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Along with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Arizona Diamondbacks were one of two expansion teams to begin play in 1998. Even before the new team played a game, their free-spending ways had already built a relatively competitive expansion team. It also had sparked a backlash from many major-league owners. Even after paying MLB a $130 million expansion fee, Arizona was able to shell out $34 million over four years for shortstop Jay Bell, $10 million over four years for amateur first baseman Travis Lee, and $2.9 million over two years for catcher Jorge Fabregas -- after an arbitrator awarded Fabregas $875,000 for one year.
The strategist behind the Diamondbacks' aggressive tactics was managing partner Jerry Colangelo, who had also owned basketball’s Phoenix Suns ever since they joined the NBA. Unlike some other owners, Colangelo wasn’t foolish enough to meddle in his investment. Instead, he turned the reins over to Buck Showalter, who was named manager on November 15, 1995 -- more than two years before the team took the field for the first time. As a result, Showalter played a unique role in building the organziation, not just the team. He advised architects on the configuration of Bank One Ballpark, the team’s new stadium; he helped design the team’s spring training camp; and he authored a thick manual containing his vision of the Diamondbacks’ philosophy distributed to each player in spring training ’98. Veteran shortstop Jay Bell echoed Showalter’s own mantra thus; "let’s start a tradition with character, not characters."
As a result, "Choo-Choo" Coleman types were not to be found on the team’s first roster. Like Larry Rothschild’s Devil Rays, the Diamondbacks built their team around veterans. Their first major signing after bonus baby Travis Lee was Bell, for what many observers considered an outrageous sum of money. The club then traded for veterans Devon White and Travis Fryman (soon sent to Cleveland for All-Star Matt Williams) and signed pitchers Willie Blair and Andy Benes.
It took a year and another off-season binge for Colangelo's aggressive strategy to show results. After losing nearly 100 games in their debut season, the Diamondbacks invested nearly $87 million to sign free-agent starters Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre, and Armando Reynoso. They also renovated their outfield by inking centerfielder Steve Finley and trading for speedy Tony Womack (a converted second baseman) and underrated Luis Gonzalez; Gonzalez responded with a 30-game hitting streak over the first two months of the season. The Diamondbacks' investment paid off with 100 wins and the NL West division title, but Arizona fell to the surging New York Mets in the NL Division Series, three games to one. (JGR)