I was only 11 when the Diamondbacks signed Randy Johnson after the 1998 season. I recall my general reaction being "Huh, cool!" I didn't know the economics of Baseball front to back. (I still don't, but I didn't spend any time thinking about them back then. Mostly, I was into Star Wars video games.) Still, even I realized on some level that this was a sudden shift for the Diamondbacks from "Expansion Team" to "We're gonna try to win now, dammit!" This was joined by acquisitions of players like Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez, who would eventually form the core of the 2001 World Series Championship team.
The blurb in the New York Times about the signing was as followed:
And the winner is . . . the only nonwinner in the race.
The Texas Rangers have won two division championships in the past three seasons, the Anaheim Angels just missed finishing first this year and have since added Mo Vaughn, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are looking to turn Rupert Murdoch's money into a championship.
But Randy Johnson, who could have signed with any of those teams, opted yesterday to join the Arizona Diamondbacks, the only team among the four with a losing record this year. Johnson, the most dominant left-handed pitcher in baseball, agreed to a four-year contract, with an option for a fifth year, for $52.4 million.
(As a side note, Mo Vaughn hit .281/.358/.508 in his first season with the Angels. You might say "Hey, that's not bad.", remember it was the 90s and those were well below his career averages. He had a higher AAV than RJ!)
Back then, I hadn't lived through various Diamondback miscues that followed the 2001 season. I hadn't seen the 2002 team limp to the finish line then lay down and die during the playoffs. I hadn't seen the 2004 team just decide not to baseball for an entire season. I hadn't seen the 2005 team sign or trade for every guy I had kind of heard of, then fail to impress. I hadn't lived through reading about something seedy about Jason Grimsley every day. I hadn't lived through sitting stoic faced and numb in a Denver-area Bennigans during Game 3 of the NLCS when the Rockies took the lead in the 6th inning with other happy people around me. I hadn't lived through the 2008 team underachieving, and the 2009 and 2010 teams only partially baseball.
I hadn't lived through 2011, which gave so much hope and optimism, only to have it end while shouting very naughty words in a theater when Nyjer Morgan drove in the winning run in Game 5 for the Brewers (A team Zack Greinke was on, by the way.)
The years following that to now were just a sort of dull pounding, where the exciting moments were few and far between the relative mediocrity/badness. There was some minor hope going into this year, but I think most people thought that there would be some steady improvement, no big splashes, etc.
That all changed Friday night. When the first rumors of Arizona's interest in Zack Greinke started to spread, the general reaction from the Baseball zeitgeist, as it had been for any time the Diamondbacks had interest in any high-profile player including Johnny Cueto not too long ago, was essentially "Ha ha, look at that team, they think they're people!" When it hit, everything changed. I know that's a vague and probably cliched way of saying that, but it is honestly the best way I can put it.
It was a sign that the "HA HA GRIT DERP" narrative would finally be hit over the head with a shovel like it needed to years ago. It was a sign that Ken Kendrick had finally stopped paying exorbitant amounts for Baseball cards and stopping people on the street to make them change clothes and start investing in the team. It was the sort of thing that the Diamondbacks just didn't do in recent years.
In short, it was all of those things that should have been felt at the Randy Johnson signing, but we hadn't gone through all the stuff after it. We, as a fanbase, are "old" enough to really appreciate what happened Friday. Not that we didn't appreciate the Randy Johnson signing at the time, nor did we not appreciate it after the fact, but the franchise had gone through very few tribulations back then, on or off the field. Greinke signing makes it feel like suffering through Russ Ortiz pitching, or the constant barrage of Justin Upton rumors, or Chad Qualls, or the rotating door of First Basemen pre-Goldy worth it.
Now, there's no guarantee that any of this will pan out, but that's for later. Right now the Diamondbacks are in a better position to win than they were this time last week. They're, at the very least, somewhat nationally relevant, and I'm more excited for the season to start than I have been in a very long time. All thanks to a $206 Million drop in the bucket announced a few days ago.