Upon arriving at Bank One Ballpark for a game last week, Arizona lefthander Brian Anderson, the Diamondbacks' first pick in the expansion draft and one of their most popular players, was shooed away by stadium security guards who failed to recognize him and denied him access to the players' entrance. "Third time that's happened," says Anderson. "Guys are freakin' clueless." Annoyed but undeterred, Anderson walked halfway around the complex to Friday's Front Row Sports Grill, which overlooks leftfield. He cut through the restaurant, worked his way down through the stands, jumped a fence or two and—finally—snuck into the clubhouse. "I'm not the only guy this happens to," says Anderson. "Guess when your team's new at this, you should expect a few problems."
A few, maybe. But nearly a third of the way through their inaugural season, the Diamondbacks, touted as the Expansion Team Most Likely to Dominate the Free World two months ago, are stumbling through a lot worse than the occasional clubhouse lockout. At week's end Arizona was 15-34 and, despite winning six of seven recently, a threat to break the '62 Mets' record for futility (40-120). "It's disappointing," says Anderson, himself a disappointing 1-6. "I'm not going to lie—I expected this group to do a lot more."
So did manager Buck Showalter, whom managing general partner Jerry Colangelo hired nearly 2� years before Opening Day to build the Diamondbacks. Yet despite meticulous planning and an oft-obsessive attention to detail (name another team with a 300-page guide to baseball fundamentals and player behavior), Showalter's personnel decisions have, for the most part, turned out poorly. Of the team's 14 first-round expansion draft picks, five are in the minors, two are injured, one was traded and zero have provided any sort of consistent production.
Veterans picked up through trade and free agency have had mixed success. While third baseman Matt Williams (nine home runs, 27 RBIs, $9.5 million salary this year) and righthander Andy Benes (3-4, 4.29 ERA, $6 million) have been solid acquisitions, shortstop Jay Bell (.219, five homers, $6.8 million) and righthander Willie Blair (2-7, 5.30, $3.3 million) have been dismal.
Arizona is worst in the National League in doubles, stolen bases, home runs allowed and strikeouts (most by the hitters and fewest by the pitchers) and second-worst in batting average and grounding into double plays. The bullpen has already blown six saves in 14 opportunities. In search of a winning combination, Showalter used 30 different lineups in the first 43 games. "We're extremely young, and when you're young, you're supposed to learn from tough times," says utilityman Andy Fox. "We've been learning a lot."
Perhaps the toughest lesson has been humility. Before the season started, general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. predicted that Arizona could finish with a .500 record. That bravado, combined with Colangelo's wide-open wallet and Showalter's imperious-ness, didn't sit well with many owners and general managers, who now love to refer to Arizona mockingly as, "the team that invented baseball."
"Those guys make me sick," says one rival G.M. "You talk about the Dodgers organization being arrogant. They've got nothing on these guys. I already told my manager that if he has a chance to run it up, do it."
"It's hard to forget some of the things they said," adds Reds manager Jack McKeon. "About how they're doing it the right way, and how they're the most prepared group ever."
Colangelo's latest embarrassment came last week, when HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel aired a harsh segment on the funding of Bank One Ballpark, much of which came from a sales tax increase that cost Maricopa County taxpayers an average of $62 each. The piece ended with Colangelo storming off the set in a huff, saying, "You know this is bulls- - -."