I am a former sports editor who's been a baseball fan for over 30 years. I'm predominantly a Cleveland Indians fan, but enjoy all 30 teams!
Who Are the Greatest Arizona Diamondbacks of All-Time?
Though the Arizona Diamondbacks have only been in existence for 23 seasons, they're already known as one of the better franchises in Major League Baseball. By winning a World Series in 2001, they became the fastest expansion team to ever do so, needing just four seasons to build a championship roster. Arizona has made five more postseason appearances since then, but hasn't yet been back to the World Series. Despite such a high frequency of postseason appearances, the Diamondbacks have an overall losing record (1,788-1,836), but come into 2021 with three winning seasons in four years.
Nevertheless, plenty of star players have passed through the desert, including two Hall of Famers. There have also been 25 different players to represent Arizona in the All-Star game, led by six appearances by Paul Goldschmidt.
Selection Criteria for This List
Narrowing down the fifth best player in Arizona Diamondbacks history got a little tricky, though the top four were pretty easy to determine. Many players have the credentials needed to be included on the list, so I added a handful of honorable-mention candidates after the top five. The criteria used to develop this list included:
- Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, retired number, etc.)
- Single-Season Honors (MVP, All-Star, etc.)
- On-Field Success (league leader, playoff appearances, records, etc.)
- Longevity (years with the Diamondbacks, percentage of career with the Diamondbacks, etc.)
Only games played with the Diamondbacks are factored into this list, so while Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar would be a great choice on a list about the Toronto Blue Jays, his one season and 38 games with Arizona won’t make the cut here. Now, without further ado, let's count down the top five players in Arizona Diamondbacks history!
5. Brandon Webb (2003–09)
Brandon Webb may not be that well-known outside of the Arizona Diamondbacks' circle, but during his seven-year, injury-shortened career, he was one of baseball's top pitchers. From 2006-08, Webb was especially dominant, making three straight All-Star appearances, winning the 2016 National League Cy Young Award, and winning a career-high 22 games in 2008. He pitched just four innings in 2009 before a shoulder injury derailed his season and ultimately ended his brilliant career.
Webb showed flashes of brilliance over his first three seasons, it wasn't until he became the staff ace in 2006 that he found his stride. He didn't lose over his first 13 starts that season and had a stretch of 30 straight scoreless innings to make his first All-Star team. He'd finish the year at 16-8, with his win total the lowest ever at the time for a Cy Young Award winner. In 2007, he was just as good, eventually posting 42 straight scoreless innings in the second half on the strength of three straight shutouts. His 18-10 mark helped the Diamondbacks to the postseason. In 2008, he won his first nine starts and once again threw 42 straight scoreless innings. His 22 wins that season are tied for the third-best total in franchise history. In his career, Webb went 87-62 with a 3.27 ERA and 1,065 strikeouts. He made a comeback attempt with the Texas Rangers, but retired in 2013 after more injuries.
4. Curt Schilling (2000–03)
One of two aces the Diamondbacks had when they won the 2001 World Series, Curt Schilling didn't have the longest Arizona career, but he still made a big impact. He was already established as one of the finest pitchers in baseball, but he was especially dominant throughout 2001. Schilling posted 22 wins during the regular season, then went 4-0 with a 1.12 earned-run average during the playoffs. He shared the World Series MVP trophy with teammate Randy Johnson, and they both were later named Sports Illustrated's Sportsmen of the Year. He did much of the same in 2002, picking up 23 wins and 316 strikeouts. In both seasons, he was named an All-Star, finished as runner-up to Johnson in the Cy Young Award voting, and finished 10th in the MVP voting.
Schilling was acquired in a mid-season trade with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2000, and Arizona traded him to Boston after the 2003 season. He'd go on to win a pair of championships with the Red Sox. Over the course of his Diamondbacks career, Schilling went 58-28 (his .674 winning percentage is a team record) with a 3.14 ERA and 875 strikeouts. He’s one of two Arizona pitchers to post two seasons with more than 20 victories.
3. Luis Gonzalez (1999–2006)
The most prolific offensive force in the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks is Luis Gonzalez. He holds career franchise records and nearly every major offensive category, and was the architect of the greatest moment in team history. In Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, Gonzalez blooped a single to left-center field to drive home the winning run off of New York Yankees Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera. It was an exclamation point on Gonzalez's 2001 season, which also saw him hit a franchise single-season record 57 home runs, win the Home Run Derby, and finish second in the National League with 198 hits.
Gonzalez had been a steady player for much of his career before coming to the Diamondbacks via a trade with the Detroit Tigers, but once he got to the desert, he became a star. Gonzalez made his first of five All-Star appearances in 1999. He won his only Silver Slugger Award in 2001, and finished third in the MVP voting that season. By the end of his Arizona career, Gonzalez had hit .298, with 224 home runs, 780 runs, 774 RBI, and 310 doubles—which all stand as franchise records. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007 and played for the Florida Marlins in 2008 before retiring and joining Arizona’s front office. In 2010, he became the first player to have his number (20) retired by the franchise.
