A long time coming
Chance for a championship a rare treat for D'backs, Arizona
Updated: Monday October 22, 2001 4:55 PM
By David Vecsey, CNNSI.com
ATLANTA -- In their fourth season, the Diamondbacks are headed to the World Series. That's the fastest for any baseball expansion team.
"Overnight" success? On Jupiter, maybe.
Four seasons? Mark Grace has had blisters last longer than four seasons during his 13-year career ... but he's never been to the Series. Mike Morgan has played for every team except the Rolando Paulino Baby Bombers in his 23-year odyssey ... and he's never been to the Series. Over his 13 seasons, Randy Johnson has gone from a freakshow to the most dominant lefty since Sandy Koufax ... and he's never been to the Series. And Luis Gonzalez, who hit more than a quarter of his 221 home runs in this, his 11th season, also has never been there.
"I haven't been to a world series in Little League, Babe Ruth, high school or anything," said Johnson, whose postseason record was legitimately sketchy before his victories in Games 1 and 5. "It has been a dream of mine to get to the World Series, to get there and see what it's like."
So was that sentiment repeated by Grace, Gonzalez and Bell.
"How can you not be happy for a guy like Mike Morgan, 53 years in the big leagues and finally going to the Series," joked Grace, a teammate of Morgan's in that postseason wasteland on the north side of Chicago. "We didn't talk about it much until it was all over and then I just hugged him and said, 'We're finally going.'
"Fourteen years in this game and I'm finally going to the World Series. I'm still kind of stunned that it's actually happened."
Grace said he didn't expect much in the way of Cubs fans rooting for him in the way Bruins fans lived vicariously through Ray Bourque's long-awaited Stanley Cup championship last spring. "The guys were giving me a lot of grief when the Cubs were in first place," he said. "I remember Todd Stottlemyre giving me crap about how all it took was me leaving for the Cubs to get good.
"And, you know, I was pulling for the Cubs and hoping they would win the division. But you know what? They didn't and we did and now we're going to the World Series. There were many days when I sat back and wondered if this would ever happen."
It took Grace leaving the only team he had known to take a chance on a fourth-year club that was putting together a lot of different pieces that didn't quite seem to go with each other under a broadcaster-turned-manager with zero games of experience.
"In spring training we were the Ageless Team," said Bell. "Everybody felt we were too old. But what we had were a lot of older guys who played young. I wouldn't call us 'misfits', but we were a collection of players who were known for playing other places. We were not necessarily the best hitters and not necessarily the best pitchers, but we were guys who knew how to play the game."
As it turned out, this motley crew became the perfect representative for the state of Arizona, whose pro sports scene is itself a hodge-podge of expansion teams and transplants ... none of which have ever won a world championship. The NBA's Suns, expansionists in 1968, went to the NBA Finals in '76 and '93. The Cardinals relocated from St. Louis in 1988 and, well, are they even eligible for the Super Bowl? And the NHL's Coyotes? They haven't won a playoff series since moving from Winnipeg in 1996.
The Diamondbacks, of course, were born in 1998 with Jerry Colangelo's silver spoon in their mouths. They were, after all, the only major league team with a pool in their yard. They also had a manifesto written by charter manager Buck Showalter entitled "The Diamondback Way," which until then been mostly assumed to be sleeping under rocks in the desert feeding off of field mice and rabbits.
What we have learned since is that The Diamondback Way is to fly marquee free agents into town in the dead of winter, take them golfing and then hand them a blank check. As was the case with the '97 Marlins, the D'backs are hardly playing with the pieces that came in the box.
In Arizona's Game 5 starting lineup, only catcher Damien Miller was drafted by the Diamondbacks, albeit in the expansion draft. Four were acquired in trades and four were signed as free agents. Again, a perfect fit in a city of transplants and retirees.
"There are a lot of guys who came here as rejects from other ballclubs," said Gonzalez. "And a big part of what attracted us all here was the chance to start somewhere else. Bob Brenly blended us as a team and we leaned on each other all year long.
"There are a lot of guys here who have played a lot of years without getting to the World Series. We seized the opportunity, we grabbed it. And this is a happy ballclub."