Major league baseball blazed a trail into America's southwest when Phoenix was awarded a National League franchise in March of 1995. Ownership was led by Jerry Colangelo, already the owner of the city's NBA Phoenix Suns. Colangelo brought Buck Showalter on board as manager in 1996, two full years before the Diamondbacks played their first game.
They lost that first game to Colorado, 9-2, on March 31, 1998. Five days later, the D-backs victimized the Giants for their first win, 3-2.
Phoenix introduced fans to Bank One Ballpark, another in the line of retro-parks gracing baseball. Bank One Ballpark is 1,100 feet above sea level; only Coors Field in Denver is at a higher elevation. It was the first ballpark in decades to bring back the "dirt stripe" between the pitchers’ mound and home plate, a feature once common on ball fields everywhere.
Despite the beautiful ballpark, and the meticulous leadership of Showalter and his coaches, the D-backs first season did not go so well (97 losses). Undeterred, they landed Randy Johnson as a free agent in the ensuing offseason, along with stalwart outfielder Steve Finley and speedy infielder Tony Womack.
The result was a complete turnaround. Finley, Luis Gonzalez, Matt Williams and Jay Bell each drove in more than 100 runs, Johnson went 17-9 and the Diamondbacks won 100 games and the National League West title. They fell to third in 2000, but made a critical midseason trade to acquire Curt Schilling, which set the stage for the following year.
Schilling and Johnson cut a swath through the National League in 2001, combining to go 43-12 and accounting for 47 percent of Arizona's 92 wins. The offense was sparked by Gonzalez's monster season (57 HRs, 142 RBI, .325 average) and the D-backs ousted the Braves and Cardinals from the National League playoffs. In the World Series, they defeated the three-time defending world champion Yankees in seven games, with Johnson and Schilling winning the co-Most Valuable Player award.
The team won its third West Division championship in 2002 but slipped precipitously after that, bottoming out at 51-111 in 2004.
A slow climb back to respectability through player development bore fruit with a fourth West Division crown in 2007. Brandon Webb led the pitchers (18-10, 3.01 ERA), and Chris Young (32 homers) and Eric Byrnes (21 homers, 83 RBI, .286 average) sparked the offense. They advanced to the National League Championship Series before losing to Colorado.
The Diamondbacks used Jerry Colangelo's deep pockets and the aggressive pursuit of free agents to bypass the typical lengthy growing pains associated with expansion franchises. They achieved unprecedented success, winning the National League West Division in only their second season and a world championship in only their fourth season — the fastest an expansion team has ascended to the top of the baseball world.