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Arizona Diamondbacks All-Time Top 50: #16, Craig Counsell

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Counsell Lived That Stance-Life.

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It was kinda hard to find pictures of Craig Counsell as a Diamondback.
  • Avg ranking (high/low/most common): 19.76 (5/46/23)
  • Seasons: 2000-2003, 2005-2006
  • Stats: 403 games, .266/.348/.357 = .705 OPS, 80 OPS+. 12.7 bWAR
  • Best season: .256/.350/.375 = .726 OPS. 89 OPS+, 5.5 bWAR
  • 2001 NLCS MVP

“I enjoy having to prove myself. It’s what motivates me. It makes me keep trying to get better because I know they’re always looking for guys with more speed and more power.”
Craig Counsell

Many great players go through their entire careers without playing in a World Series - let alone being a key component in a dramatic bottom of the ninth comeback during Game 7. But Craig Counsell did so, not once, but twice. Counsell won his first World Series with the 1997 Florida Marlins, driving in the tying run with a 9th inning sacrifice fly, then scoring the winning run in the 11th. He was traded in ’99 to The Dodger Scum and then released by The Dodger Scum during Spring Training in 2000. The Diamondbacks signed him as a free agent after which he went on to play the next four seasons with The Diamondbacks.

A highlight of his 1st tenure with us would obviously include the 2001 NLCS MVP Award. During the series, the D-backs destroyed the Atlanta Braves 4 games to 1, with Counsell scoring 5 runs. He batted .381, with 8 hits, 3 doubles and 4 RBI. But it was really his offensive and defensive performance in Game 4 of the series, in which he beat up on Maddux and the Atlanta base-runners, that secured his position as the NLCS MVP. According to Sports Illustrated, “He reached base or sacrificed in nine of the 11 innings in which Arizona scored, played his usual uniform-dirtying defense and annoyed the Atlanta staff by working deep into the count on nearly every at bat.”

“He probably got more out of less than anybody I ever played with. He wasn’t big, he didn’t hit home runs, he wasn’t the fastest guy in the world but he played for a long time and I always said that every great team has a player just like him... He’s like the little engine that could.”
Mark Grace on Craig Counsell

As we know, Counsell and the D-backs would go on from there to win the 2001 World Series. He didn’t contribute much with the bat in that series, going only 2-for-24. But his opening hit (above) was key, tying the game back up after the Yankees had jumped ahead in their first at-bat, making a statement that the D-backs would not roll over. During game 7 of the 2001 WS he was hit by a Mariano Rivera pitch, which loaded the bases for Gonzales - and the rest is history. That meant Counsell was on base during two World Series Game 7 walk-off wins: I’ve a feeling that not many other players will ever be able to say that.

Counsell was signed to a three-year deal with Arizona. Unfortunately, the next two seasons proved problematic, as Craig struggled with injury. A neck problem ended his 2002 campaign after the first week of August, and a dislocated thumb led to him missing two months of the 2003 season. In December, Counsell was part of a massive, but ill-fated deal for the D-backs. He was sent, along with Chris Capuano, Chad Moeller, Lyle Overbay, Jorge De La Rosa (at the time still a minor-leaguer), and Junior Spivey, to the Milwaukee Brewers for slugger Richie Sexson, Shane Nance and a minor leaguer named Noochie (hell of a name) Varner. However, his time in Arizona had not ended.

For after 2004, Counsell once again signed with the D-backs as a free agent. He would play two more seasons with us, including a 2005 campaign where he put up 3.4 dWAR, which remains an all-time record for any Arizona infielder. It was back to the Brewers for his last four major league seasons, including a return to Chase for the 2011 NLDS, where the Chase Field crowd clearly remembered him warmly (above). While he never won a Gold Glove, by the SAFE: Spatial Aggregate Fielding Evaluation method of evaluating defense, Counsell was both the highest-rated 2nd baseman and the highest-rated 3rd baseman from 2002 to 2008, with an average runs saved of 10.18 and 5.86.

“He’s our shorter version of Cal Ripken. He’s always in the right place at the right time.”
Curt Schilling on Craig Counsell

Counsell was known for an outrageous batting stance in which he would hold the bat over his head. Did it work? Well, he never won any offensive awards, so you be the judge. He did once tie a (since broken) record, going 45 at-bats without a base hit for a position player. His stance was hella cool though, and kids today still imitate that type of stance during little league games. Though I doubt the coaches appreciate it. He was known here as “Rudy”, after the sports film about an over-achieving athlete at his alma mater, Notre Dame. He said, “I don’t really know who started it... I think they sensed I wasn’t a huge fan of it, so it became even more reason they liked to say it!”

Today, Counsell is manager of the Milwaukee Brewers and has been since 2015. He returned to Arizona in July of that year, and said, “I love coming back here. Every time you walk onto this field the first thing you think about is Game 7 of the World Series. I spent five years playing here, five years where I was actually a decent player, so it’s good memories. I had a great time playing here and the fans treated me great.”

“He’s the smartest player I’ve been around. I put him out there and don’t give a second thought to whether he’ll be where he’s supposed to be.”
Bob Brenly on Craig Counsell