2. Paul Goldschmidt (2011–18)
As the first superstar the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted and developed, Paul Goldschmidt will always have a special place in franchise history. Goldschmidt became one of the most consistent players in all of baseball and made six straight All-Star appearances from 2013-18, despite being selected as an eighth-round draft pick in 2009. He twice finished as the runner-up in MVP voting, while also picking up three Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers in that span. Goldschmidt appeared in the postseason twice—in 2011 as a rookie and in 2017. He became the third rookie in Major League history to hit a grand slam in the playoffs.
After becoming a regular in 2012, Goldschmidt rarely missed time, going on the disabled list just once when he was hit by a pitch and broke a bone in his hand in 2014. Other than that season, he played in at least 148 games every year. Prior to the 2019 season, Goldschmidt was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. In his eight seasons in Arizona, Goldschmidt clobbered 209 home runs and 237 doubles, drove in 710 runs, and hit .297. Each of those marks ranks second in team history behind Luis Gonzalez, though his career on-base percentage (.398) and slugging percentage (.532) are franchise records.
1. Randy Johnson (1999–2004, 2007–08)
The first superstar in the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks was Randy Johnson, and he quickly repaid the team’s investment by leading the second-year franchise to the postseason in his first season. And that was just the beginning. Johnson would win four straight Cy Young Awards after signing with the Diamondbacks in the most dominant stretch of his career, finishing with a sub-3.00 earned-run average and racking up at least 330 strikeouts each season from 1999–2002. He was the co-MVP of the 2001 World Series after sealing Game 7 in relief to earn his third victory of the seven-game series. Also during the 2001 season, Johnson struck out 20 batters over nine innings in an extra-inning game, and also had an immaculate inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates by striking out three batters on nine pitches. His 372 strikeouts that season are the third most by a pitcher in the live ball era, falling just 12 short of the record.
In 2002, Johnson was just as good, picking up 24 victories on his way to the pitching Triple Crown, which also included a league-leading 334 strikeouts and a 2.32 ERA. He missed about half of the 2003 season with an injury, but was back to form at age 40 in 2004 when he made his fifth All-Star appearance in a Diamondbacks uniform. Against the Atlanta Braves, Johnson became the oldest pitcher to ever throw a perfect game when he retired all 27 hitters in a row on May 18, and later in the season, he became the fourth pitcher in history to strike out 4,000 batters. Johnson was traded to the New York Yankees in the offseason, but returned to Arizona in 2007. During that stint, he moved into second all-time on the career strikeout list. He retired after the 2009 season, which he spent with the San Francisco Giants, and was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2015 with 97.3 percent of the vote. The Diamondbacks retired Johnson's number (51) that year, and he’s currently the only Hall of Famer to wear an Arizona cap.
The following are a handful of players who left an indelible mark on the Arizona Diamondbacks but fell just outside of the top five of all-time.
Steve Finley (1999–2004)
Steve Finley brought the Arizona Diamondbacks three Gold Gloves and a consistent offensive weapon for some of the best seasons in franchise history. He was a member of the 2001 World Series champion roster after coming to Arizona as a free agent in 1999. Over his six seasons—the longest tenure among the seven teams he played for—Finley averaged 141 games and hit .278 with 153 home runs, 150 doubles, and 34 triples before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Justin Upton (2007–12)
Making his debut at the ripe age of 19, Justin Upton proved he belonged in the Major Leagues after being taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the first overall selection in the 2005 MLB Draft. In his first postseason that year, he hit .357 to help the Diamondbacks reach the National League Championship Series. He became an All-Star by 2009, and signed a $50 million contract extension the next season. Upton’s best year with Arizona came in 2011, when he hit .280 and slugged 31 home runs to finish fourth in the MVP voting. He also made his second All-Star appearance and won his first Silver Slugger that season. Upton was traded to the Atlanta Braves after the 2012 season, and finished his tenure in the desert with a .278 average and 108 home runs.
A.J. Pollock (2012–18)
If A.J. Pollock had been able to remain healthy during his tenure with the Arizona Diamondbacks, many wonder just how good he could have been. In his only full season with the team in 2015, Pollock was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner, while hitting .315 with 20 home runs. Over seven seasons, Pollock hit .281 with 74 home runs and 103 stolen bases for Arizona. He signed with the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019.
© 2019 Andrew Harner
CJ Kelly from the PNW on January 02, 2020:
I'm glad you mentioned Steve Finley. Very underrated player for many years. He was on the Padres team that got annihilated by the Yankees in '98. So while it pained me to watch my NYY get beat in 2001, I was happy for Finley.