In 1998 the Arizona Diamondbacks began their inaugural season. It didn’t take long for them to prove the value of expansion as the franchise won their first World Series in 2001. Like all other expansion teams they didn’t start off so good. Their first season the team went 66-97. Somehow in such a short period of time they became the best team in baseball by implementing strategies like these:
Hold Onto Locker Room Leaders
From the 1998 team to the one that won the World Series in 2001 there were not very many familiar names. Two that standout the most are Jay Bell and Matt Williams. Both were far beyond their glory days in 2001, each at 35-years-old. Their leadership in the locker room however was very helpful in welcoming other veterans like Mark Grace, Steve Finley, and Reggie Sanders to the lineup.
Their post-playing days as an example of the kind of men they are show the affect they had on the team. Bell is now a member of an advisory board that helps former players in the Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, and Negro Leagues financially and medically; that is when he isn’t too busy as the bench coach for the Cincinnati Reds. Meanwhile Williams took over as a manager for the 2014 Washington Nationals and will be responsible for shaping the careers of young players like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Dominate with Pitching
The co-World Series MVPs in 2001 were two of the best pitchers from their generation: Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. These two proved to figuratively be the only arms needed in the starting rotation as they went a combined 43-12.
The way they went about getting each of these aces was different. Johnson joined the Diamondbacks via free agency beginning in 1999 and Schilling came in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies at the deadline in 2000. The Diamondbacks literally put all of their hope in Johnson and Schilling. As history shows, it paid off huge.
Get a Little Lucky
Luck is very valuable in sports. Sometimes in baseball it takes a bloop hit to win or an average player exploding for career highs in a given season to get you over the hump.
The 2001 Diamondbacks got really lucky with outfielder Luis Gonzalez. Before coming to play in Arizona, Gonzalez was a guy who could hit 15 home runs and drive in 70 runs. As soon as he got to Arizona though, he suddenly began hitting career highs with over 100 RBIs and a batting average 50 points higher than he had before. In 2001 he hit 57 home runs, which undoubtedly contributed to the team’s success. The luckiest moment for the Diamondbacks happened in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 against the New York Yankees. Closer Mariano Rivera suddenly imploded aiding in the amazing comeback Yankees’ fans would like to forget.
Build a Solid Bench of Veterans and Young Talent
You would have a difficult time finding a better bench than the 2001 Diamondbacks. There was no Hall of Famer anywhere in the lineup with a bat, but the chemistry everyone had is what made this a championship team.
The biggest weapon on the bench for the Diamondbacks in 2001 was the man who would eventually score the game-winning run, Craig Counsell. Counsell was capable of playing all over the infield and if asked could have played outfield. Despite not being a full-time starter he still got into 141 games for the team and had 126 hits. Having him on the team able to give veterans Jay Bell and Matt Williams a day off was incredibly important. The team also had the added benefit of talented bats coming off the bench for pinch hitting duties. David Dellucci and Erubiel Durazio combined for 22 home runs from the left side of the plate while Danny Bautista hit .302 from the right side.
If You Can, Win Now
The most valuable thing the team did was show little fear in trading away younger players for talented established ones. To build the 2001 team they also spent money on free agents. Each position was carefully taken into consideration, leaving no weak points anywhere.
They had speed with Tony Womack, power with Luis Gonzalez, and a high on-base percentage with Mark Grace. Out of the bullpen, Byung-Hyun Kim became the dominating closer with Bret Printz as the setup man. There was no weakness anywhere. They saw they could so they did win.