Acquired: 12/28/1998. Traded with cash by the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks for - get this - Karim Garcia. Best. Deal. Ever.
Career with AZ: .302, 209 HR, 701 RBI
Best year 2001: .325, 57 HR, 142 RBI
Records: Franchise career leader in - deep breath - BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, Games, Runs, Hits, Doubles, Home Runs, Walks, K's, HBP, sac. flies, Intentional Walks, GIDPs. Single-season leader in - another deep breath - OBP, SLG, OPS, Games, Hits, Doubles, Home Runs, RBI, Walks, Singles, sac. flies, Intentional Walks.
Other facts: the only D'back ever to play all 162 games in a season. Which he did twice. In consecutive years. All told, he appeared in 446 straight games.
Biggest moment: Merely driving home the winning run in game 7 of the World Series. Off the most dominating post-season reliever of all-time, naturally.
Luis Gonzalez is the face of the franchise, there's no other way to put it. While the Diamondbacks played a full season before he arrived, those games seem almost like spring training, just a warmup as they waited for The Man. Now, it's almost impossible to imagine an Arizona roster without #20, Luis Gonzalez. But Gonzalez had already played nine full seasons before coming to Phoenix, in what can only be described as the biggest robbery in Detroit history:
- Luis for AZ: 1041 games, 701 RBI, 209 HR
- Karim for Detroit: 8 games, 0 RBI, 0 HR
The result were immediate. Only once had Gonzalez posted an average better than .276 prior to his arrival, but in 1999, he seized his chance when LF Bernard Gilkey went down with an eye injury. Gonzo batted .336, including a 30-game hitting streak (the longest in a decade on the Senior Circuit, and one of five in double-digits for him that year), with career highs in home-runs and RBIs too. He then surpassed his best figures again for both those categories in 2000 - but that was nothing compared to the wholesale destruction of his personal record book executed in 2001.
He hit 57 home runs, a figure beaten only by seven men in baseball history - Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Maris, Ruth, Foxx and Greenberg - and had twenty by May 17. He drove in 142 runs. He had more total bases than Barry Bonds. He won the All-Star Home Run Derby. He got intentionally walked with the bases empty (August 26, 2001, by the Phillies). And he didn't make a single error during 1416.2 innings in left field.
His post-season was actually disappointing in comparison - he only hit .246, due in part to wrist and hamstring injuries, but still had three homers and 10 RBI. But he could have gone 0-for-64 before that at-bat in the ninth innings of Game 7; it's ironic that, in a season of so many long bombs, the most memorable hit was a broken-bat flare that travelled only about 150 feet before kissing the turf and winning Arizona the World Series.
After that, some comedown was inevitable in 2002, and Gonzo's home runs fell off by 50% and his batting average dropped to .288, not helped by some offensive droughts and a rib injury that ended his consecutive games streak. And on September 23rd, Gonzalez's season came to an abrupt end, when he separated his shoulder in a collision with Tony Womack's knee - chasing a hit by former schoolmate, Tino Martinez.
2003 saw Gonzo fully recovered, and hitting back above .300 again, as well as posting his fifth consecutive 100 RBI season. But 2004 was a severely disappointing year: Gonzalez struggled with an injury that limited him to only 105 games, the least since his rookie year of 1990, and left him barely able to throw at all. He eventually succumbed to surgery, and hit only .259 with 48 RBI. Last season was still something of a recovery, though he remained our everyday left fielder and his .271 average with 24 HR was by no means dreadful.
It would be wrong not to mention Gonzo's off-field activities - he's known as the father of triplets (Megan, Jacob and Alyssa), and his work for charity and the community is tireless [and I'm aware that a lot of it is not apparent, except to those immediately involved]. But even to the everyday fan, Gonzo is a hero - I've never heard anyone who's ever met him say it was anything but a pleasure. He could probably run for Governor tomorrow (as a Republican, of course, having shared the stage with Bush!), and give Janet Napolitano a run for her money. But I suspect he'd be happier patrolling the left field at Chase until they have to bury him out there.