Randy Hill
Special to, Updated 3 hours ago

As a recipe for disaster, the Arizona Diamondbacks had lined up enough ingredients for a gut-ripping feast.

This taste of Arizona was not recommended in any baseball cookbook. Let's start with their decision to wave bye-bye to the most popular player in team history. True, the recent production of Luis Gonzalez had been miles from commensurate with his salary level, but the fan base probably didn't need another reason to be bitter.

Please note that the D-backs did make a noteworthy, free-agent expenditure, forking over considerable loot for a 43-year-old pitcher with a bad back. So, Randy Johnson rewarded them with 10 games and season-ending surgery.

To pick up the unreasonable slack, their new most-popular player was having a career year in his walk season. But the D-backs made it clear they aren't going to pay the prevailing rate to keep Eric Byrnes. According to insider wisdom, they had too many hotshot outfielders in the farm system and too many bills to pay. Unfortunately, this tactic wasn't sitting all that well with the dwindling fan base, which noticed most of their big-league-stationed hotshots hitting below .250.

Much of the fan base — which was treated to an overall ticket-price rollback — was alienated by the new ownership's commitment to pretending the old ownership hadn't existed. For the record, the old ownership generated a World Series championship in the club's fourth year of existence and enough debt to make a color-scheme change from purple to red seem almost inevitable.

With the team checking in at 27th among Major League teams in runs scored through July, D-backs fans spun the Chase Field turnstiles to a ranking of 23rd in attendance.

That doesn't seem like an appropriate amount of interest for a team with — drum roll right here — the second-best record in the National League.
Yeah, it's tough to add up, but the D-backs have conjured enough ways to swagger into this week with a 1½;-game lead in the NL West. They're 13 games over .500, the first time that's happened anywhere near this late in the season since 2002.

That's the year after Arizona knocked off the New York Yankees in the World Series, a memorable experience provoking fans to put the D-backs fourth in big-league attendance for '02.
Top prospect Justin Upton is the face of Arizona's youth movement. (Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)
But that hayride quickly went off the road.

Jerry Colangelo, the man who brought big-league sports (the NBA Suns were first) to Arizona by convincing other people to fork over millions for the cause, had used the checkbook method to build that championship team. The aging stars and prolonged contracts eventually spelled on-field and bottom-line doom, leading to financial intervention from the league to keep the franchise alive.
With Phoenix ranking 67th on the nation's per-capita income list according to, attendance went from an average of 39,493 per game in '02 to 25,821 in '06 with a meager climb to 26,250 this season.

The fans who continued to show up noticed the new ownership group had all but wiped away any evidence of the franchise's modest history. The changes included a new logo and a switch from purple to something called Sedona Red. Based on his bookkeeping contributions, a better name might be Colangelo Red.
It's slightly surprising that the Jeffrey Moorad-Ken Kendrick ownership team hasn't turned the Chase Field swimming pool into a skate park.

Despite the financial nightmare, many of the locals aren't thrilled that Colangelo was pushed out of the way. Others used his departure as a dandy excuse to quit watching a bad team. Arizona sports fans — who were a bit spoiled by the early D-backs success — hadn't been this disappointed since John Paxson was left wide open.

The losing trend seemed to be lingering this season, with Byrnes and second baseman Orlando Hudson struggling to keep the D-backs competitive while kids such as Stephen Drew, Connor Jackson, Chris Young and Carlos Quentin struggled at the plate. For seemingly doomed potential, this looked even worse than a room full of journalism students.