Saturday, November 4, 2023

How are the Arizona Historymakers™ selected?

In the summer of 2022, a letter seeking nominations of living individuals for the 2023 AZ Historymakers was sent to members of Central Chapter of the AZ Historical Society and the Historical League. A committee of Historical League members then researched each nominee and compiled a one-page biography of that nominee's contributions to the State of Arizona.

The 2023 Selection Committee was composed of a variety of individuals from different fields and interests, and included some of the Historical League's previously honored Historymakers. The Historical League is grateful for their willingness to review and evaluate more than 60 nominations. Through a series of deliberations, they chose the nine outstanding honorees we celebrated on October 14, 2023.
Congratulations to the 2023 Arizona Historymakers:
Frank M. Barrios, Michael M. Crow Ph.D., Angel Delgadillo, Dolan Ellis, The Honorable Terry Goddard, Denise D. Resnik, Jeffrey M. Trent Ph.D., Daniel D. Von Hoff M.D., Mrs. Elizabeth J. White.

Honored in 2001 as AZ Historymaker, Jerry Colangelo reflects on DBacks

 Colangelo proud of his role in bringing DBacks to second World Series 

Dana Scott 

Arizona Republic. Nov 1, 2023

There likely would be no 2023 World Series in Phoenix this week if not for Jerry Colangelo. 

He’s nothing less than than the father of professional sports in Arizona, and who knows what the landscape would look like without his influence. 

Even though Colangelo hasn’t been involved with the Diamondbacks in almost two decades, the former owner still takes great pride in what the team has accomplished in making its second World Series appearance, coincidentally during its 25th anniversary season. 

“People have asked me the past few days how do I feel,” Colangelo told The Arizona Republic. “I gave birth to the Suns. I gave birth to the Diamondbacks. You should know how I feel. I want them to win. When you give birth to something, you’re always attached. Kids get older, they’re still your kids, no different than baseball and basketball franchises.” 

Colangelo, of course, put pro sports on the map in Phoenix with the creation of the Suns, who began play in 1968. Some 30 years later, he assembled a group of investors who were granted a MLB expansion franchise. And just four years after their debut in 1998, the DBacks won the World Series, the first major pro sports title in Arizona history. 

That 2001 team, loaded with veterans acquired in trades and key free-agent signees, leading to a large payroll, was constructed completely differently than the current club, which he said “was put together extremely well by (General Manager Mike Hazen) and his group for sure, and (manager Torey) Lovullo’s done a terrific job of managing. This was not a highly paid, high-rent kind of ball club. It really wasn’t, and isn’t. 

“We had a different situation in ’01. Our payroll was I think ninth in the league that year that we won the World Series, and we beat the best team in baseball to do it and the best reliever in the history of baseball, Mariano Rivera to do it, but we did it.” 

Colangelo, who noted the 2023 team has “some individuals who had bounced around and had to make it the hard way,” went on to explain that “there are different paths to winning. There’s a dichotomy here between how we were able to do it in ’01 and how the DBacks this year can do it with a whole different format, and that makes it very exciting. Just the fact that the odds were 125-1 that they would even get this far. That itself is astounding. They say anything can happen in baseball. It would be more than fitting to see another World Series victory for this organization.” 

Parallels of success 

Colangelo harkened back to the Suns’ first trip to the NBA Finals in 1976 and drew comparisons to the DBacks winning it all in 2001. 

“I was being interviewed on the Celtic court before the game and Red Auerbach was being interviewed on another part of the court,” Colangelo said. “Underneath the Celtic championship flags, I’m thinking to myself, ‘We’re such a young team and quickly here we are in the Finals,’ ” Colangelo said. “We were born in ’68 and we were in the finals in ’76. I made the comment to myself, ‘This is really neat, and we’re gonna be back a lot,’ and then it took 16 years to get back again to the Finals. 

