There's not enough Arizona Diamondbacks news today to justify a "proper" SnakeBytes. About all I've got is that our Double-A affiliate, the Mobile Baybears, owe the city $800,000, not having paid their rent in full since 2006. They've come to an agreement whereby they'll carry out repairs to the stadium, and the city will forgive the rent. Otherwise, a silence has enveloped the D-backs, newswise, like the blanket of snow which has fallen over Phoenix [I think that just used up the remainder of my literary hyperbole quota for 2010]. So, instead, let's take a look at the ten biggest news stories for the team in the year which is coming to a close.
- Out with the new and in with the old. 2010 may have largely been forgettable on the field, but it will go down as perhaps the year of most radical change in franchise history. The firing of Josh Byrnes and AJ Hinch marked an end to the team's position on the front-edge of "new" baseball management, the results having been found clearly wanting. Replacements Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson brought more traditional experience. Towers spent 14 years as GM in San Diego, while Gibson made his major-league debut in 1979, when the man he replaced as manager was aged just five...
- Esmerling Vasquez balk is the season low. Two months in, and the D-backs were done. We lost the last eight games of May to send us 11.5 back in the division, culminating in a baffled Vasquez balking at Dodger stadium. That summed up the 2010 bullpen, allowing the winning run to trot home from third, in what became known as the "balk off". We'd lose the next two contests, both by the score of 1-0, in extra innings, and only one-third of the way through 2010, Diamondbacks fans were left with little to do, except look forward to 2011.
- The end of "win now." After taking the division in 2007, the team appeared to shift into a mode that now was our time, decimating one of the best farm systems in baseball to bring Dan Haren to Arizona. But it didn't happen, for a variety of reasons. Turns out we probably over-achieved in 2007; then there was also the black hole of left-field; and the injury which cost us Brandon Webb for virtually two full seasons. The trade of Dan Haren to Anaheim for prospects marked a shift into "win later" mode. The question of when 'later' will be, remains to be answered.
- The unlikeliest of highs. With one out in the third inning on June 25, Edwin Jackson had faced 14 batters, walked seven of them, and already thrown 63 pitches. While Arizona were 1-0 up, thanks to an Adam LaRoche homer, it seemed doubtful he'd stick around long enough to qualify for a decision. And as for pitching a complete-game shutout? Fuhgedaboutit! But one of the delights of baseball is that you never can tell. The 149-pitch no-hitter which followed, the second in franchise history, was perhaps the most unlikely ever thrown.
- Arm and the man. "It felt like I was throwing 95... I felt like I had more left in the tank. It was good. Really good." So said Webb on March 17: I was going to collect other over-optimistic quotes from him through 2010, but it just got too depressing. The opinions expressed may have been honest, but the failure of Webb to make real progress during the season, despite the bulletins, left a sour taste in many fans mouths. We watched the team pay him $3.75 million dollars per inning of work since the start of 2009, before leaving as a free-agent for Texas.
An icon honored. Luis Gonzalez became the face of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001,
drivingblooping home the winning run in Game 7 of the World Series, and becoming one of the most beloved figures in state sports, as much for his attitude off the field, as his play on it. While there would be some franchises for which he would not qualify, there was little argument (except on AZ Central, of course) over the decision to retire his number, and the event, in front of a packed house at Chase, was one of the most memorable games I've ever attended.
- Baseball and politics don't mix. SB 1070 was the biggest story in AZ this year, and it turned into a PR problem for the Diamondbacks, after it came out that owner Ken Kendrick had helped fund Republicans who supported the bill. Though a campaign to have the 2011 All-Star Game moved did nothing, and the protests at our games around the country were mostly small in number, the whole issue proved embarrassing, even if the only damage was the cancellation of a Hall & Oates concert. I can imagine Kendrick being almost grateful for the BP oil spill, which helped push SB 1070 off the front-pages.
- The Eric Byrnes Show gets canceled. And, by "show," I mean "time in Arizona." It was initially thought he might get to compete for a spot in spring training, but management opted to pull the plug on Byrnes, shortly after the start of the year. Byrnes signed a contract with Seattle, but his time there was spectacularly awful. Eric ended the year playing beer-league softball in Menlo Park, CA - while still cashing near-million dollar, bi-weekly checks from the Diamondbacks. From beloved fan favorite to sporting pariah, it was an epic fall from grace, of near-Shakespearean proportions.
- K's not so special any more. The 2010 Diamondbacks struck out more than any team in the entire 140-season history of major-league baseball. Does it matter? Well, the jury is still out on that topic. But new management have made it clear that they consider it a problem, trading team-leader in whiffs, Mark Reynolds, and letting #2, LaRoche, leave as a free-agent. The team total for 2011 should drop as a result. But that's also 57 home-runs and 185 RBI which have left, and I'm not optimistic that Melvin Mora and Juan Miranda, their replacements, will be able to match those numbers.
- Bear-ly believable: the Cubs try to club the Cactus League. The Chicago Cubs demanded a new stadium from Mesa - replacing the one built all the way back in 1997 or they'd head to Florida. Their initial plan involved surcharging all Cactus League tickets to pay for it, but that went over with the other teams, about as well as you'd expect. The resulting revolt forced a humiliating climbdown, and though the Cubs will be getting their new stadium, the money for that will come from an "enterprise fund, which is generated by Mesa's business activities." Yeah...
But enough of 2010. What I'd like to hear are your predictions for 2011. That way, we can come back to visit these next December, and laugh mercilessly at the ludicrously inaccurate expectations we had. Or, somewhat less likely, be amazed as the Nostradamus-like accuracy of our prophecies. Having gazed into my Sedona Red crystal-ball, this is what I'm seeing for next year:
- The World Champion Giants top the Cactus League for attendance, but are pushed hard by the Diamondbacks in their new spring training complex.
- Justin Upton makes the All-Star team for the game held at Chase, after a blistering first-half where he hits almost .300 and has twenty home-runs.
- Kelly Johnson is dealt at the trade deadline, and Stephen Drew at the winter meetings.
- Arizona benefits from a much more solid bullpen, and finishes the season with 78 wins, good enough for fourth in the NL West; J.J. Putz saves 30 games. Jarrod Parker impresses in a second-half call-up, after an injury sends one of our Opening Day starters to the DL.
- The Phillies' pitching outduels the Giants' arms in the National League Championship Series, and then completes things by beating the Red Sox in the World Series.
- And a volcanic explosion that'll make the Eyjafjallajökull one look like a pop-gun. But that probably won't be in Arizona...