set the groundwork that would lead them to a title two years later.
1B Mark Grace – 2001-2003
Speaking of veterans helping the Diamondbacks late in their careers, perhaps no player better embodies that spirit than Grace. A long-time fixture on the north side of Chicago with the Cubs, Grace had more hits than any other player during the 1990’s, but he saved his coup de grace (no pun intended) for the desert of Arizona, helping the Diamondbacks to the championship in 2001.
Grace had 15 HR and 78 RBI during that magical season, and then sported an OBP of nearly .400 during the World Series against the New York Yankees. When you take that into account, as well as his status as one of the team’s broadcaster for much of his post-baseball career, you can easily see the impact that he has had on this franchise.
Dan Haren – 2008-2010
Haren may not have been in the Valley long, but during his brief stay in Arizona, he had a huge impact on the team’s fortunes. Acquired after the 2007 playoff run, Haren put up some awesome numbers for the Diamondbacks. In 2008, he put up a 3.33 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP, striking out 206 batters in the process, as well as grabbing an All-Star berth.
He had an even better 2009 season, leading the league in WHIP with an even 1.00, as well as pitching over 229 innings for the D’Backs. He struck out 223 batters and racked up a 3.13 ERA as well. To cap everything off, he hit his first career home run and knocked in 10 runs at the plate.
Curt Schilling – 2000-2003
Schilling is well known among baseball fans because of his obsession with Lou Gehrig, as well as his helping the Boston Red Sox to their first World Championship in 86 years in 2004. His time in the desert, however, was just as good, as he won co-MVP honors of the 2001 Fall Classic with Randy Johnson and helped win a crucial Game 6 in Phoenix to extend that series.
He went 22-6 in his first full season in Arizona in 2001, and finished second in Cy Young voting. Shockingly, he had an even better season in 2002, going 23-7, finishing runner-up again for the Cy Young, and striking out 316 batters. He also had a sub-1.00 WHIP despite pitching 259.1 innings that year. His iron horse attitude and penchant for coming up big in key moments makes him a reasonably strong candidate to be chiseled into the granite of Arizona’s Mount Rushmore.
Jose Valverde – 2003-2007
Papa Grande may have only had a five year career in the desert, but during his time in Arizona, he made a huge impact with fans and was a favorite character in the area. His biggest contribution to the team was the 2007 season, where he led MLB with 47 saves, finished sixth in Cy Young voting, and made his first career All-Star team.
He had decent seasons in his other years in town, including posting a ridiculous 12.7 SO/9 innings in both 2003 and 2006. He has continued to find success in Detroit after leaving the Valley, but his charisma and great 2007 season will be remembered by Diamondbacks fans for a long time.