Retired numbers: Arizona Diamondbacks
Only two stars have been honored in Phoenix; could Curt Schilling be the third?
The Arizona Diamondbacks aren’t all that young, yet they remain one of the two youngest clubs in the major leagues, a distinction they share with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The D-Backs and Rays first took the field in 1998, which means they’ve been around for 23 years. That’s old enough to drink, drive a car, or vote, but it’s not sufficiently long to develop a rich history.
Arizona is the ninth stop on our every-other-Friday examination of baseball’s retired numbers. Our previous two subjects — the Cardinals and Cubs — are among the game’s storied franchises. They have collectively retired the jerseys of 20 of their biggest stars, and several other Chicago and St. Louis greats deserve the honor.
None of this holds true for the Diamondbacks.
Arizona has retired only two uniforms, putting it among six franchises that have pulled no more than a pair of jerseys out of circulation. These six teams, as you would imagine, were created in the three most recent rounds of expansion — 1977’s Blue Jays and Mariners, 1993’s Marlins and Rockies, and the 1998 babies mentioned above.
Nor does Arizona have a wealth of candidates. Only three Hall of Famers have played for or managed the franchise, and the connections for two of those stars were extremely tenuous.
Alan Trammell is honored in Cooperstown for his 20 years as a Tigers shortstop, not his three games as the interim manager of the D-Backs, and few fans remember that Roberto Alomar made 125 plate appearances for Arizona in 2004, the final season of his Hall of Fame career.
So that leaves Randy Johnson as the club’s only clear-cut option, and he has indeed been saluted at Chase Field. Who else has been singled out, and does any other D-Back deserve a retirement ceremony?
It won’t take long to winnow the field.
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Diamondbacks’ numbers already retired
Randy Johnson posted his biggest numbers as a pitcher for the Mariners. He won 130 games and struck out 2,162 batters during his 10 seasons in Seattle, slightly overshadowing his 118 wins and 2,077 K’s in eight years in Arizona (1999-2004, 2007-2008).
Yet his plaque in Cooperstown shows him wearing a Diamondbacks cap. The Hall of Fame makes the final call on a player’s logo, and it was undoubtedly moved by Johnson’s dominance during his desert years. He earned his initial Cy Young Award in Seattle in 1995, but added four more in consecutive seasons (1999-2002) while wearing No. 51 in Arizona.
That, by itself, should have been sufficient to retire Johnson’s D-Backs jersey, but there’s more: He remains the club’s all-time leader in wins above replacement at 50.9, earned run average at 2.83, and wins and strikeouts with the totals noted earlier. And he will forever shine in franchise lore for posting three victories in the 2001 World Series, when Arizona shocked the heavily favored Yankees to win the title.
Johnson’s counterpart on the batting side is No. 20 Luis Gonzalez, who also spent eight years in Phoenix (1999-2006). The left fielder still holds most of the Diamondbacks’ records for position players, including games played (1,194), batting average (.298), hits (1,337), and home runs (224).
Gonzalez also gained lasting local fame in the 2001 World Series. It was his soft liner off of Mariano Rivera that drove in the winning run in Game Seven.
Diamondbacks’ candidates for retired numbers
So who else?
Only two serious candidates exist, and one is still active, which means he won’t be honored anytime soon.
The latter is No. 44 Paul Goldschmidt, who played first base for the Diamondbacks for eight seasons (2011-2018) before being traded to St. Louis, where he has established himself as a mainstay. Goldschmidt represented Arizona on six All-Star squads. He has never won a Most Valuable Player Award, though he finished among the National League’s top six votegetters four times while with the D-Backs.
Goldschmidt is the franchise leader in slugging average (.532), he’s second to Johnson in WAR (40.7), and he’s the runner-up to Gonzalez in several batting categories, including games (1,092), hits (1,182), and home runs (209).
The other possibility is No. 38 Curt Schilling, who spent only four seasons in Arizona (2000-2003), though they were momentous years. Schilling led the National League with 22 wins in 2001, then added 23 in 2002. He finished second in the Cy Young voting to fellow D-Back Johnson in both seasons.
Schilling also covered himself with glory in Arizona’s only World Series appearance. He started three of the seven games against the Yankees in 2001, allowing only four runs in 21.1 innings of work. He shared World Series MVP honors with Johnson.
Not much needs to be said. Goldschmidt is only 33 years old, and he remains an integral cog in the Cardinals’ batting order. He’s likely to keep playing for several more seasons, so no decision about his Arizona number is imminent.
Schilling, on the other hand, is days away from a possible rendezvous with destiny. He received 70% support in last year’s Hall of Fame balloting, just five percentage points short of induction. There is a strong likelihood that he will be elected this year. Results will be announced on January 26.
If Schilling is welcomed to Cooperstown, he would seem a logical candidate for number retirement in Phoenix, despite his relatively short tenure with the Diamondbacks. If he is rebuffed, it could be a long time before Arizona holds its next ceremony.