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Random thoughts on Diamondbacks history

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A grab-bag of largely unconnected trivia.

This started with the recent sad loss of Andy Marte, which got me wondering, somewhat morbidly, how many other former Diamondbacks had passed away. The answer, it turns out, is three (including Marte) of the 429 players ever to have appeared for Arizona. The other two are:

Brad Halsey. This is a sad story. Halsey came to Arizona in early 2005, as part of the Randy Johnson trade with the New York Yankees. He was part of the D-backs rotation that year, starting 26 times and compiling an 8-12 record with a 4.61 ERA. He was traded to the A’s the following spring, for Juan Cruz, but 2006 was his last year in the majors [including Barry Bonds' 714th home run, tying Bonds with Babe Ruth] He bounced around foreign, independent and minor-league ball through the end of 2011, but “fell victim to prescription and recreational drug abuse.” In summer 2014, Halsey was wading chest-deep in a river, identifying himself as Lucifer; the following Halloween, his body was found at the foot of a Texas cliff.

Joe Kennedy. If you blinked, you’d have missed Kennedy’s tenure here, which began on August 7, 2007 and ended a week later. He had been a waiver claim from the A’s earlier that month, but his 2.2 innings for Arizona led to six earned runs, a 20.25 ERA and a quick release. He finished out the year with the Blue Jays, and that winter was in Florida to be the best man at a friend’s wedding, and was staying with his in-laws. In the middle of the night, he collapsed, and was taken to hospital, but was pronounced dead there. An autopsy showed he had hypertensive heart disease, “a condition that hardens the heart's walls and can cause it to stop beating.” After Kennedy's death, Frank Thomas kept Kennedy's glove in his locker wherever he played, until he retired.

Onto happier things, I think. Who is the oldest player to appear for the D-backs? That may appear a simple question, but is one with two answers. The oldest player when he was a Diamondback, is Randy Johnson, who was 18 days past his 45th birthday, when he made his final start for Arizona, in the final game of the 2008 season. That’s almost two years more than the next: Terry Mulholland was 43 years, 86 days when he appeared for us in 2006. But the other answer comes when you put the stress on “who IS the oldest”. Because the only Diamondback to have been alive back in the fifties is Mike Morgan. He was born in October 1959, and pitched 120 games for us in 2000-02.

Similarly, we have the question “Who is the youngest player to appear for the D-backs?” The youngest player in a game is Justin Upton, who was 23 days shy of his 20th birthday, when he made his major-league debut on August 2nd, 2007. Edgar Gonzalez and Byung-Hyun Kim are the only other Diamondbacks to take the field for us, before they could legally celebrate it with a beer. But the current “Baby Back” is Oscar Hernandez, the sole player for Arizona to be born after 1992. My first mortgage is older than he is... You won’t be surprised to learn that Oscar, as well as the eight D-backs born in 1992, all appeared for the team this season.

320 of our players, or 74.6%, were born in the United States. The majority of the remaining 109 come from the Dominican Republic (41) or Venezuela (22). The balance are divided among Puerto Rico (12), Mexico (9), Cuba (7), Canada (3), Australia (2), Japan (2), Nicaragua (2), Panama (2), plus one each from Curacao, Germany, Jamaica, the Netherlands, Philippines, South Korea, and the US Virgin Islands. Of the US born players, California has more, at 81, than the next four states put together, the only ones in double-digits. They are Texas (31), Florida (23), Illinois (15) and Georgia (10). 43 states are represented: the ones which are still waiting for their first native D-back are Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Wyoming.

Some months of the year seem more likely to see the births of Diamondbacks than others. This is something which has been investigated more broadly; for American-born players, August is the peak month, because July 31 is generally the cut-off date used by age-based baseball organizations, so August-born players will be “old” for their level and so tend to perform better. [The same doesn’t apply for Latin American players.] Here’s the total number of D-backs for each month, regardless of birth location, along with our best player, as measured by bWAR for Arizona:

  • January: 44 (Byung-Hyun Kim)
  • February: 38 (Miguel Batista)
  • March: 29 (Steve Finley)
  • April: 26 (Brian Anderson)
  • May: 41 (Brandon Webb)
  • June: 19 (Cliff Pennington)
  • July: 38 (Miguel Montero)
  • August: 42 (Justin Upton)
  • September: 45 (Randy Johnson)
  • October: 37 (Ender Inciarte)
  • November: 34 (Curt Schilling)
  • December: 36 (A.J. Pollock)

I think September would be the month capable of putting out the best team, as it includes not just Johnson, but also the two best position players in franchise history, Luis Gonzalez and Paul Goldschmidt, plus Chris Young and Dan Haren.