“Now switch over to the DBacks, the year we won the World Series, and had to play Atlanta for the (National League) pennant. We had a dinner and I told the guys about that story. It was about taking advantage of the opportunity when the opportunity presents itself because you never know if you’ll ever get another shot. That’s just the reality of the competitiveness of pro sports. It was just to bring focus that don’t let it slip out, don’t leave anything on the field. There are people who wait 100 years like the Cubs fans to win another World Series. Think about that, and we were the youngest franchise in baseball history to get that far, in our fourth season we won a World Series.”
Colangelo added that the DBacks’ four-season span from starting out as an expansion team to winning the title will be difficult for another possible future MLB expansion team to match or break. 

How Colangelo started the Diamondbacks 

Colangelo was a dynamic figure in basketball in the early 1990s. In the 1992-93 season, his Suns moved into a new downtown area, and he traded for Charles Barkley, who would win the 1993 NBA MVP award. Phoenix finally returned to the Finals, losing to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. 

Then Colangelo was approached to bring Major League Baseball to the des-ert. 

“In ’93 when we were in the finals against the Bulls, one of the (MLB) Board of Supervisors came to see me with Joe Garagiola Jr., who was a practicing attorney representing athletes here in town. They came to see me and said, ‘We think it’s time for baseball, and we think you’re the guy who can make it happen just because of your experience, your reputation, your ability to get things done.’ ” 

Colangelo initially resisted and told them he already had a full plate of duties, and didn’t “have any ambition” to spearhead an MLB expansion team in Arizona. 

He had a change of heart from his passion as a lifelong baseball fan and former high school star pitcher in the Chicago area. 

“I was a National League fan. I was a Cub fan. I knew all the National League parks for sure. I was a baseball player, a prospect. I had offers to sign as a left-handed pitcher. The young man who pitched behind me in high school was a guy named Jim Bouton, who pitched for the Yankees and wrote (the seminal 1970 baseball book) ‘Ball Four.’ 

“I threw my arm out at 17, and I was offered a nice bonus by the Dodgers to sign a contract, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t have anyone representing me. I was just a kid who was hungry to do something well and I wanted to buy a house for my mother. We never had a home. I wanted $50,000, I was offered $25,000, and I said, ‘If I don’t get 50, I’m going to college to play college basketball.’ And that’s when I went to KU to play with Wilt (Chamberlain).” 

Colangelo eventually transferred from Kansas to his home state team Illinois to play and finish his college basketball and baseball career. 

After he was a part of the brass that helped burgeon the Chicago Bulls in 1966, co-founded the Suns two years later, then planted the seeds for Phoenix’s pro baseball team. 

Colangelo put an investment group together to buy the Triple-A team Phoenix Giants, the longtime farm club for the San Francisco Giants (1966-85), from his former Illinois basketball team-mate Dave Downey and baseball team-mate and former MLB player Ethan Blackaby. 

When Downey wanted to leave the ownership, he requested for Colangelo to purchase his share. Colangelo bought the team for $300,000 with five investors. He eventually sold half the team for $750,000 to the grandson of baseball’s purported inventor, Abner Doubleday. 

Colangelo soon after sold the remaining half for another $750,000 for a $1,200,000 profit. 

“The reason I wanted to keep half of the team at the time was, I made this statement to some of my partners, I said, ‘Someday, Major League Baseball is going to come here, and if we own the baseball rights to the market, someone would have to pay us indemnifications in order to get clearance to have a major league team.’... I never dreamed that I would be the person who would be paying indemnifications to the new owners of the Phoenix Giants because we had to do that. If I remember right, it was $6 million in indemnifications.” 

Colangelo said that former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and then-Milwaukee Brewers own- er and ex-MLB commissioner Bud Selig encouraged him to pursue the Dia- mondbacks ownership for the seismic impact an MLB team would have in Phoenix, the state and southwest region. 

Once Colangelo announced that he was planning to buy the Arizona team rights, he had several businessmen call wanting to join his ownership group because of the Suns’ success. 

On March 9, 1995, Major League Baseball granted the franchise to Colangelo’s ownership group, and the club played its first game on March 31, 1998. 

Colangelo stepped down from the DBacks ownership in 2004, the same year that he sold the Suns to Robert Sarver after his 17-year tenure as the team’s majority owner.