Kirk Gibson is not one to take losing in stride, not as a highly
self-motivated player and not as a manager who found success in his
first season in charge.
So after his Arizona Diamondbacks dipped from NL West champions
in 2011 to a .500 team in 2012, Gibson is at work building the kind
of team he likes, one that, to use one of his favored words,
”grinds” to get its victories.
Nothing flashy, just hard work, hustle and success based on good
team chemistry and aggressive, hard-nosed play.
With Gibson the one setting the tone.
”I’m just determined,” he said after pitchers and catchers
reported for spring training on Monday. ”I can just say that 81-81
does not sound good to me at all, and then I took it very
personally, and I take responsibility for it.”
His players took it personally, too, he said.
”I’m sure they did,” Gibson said. ”It’s not who we are. It’s
not who we aspire to be. But having said that, you could do
everything right and it may still not happen.”
Win a division with a San Francisco team that won the World
Series two of the past three seasons and a Los Angeles Dodgers
organization with money to burn, the Diamondbacks made some
significant personnel decisions in the offseason, most notably
dealing star outfielder Justin Upton, along with third baseman
Chris Johnson, to the Atlanta Braves for infielder Martin Prado,
right-hander Randall Delgado and three minor leaguers.
They added outfielder Cody Ross and right-hander Brandon
McCarthy from Oakland and bolstered the bullpen with several
players, most notably Heath Bell, acquired from Florida.
The arrival of McCarthy, coming back from a horrific injury when
he was hit in the head by a line drive, leaves Arizona apparently
set for four of the spots in the rotation. The fifth spot is up for
grabs with Delgado and left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin
the leading candidates.
The other big question mark facing Gibson is at shortstop, where
young Didi Gregorious – obtained from Cincinnati in a three-team
deal that sent former No. 1 pick Trevor Bauer to Cleveland – will
try to make the club as the everyday shortstop. He’ll compete with
Willie Bloomquist, returning from a nagging back injury, and Cliff
Pennington, who came along with Bell in the three-team trade that
sent center fielder Chris Young to Oakland.
The revamped lineup, general manager Kevin Towers said, is
designed to rely less on home runs for offense. Bloomquist,
described by Gibson as ”one of my favorites” because of his
hustling style of play, sees the kind of lineup that Gibson
”I think it certainly helps when you have everybody pulling in
the same direction and on the same page,” Bloomquist said. ”With
the guys they’ve brought in, they are certainly those mentality
type of guys. They aren’t afraid to get the uniform dirty. They
play hard. They really want to win. With the acquisitions that we
got, it certainly helps with the clubhouse atmosphere, it helps
with the chemistry of this team and we’ll see if it translates onto
That, of course, is the big question.
Gibson said that the team can make all kinds of improvements in
personnel, attitude and approach and it doesn’t guarantee great
success on the field.
”You analyze numbers and you analyze reality,” Gibson said.
”In 2011, we overachieved. In 2012, we underachieved. We want to
overachieve again. People make all kinds of predictions. How do you
really know? There’s a zillion ways to evaluate a team. You don’t
The manager has heard that this version of the Diamondbacks has
been designed to mimic his personality and approach to the game. He
downplays that idea.
”I mean, I’m not the general manager, number one,” Gibson
said. ”We all have discussions. I think decisions were all made
organizationally. The team we won with in 2011 was said to take my
personality, and yet we virtually had the same team last year and
it wasn’t like they weren’t playing like me. … Things didn’t fall
Gibson said he has evaluated himself along with everyone else
from last season.
”I certainly have to do things better and do my part,” he
said, ”but so does everybody else. It’s not me, it’s us.”
Upton, rightly or wrongly, was the face of the franchise. When
things didn’t go well, he got the blame.
So who is the face of the franchise now?
”I know who it is,” Gibson said. ”It’s us. I just see it as
us. Just look at the team the way it is. I think what stands out.
… It’s not one person. I know that on the teams I won on there
were a lot of very good players. It can be anybody on any given
day. It really can be. There’s a lot of strength and depth and a
lot of ability, and good makeup I think.
”You put it on somebody and they feel it and then all of a
sudden they get off to a slow start or things don’t go good,
they’re not carrying, and the pressure comes on. Now what? We’ll
make sure we spread the responsibility around this year.”