Hometown Heroes

Major League Baseball began a promotion last month where they are looking for hometown heroes for each franchise. They have identified five players from each franchise which they believe epitomize the best that team has offered in the history of each franchise. This of course has sparked huge amounts of controversy as fans around the country debate each of the players on the ballot. Some nominees make perfect since being on the list such as Babe Ruth for the Yankees or Ted Williams for the Red Sox while others just leave you scratching your head wondering what they were thinking. This is especially the case when you begin to review the lists accumulated for teams who have not been in existence but for a short time. I challenge anyone outside of the Tampa Bay area to name their most valuable player for each of the eight seasons they have been in existence. Looking over the list as a whole you have to wonder how these selections were even made from the hundreds of players who have played for a franchise during their history. According to Major League Baseball, the players were selected based on their contributions to their franchise history including on-field performance, leadership qualities, and character value. Each team was given an opportunity to select the nominees. In some cases the teams deferred to Major League Baseball to make the selections for them. The Arizona Diamondbacks five nominees are: Jay Bell, Luis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre, and Matt Williams.

Jay Bell became an Arizona Diamondback just before the expansion draft in November 1997. He became the spokesperson for the new franchise leading up to the inaugural season. He along with Matt Williams became the team leadership for the new squad and brought veteran presence to an otherwise young and inexperienced team. Jay started the first game in Diamondbacks history as the starting shortstop and played the middle of the infield for Arizona for several years. Bell scored the winning run in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series bringing the Diamondbacks their only world championship. After he retired, Jay shifted from player to coach and is now the bench coach on Bob Melvin’s staff.

Luis Gonzalez has become the face of the Arizona Diamondbacks playing every year of their existence except the inaugural 1998 season. Gonzalez came over in what has become one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. After the 1998 season Arizona was looking to add veteran leadership and make a run at the playoffs. They were in need of an outfielder but were not sure what direction to go. The Detroit Tigers wanted Karim Garcia who had played right field for the Diamondbacks in 1998. They offered journeyman Luis Gonzalez and offered to pay the difference in the two players’ salaries. Arizona agreed but anticipated turning around and trading Gonzalez. Because of his short-term status he was left off the Diamondbacks list of outfielder nominees for the 1999 season. During that year Gonzalez hit .336 driving in 111 runs and hitting 45 doubles and 26 HR. Gonzo’s best year came in 2001 when he won the All-Star home run derby during a season that saw him hit 57 home runs and drive in 142 runs. No run was more important than the one he drove in Game 7 when he hit a blooper over Derek Jeter’s head to win the game and the world championship for Arizona.

Randy Johnson provided immediate legitimacy to the Arizona Diamondbacks when he signed in December 1998. His leadership on the field led the Diamondbacks to the play-offs in just their second year of existence. During the 1999 season he went 17-9 striking out 364 batters. He threw 12 complete games. This performance earned him a Cy Young award in 1999. He would continue that domination winning the Cy Young four consecutive years. His presence on the mound intimidated opponents. In 2001 he led the Diamondbacks to the World Series where he won 3 games for the home team the last coming as a reliever in Game 7. His post season performance in the fall classic earned him a World Series MVP award along with Curt Schilling. His most impressive feat though happened in April 2004 when he threw a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves becoming the first Diamondbacks pitcher to record a no-hitter.

Todd Stottlemyre to many is the most perplexing nominee on this list. To many he is simply a pitcher who signed a large dollar contract and was injury prone but that is selling Todd’s story short. Before the 1999 season owner Jerry Colangelo was collecting a series of big name veterans to make the Diamondbacks a playoff contender. While Randy Johnson would be the staff ace, Arizona needed more than one intimidating pitcher. Todd Stottlemyre had been pitching for St. Louis and Texas and was known as being extremely competitive. He could see the vision that Colangelo was trying to create and signed up. During the 1999 season he developed a torn labrum in his pitching arm that should have required surgery. Surgery would take him off the field for over a year. Instead Stottlemyre wanted to help the team and decided to build the muscles around the shoulder to allow him to keep his team in contention. He became the heart and soul of the 1999 Diamondbacks and through his leadership and example the Diamondbacks won the National League Western Division to face the New York Mets in the play-offs in their second year of existence. Randy Johnson was given the assignment of game 1 of the series but the Mets got to him putting the Diamondbacks in a 0-1 hole in the series. Todd Stottlemyre with only partial use of his shoulder took the ball for game 2 of that series and beat the New York Mets providing the team with momentum going back to New York. His spirit and work ethic were amazing. As intense as he was on the field, his off-field community work was even more amazing. He is still very involved in the community fighting child abuse, abandonment and neglect with Caring for Kids.

Matt Williams became an Arizona Diamondback in December of 1998 shortly after the expansion draft. Williams had played 1997 as a member of the Cleveland Indians and had just competed in the 1997 World Series where the Indians lost to the Florida Marlins. The Indians were loaded and expected to compete for the world championship for several years. Williams though requested a trade to the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks. Not because he didn’t want to win a world championship but because he wanted to be close to his children. His kids lived in Arizona and it was becoming too hard on the children to continually go cross country to see their father so Matt gave up his chance to win a World Series to be closer to home and be the father that his children needed. It is an amazing selfless act and one that would immediately endure you to Williams but he was not just a father, he was one of the hardest working third basemen in the game and became the team leader in the clubhouse making sure that the players all played the game the way it was supposed to be played. He became the cornerstone of the franchise from 1998-2002 and was there to greet Jay Bell at home plate when he scored the winning run in Game 7 of the World Series. Williams was on deck when Gonzalez hit the winning run. After his playing days were over Williams joined the Diamondbacks as part owner in the franchise as an assistant to Jeff Morrad.

These players each have a special place in Diamondbacks history and all have earned their way onto this list. Knowing these stories makes it hard to choose just one to represent the Arizona Diamondbacks but that is exactly what has to happen. So after all the deliberation and soul searching I cast my ballot for Randy Johnson. His performance epitomizes greatness and is the one person that in my mind represents the first eight seasons of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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