09/09/11 1:00 PM ET
Gonzo comes full circle in place of triumph
World Series hero enjoying return as part of D-backs front office
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
But there was only one place he considered home.
"I've always felt a special bond here in Arizona with the fans and the people," Gonzalez said.
It's a two-way street, as Gonzalez clearly became the organization's most popular player -- something he cultivated by making himself a part of the community during his eight years playing for the D-backs.
Most remembered for the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, Gonzalez's tenure with the D-backs, which began in 1999, ended under less-than-ideal circumstances following the 2006 season.
The D-backs, at that time, were going with a youth movement and elected not to bring back Gonzalez. It was a move that was greeted by anger among the fan base, and the decision led to an estrangement between Gonzalez and the organization he loved.
Managing general partner Ken Kendrick and team president and CEO Derrick Hall decided to rectify that situation by reaching out to Gonzalez in 2009. It eventually led to Gonzalez becoming a special assistant to Hall.
"It was important to bring him back to the organization," Hall said. "He's so loved, and I think he's arguably the most popular sports figure in our state's history, but more than that, I think he brings tremendous value to the franchise.
"He's a very knowledgeable baseball guy, he's passionate about the fans, he cares about people and I wanted him to be in the fold again. It was one of my wisest moves. I'm very proud of some of the hires, whether you look at Kirk Gibson or Kevin Towers or bringing Bob Melvin back. But I would say No. 1, above all, is bringing back Luis Gonzalez. He's a good friend, and he's becoming an outstanding executive."
Ask what it is that Gonzalez does for the organization and you'll get a laundry list of answers that includes everything from community appearances to assisting Towers to helping the team close business deals.
"It's been great," Gonzalez said. "There was no secret that there were hard feelings with the old regime that was here, and I'm not afraid to say it now. With Derrick and Ken extending out to try and mend the bridge meant a lot to me. Just the fact that I'm still around the game and I get to interact with the fans still, and not only that, but I'm around people who love their jobs and love being here. I think it's part of the culture that they've created here."
Jay Bell, who scored the winning run in that Game 7, said the partnership between Gonzalez and Hall is a good one.
"They are unique in their approach to doing community-minded things," Bell said. "I can't tell you how enjoyable it is to see Gonzo around and doing some of the stuff he's doing. It's just really pretty marvelous. The capacity that he's in right now is perfect for him."
What Gonzalez's role will be in the future is somewhat up in the air. One thing that's clear is he will have options within the Arizona organization.
"I'm trying to help him as well make decisions," Hall said. "What is it that he wants to do? Does he want to continue working in the front office with me? Does he want to work on the field one day in uniform? Should we start gearing him toward that? Does he want to work in baseball operations and help out more there and one day become a general manager? I think he's capable of doing any of those, but I think right now he's having a lot of fun just working with us in the front office and absorbing. He's learning each of the departments, he's watching how we make business decisions, he's interested now in things like attendance and pricing."
Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly, who managed the 2001 team, said he was glad to see Gonzalez and the D-backs reunite.
"He's just one of those guys, everybody loved him," Brenly said. "Everybody loved him as a teammate, the fans loved him, the organizations that he played for loved him, his teammates all loved him. He's one of those rare birds that come along in the game every now and then, where nobody has anything bad to say about him, and that's very unusual in this game. But he is one of those rare guys and the Diamondbacks are very lucky to have him back in the fold."