One of the most feared sluggers of the early 2000s, Luiz Gonzalez is best remembered for his walk-off single in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees, driving in Craig Counsell to win the Arizona Diamondbacks their first and only World Series title.
But Gonzalez provided exceptional offense for much of his career, spanning 19 seasons and seven teams.
A five-time All-Star, Gonzalez was a power hitter who excelled in extra-base hits and on-base percentage.
First player you think of when you hear Arizona Diamondbacks?
Luis Gonzalez. The 2001 World Series was a classic. pic.twitter.com/ZBEESqIGsx
— onemillioncubs (@onemillioncubs) December 31, 2019
Joining the team in just their second year of existence and leading them to a World Series championship, Gonzalez remains one of the Diamondbacks’ most iconic players.
Luis Emilio Gonzalez was born in Tampa, Florida on September 3, 1967, to Cuban parents.
A childhood friend of future Major Leaguer Tino Martinez, Gonzalez played high school baseball for Thomas Jefferson High School in Tampa, graduating in 1985.
While Gonzalez’s play on the field drew some collegiate attention, he was not drafted by a Major League team and decided to attend the University of South Alabama to play college baseball and eventually be drafted by a professional team.
Gonzalez chose South Alabama after convincing the head coach to give him a shot at making the team’s roster.
Other interested schools had planned to redshirt Gonzalez, but he wanted to play right away and gain as much collegiate experience as possible.
Reflecting on choosing South Alabama, Gonzalez said:
“I told the coach ‘The other schools are wanting to redshirt me, if you tell me you’ll give me an opportunity to play here and not redshirt me coming in – and if I don’t come in and do well, I understand. You can redshirt me. But just give me a chance.”
The coach promised Gonzalez he could attempt to make the team during the spring, and Gonzalez never looked back.
While he entered college as a second baseman, Gonzalez saw time primarily at first base and in the outfield at South Alabama.
He made the team and played in every single game going forward as a starter.
He found instant success and carved out a career that earned him induction into South Alabama’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
He ranks among the Jaguars’ best players, finishing his collegiate career fourth in home runs, second in doubles, and first in RBI.
Gonzalez’s performance in college led to numerous accolades, including second-team freshman All-America and All-Sun Belt.
In 1988 he was named the captain of the team.
In addition to his impressive career at South Alabama, Gonzalez also played baseball for American Legion.
Considered an up and coming offensive prospect, the Houston Astros drafted Gonzalez out of South Alabama in the fourth round of the 1988 draft.
Gonzalez spent 1988, 1989, and 1990 bouncing around the Astros’ minor league system, gaining experience hitting professional pitching and playing the outfield.
In the minors, Gonzalez exhibited strong on-base skills and hit well.
He was called up to the Major Leagues in September of 1990, making his debut on September 4 and serving in a bench role for the remainder of the season.
Gonzalez’s first full Major League season came in 1991, a season in which he played in most of the Astros’ games and hit 13 home runs with a .254 batting average.
Over the next four seasons, Gonzalez was a solid but unspectacular hitter in Houston.
While his home run totals never reached 20, Gonzalez became one of the best gap hitters in baseball.
He totaled 141 doubles in his time with the Astros and had an on-base percentage of .324.
In 1995, the Astros traded Gonzalez to the Chicago Cubs, where he would finish the season.
Gonzalez hit .276 with 13 home runs that year between his time in Houston and Chicago.
Spending the latter half of 1995 and all of 1996 with the Cubs, Gonzalez picked up where he had left off in Houston.
He had limited power, hitting just 25 combined home runs.
Gonzalez’s on-base percentage improved as he began drawing more walks, and he was still hitting doubles at an impressive rate.
The team struggled in both seasons and finished with a losing record.
Up to this point in his career, he had yet to appear in the postseason, coming closest in 1994 with Houston before the players’ strike canceled the postseason while the Astros were in first place.
Gonzalez became a free agent after his brief stint in Chicago and returned to the Astros on a one-year deal for the 1997 season.
After a lackluster offensive season, he then signed with the Detroit Tigers, where in 1998 he had his first 20 home run season.
