Diamondbacks Prepare to Retire Luis Gonzalez Number

In the waning moments of the 2006 regular season, new General Manager Josh Byrnes met for breakfast with outfielder and fan-favorite Luis Gonzalez. The subject was whether the Diamondbacks would pick up the slugger’s option for 2007.

Before the food even arrived Byrnes made it known the team had no intention of bringing him back. Gonzalez who wanted to finish his career in Arizona suggested he would be willing to return at a lesser amount or a diminished role. Byrnes declined stating the team wanted to “go a different direction.”

When the news broke that 2006 would be the last season Luis Gonzalez would wear an Arizona Diamondbacks uniform many of the fans were livid. How could the team treat one of their legends with such disrespect? I don’t believe the team was prepared to deal with the fan’s backlash resulting from this decision.

Gonzalez would sign a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers the next season where he would play the Diamondbacks and show them he could still compete. He also took this opportunity to criticize the organization for their lack of respect to team history and his disdain for the new color scheme.

After that season with the Dodgers, Gonzalez signed a contract to play for the Florida Marlins in 2008. Despite producing at the plate the Marlins decided he did not fit into their youth movement. At the conclusion of that season Gonzalez like a lot of other veterans found that teams were trying to get younger. When the 2009 season began Gonzalez found himself at home rather than in a Major League clubhouse.

Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall reached out to Gonzalez and offered to have him come to work for the team he is synonymous with. Gonzalez accepted and became a special assistant to the President, a title he still holds.

After Gonzalez left in 2006 the fans began to wonder whether the Diamondbacks would retire number 20 to recognize the accomplishments Luis Gonzalez made to the team and the community. In response Hall stated the Diamondbacks policy would be that no player’s number would be retired unless they were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

While Gonzalez had an outstanding career very few believe he will be inducted to Cooperstown. Looking over the players who have worn an Arizona Diamondbacks uniform only one comes to mind that will meet the policy set forth, that being Randy Johnson.

When the Arizona Diamondbacks unveiled the retired number 42 above the Arizona Baseball Club in right field, it was obvious they were preparing an area of the stadium to display retired jersey numbers.

During that time rumors began to surface that the team was preparing to retire number 20 for Luis Gonzalez. The Diamondbacks have now confirmed this is not a rumor but a fact. In a pre-game ceremony on August 7, 2010 Luis Gonzalez will become the first Diamondbacks player to have his number retired in franchise history.

I find myself conflicted about this. On the one hand I recognize the value Gonzalez brought not only to the field but also to the community. He is a first-class guy who gives tirelessly to the team and to the valley. He is a friendly and genuine person and one I respect and admire. Given these qualities I have no problem with the Diamondbacks retiring his number. I do have a problem with the timing.

The Diamondbacks established a policy that no number would be retired without the player being in the Hall of Fame yet the first player they choose to recognize is one who will likely never be in the Hall of Fame. The distinction of being the first player to have his number retired should go to Randy Johnson.

Johnson is a lock to be enshrined in Cooperstown and will be a first-ballot election. He is the most dominating left-hander to ever play the game and deserves to be the first Diamondback to be honored with his number retired.

I struggle with the idea that the Diamondbacks have established a policy then create an exception before the rule is even enacted. Where do you draw the line in evaluating the worthiness of a player’s number to be retired?

What about Jay Bell who scored the winning run in the World Series, won $1 million for a fan by hitting a grand slam, and was the first free agent signed by the team prior to the 1998 season? Or how about Matt Williams who made the franchise legitimate and chose family over baseball asking to be traded to Arizona so he could be closer to his children and was the leader of the team from 1998-2003? Neither Bell nor Williams will likely be inducted into the Hall of Fame but both were significant figures in Diamondbacks history so far.

By allowing Gonzalez to be the first to have his number retired the Diamondbacks open themselves up to criticism. Now they need not only a policy for retiring numbers but exception criteria that warrants consideration.

I’ll be in attendance on August 7 when Luis Gonzalez is immortalized and number 20 will hang in honor at Chase Field but my thoughts will be with Randy Johnson and how he deserved to have this honor first. I hope the Diamondbacks reach out to Johnson and invite him to be part of this ceremony. He at least deserves to be a part of this in some capacity.


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