4. Arizona Diamondbacks
Team Page | Schedule | Roster
They have a healthy new attitude, but can their old guys avoid injuries?
By Josh Elliott
A moment of stunned silence followed, as all eyes shot from the book to Brenly. "I only have two rules," he continued, pulling from his pocket a cocktail napkin, which he also let fall to the ground. On it were scrawled these sage tenets: BE ON TIME and GET IT DONE.
No, these aren't your daddy's Diamondbacks, a team that since its 1998 debut toiled under the micromanagement of Showalter. His manual was the organization's philosophical centerpiece, promulgating everything from the correct way to hit a cutoff man to the proper way to wear one's socks. But in a clubhouse crowded with thirtysomethings who grew increasingly tired of their roles as organization men, Showalter's masterwork became Brenly's prop. No matter that the Diamondbacks are just two years removed from a 100-win season and a National League West title. With an Opening Day starting lineup that will likely feature nine players older than 30, Brenly is less concerned with sartorial minutiae than with his regulars' health. "When I interviewed for the job, [owner Jerry Colangelo] asked me what I would do differently," says Brenly, who was the team's TV color commentator for their first three seasons. "I focused on two things: giving the regulars more days off during the year and limiting the pitch counts of the starters."
Indeed, Arizona's two best batters last year, outfielders Luis Gonzalez, 33, and Steve Finley, 36, played 162 and 152 games, respectively, while Randy Johnson, 37, threw 4,026 pitches, tops in the majors. That Gonzalez and Finley had stellar years at the plate and Johnson won his second consecutive Cy Young isn't, to Brenly, necessarily the point. "I thought the team wore down last year, and that's something that can be solved," says the 47-year-old Brenly, who played nine years in the majors. "See, guys like Matt Williams and Randy Johnson and [former Cubs first baseman and free-agent signee] Mark Grace eliminate the need for babysitting. They know what they need to do to be ready. They may be older, but it's not like there's a ticking clock on these players."
The health of the 35-year-old Williams's feet could go a long way toward determining Arizona's fate in 2001. After his 35-homer, 142-RBI season in 1999, his totals plunged to 12 and 47 last season. He'd broken his right foot on the last day of spring training, and that injury and chronic plantar fasciitis in his left foot limited him to just 96 games. He was also worn down by ankylosing spondylitis, a connective-tissue disease characterized by inflammation of the spine and large joints, resulting in stiffness and pain. Williams decided to combat the malady without medication, which he believes could harm his liver and kidneys, and instead embraced a stretching program and low-fat diet that he feels will lessen the disease's effects. "The off-season wasn't fun -- a lot of the stretching and deep-tissue massage in the feet really hurts," he says, "but I feel good."
With Arizona aging, a key to the Diamondbacks' fortunes this year will be flexibility (be it in Williams's back or on Brenly's roster). Colangelo procured more of it in the off-season when he negotiated salary deferments with 10 regulars that lopped nearly $16 million off the cash-strapped club's $82 million payroll. Arizona spun the agreements into a springtime feel-good story, an example of players selflessly giving so that the team could improve its cash flow.
Maybe so, but the reality remains that numerous Diamondbacks will be drawing millions in salary long after their productive years have past. Brenly can only hope that such years don't begin with this one, for a most crucial directive -- STAY HEALTHY -- wasn't to be found on that cocktail napkin.
Issue date: March 26, 2001