Colangelo: Architect of a champion - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Colangelo: Architect of a champion

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Posted: Saturday, August 7, 2004 8:20 am | Updated: 5:12 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Jerry Colangelo was livid as he paced inside the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

Moments after Major League Baseball had voted to award expansion franchises to Tampa and Arizona, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf informed Colangelo there was a movement afoot to increase the fee by $35 million over the agreed upon price of $140 million.

Colangelo threatened to withdraw his bid then go straight to the hotel lobby and call a news conference to blast the league.

"This close," said Colangelo, holding his fingers an inch apart, to demonstrate how near Arizona came to not having a baseball franchise.

Fortunately for Colangelo — and the entire state of Arizona — a compromise was reached and the Diamondbacks were born.

"That’s why I feel so good about all of our accomplishments," he said. "Because of all the hurdles we had to overcome."

Among those:

• A baseball-friendly sales tax enacted by state and county governments for which Colangelo gladly shouldered the brunt of the blame, and the ire of a disgruntled taxpayer who fired a bullet into his suite.

• The condemnation of a family home that stood in the way of the proposed Bank One Ballpark.

• The perception of Phoenix as a small-time sports town.

"I wanted Phoenix to be a big league city," Colangelo said. "When I got here it was anything but in 1968. My friends were telling me, ‘why are you going to Phoenix? You’ll fail there. There’s nothing there.’

"But I believed we could make it happen."

Four seasons after the Diamondbacks were born, Colangelo did that when the club defeated the vaunted New York Yankees in one of history’s most memorable World Series.

Colangelo insists he is not being put out to pasture at age 64.

"I don’t want to be put in that category yet," he said. "We’ll talk about legacies some other time."

Yet Colangelo’s exit feels distinctly like the end of an era in Phoenix sports, coming as it does after selling his stake in the Suns earlier this year and being pushed, unceremoniously, from his perch with the Diamondbacks.

So, what is Colangelo’s legacy?

First and foremost, it is a reputation for fairness, honesty and ethics that attracted big-time free agents like Randy Johnson, Steve Finley and Todd Stottlemyre.

"He convinced me (three) years ago that this place was going to be a champion," said D-Backs broadcaster Mark Grace, who signed on for the championship 2001 season. "As always, he was a guy that was true to his word."

As committed as Colangelo was to building the city’s reputation, he also understood the limits of the market.

"I thought we had to establish a fan base and the only way to do that was to try to win — and win quickly,’ he said. "It’s one thing to have a plan. It’s another thing to have it work."

The baby into which Colangelo breathed life nine years ago has become a petulant adolescent with a mind of its own — one he can no longer bend to his will, and one he ultimately had to let go.

With mounting debt and Colangelo unwilling to relinquish the power that he had grown so accustomed to wielding, the current owners decided to mute the greatest sports figure the city has ever known.

"Once you get over the initial hurt of something like that. . . you kind of go on with your life," Colangelo said. "I think it was time for me to move on but let me just say this: it wasn’t planned, but really when you get down to it, it was my decision to say ‘I’m out. I’m walking.’ It could have gotten messy, but that’s not my nature."

Colangelo may no longer hold a position of power with the team he created, but his lofty stature in Phoenix and Arizona lore is assured because, above all else, he brought the city its first major sports championship.

"Jerry Colangelo is the face of Arizona," outfielder Luis Gonzalez said, succinctly. "This organization and this city are what they are because of him."

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