He drove in 71 runs and hit 35 doubles for the Tigers.
Gonzalez again did not make the postseason, as the Tigers finished last in the AL Central and won just 65 games.
They would trade Gonzalez to the newly minted Arizona Diamondbacks before the 1999 season.
The Diamondbacks were an expansion team and 1999 was just their second season in existence.
After finishing with a measly 65-97 record in their inaugural season, the Diamondbacks stormed onto the scene in 1999 with the help of Gonzalez.
Gonzalez had the best season of his career thus far after eight seasons on bad teams.
The Diamondbacks, carried by Gonzalez’s offense and pitching from Randy Johnson, won 100 games and won the NL West, making their first-ever postseason appearance.
Gonzalez hit a career-high 26 home runs and drove in 111 runs while hitting .336, a full 69 points above his 1998 total.
Gonzalez became one of the National League’s best hitters and was selected to his first All-Star team.
While the Diamondbacks lost the NLDS to the New York Mets, they had taken the league by surprise and were poised to continue their sudden success.
While the Diamondbacks failed their replicate their breakout season, Gonzalez succeeded.
He improved his home run totals, drove in more runs, and hit a whopping 45 doubles.
2001 was the best season of Gonzalez’s career and the most successful for the Diamondbacks.
Gonzalez clobbered an astounding 57 home runs, batted .325, and totaled 142 RBI on the way to his second All-Star selection.
Luis Gonzalez (Diamondbacks 1999-2003 per season averages)
5.0 WAR#MLB #Dbacks #Peak #MLBStats pic.twitter.com/Pw3oJsbRQG
— Diamond Talk Podcast (@DiamondTalkPod) December 10, 2021
The Diamondbacks not only returned to the postseason but defeated the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves to win the NL pennant and face the New York Yankees in the World Series.
In just their fourth year, the Diamondbacks had made the World Series thanks to Gonzalez and stellar pitching from Johnson and Curt Schilling, who had joined the team the previous year.
In the most iconic moment of Gonzalez’s career and the history of the franchise, Gonzalez hit a bloop single in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Yankees’ dominant closer, Mariano Rivera.
20 years ago today, Luis Gonzalez won the Diamondbacks the World Series
DBacks +1000 ✅ pic.twitter.com/CGPQ2ggRmO
— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) November 4, 2021
The Diamondbacks won the World Series, preventing the Yankees from winning their fourth World Series title in a row.
In addition to a World Series ring, Gonzalez finished 3rd in the NL MVP vote and won that year’s Home Run Derby.
The Diamondbacks made the postseason again in 2002 but lost to the Cardinals in a sweep in the NLDS.
They failed to make the postseason in 2003, finishing just third in the NL West.
While his power numbers did not quite match 2001’s 57 home runs, Gonzalez hit 28 home runs in 2002 and 26 in 2003.
His batting average also dropped, as did his RBI totals.
While his offensive production declined, Gonzalez was still a very productive hitter, continuing to hit over .300 and drive in close to 100 runs.
He was selected to the All-Star team in both seasons.
Gonzalez remained a good hitter throughout the mid-2000s, but it became quite clear that his 2001 season was an outlier and that Gonzalez was more of a 25 home run, .300 hitter type of player and not a monster slugger like Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez.
Gonzalez reached a number of milestones during these years, including notching his 2,000th career hit and passing Babe Ruth on the all-time doubles list.
He made another All-Star team in 2005, but the Diamondbacks failed to reach the heights they had earlier in the decade, finishing with the worst record in the league in 2004 and winning just 77 games in 2005.
During the 2006 season, rumors began to circulate about Gonzalez using steroids.
In an interview about steroids in baseball with the Arizona Republic, former Diamondbacks’ partner Ken Kendrick mentioned Gonzalez’s name in connection with rumors he was hearing about which players were involved with the ongoing steroid era.
The news blew up, and Gonzalez became infuriated that his name was mentioned.
“I don’t want to be in this situation. I don’t think any of my teammates do. He’s trying to protect the game of baseball in his own way (referring to Kendrick). It’s unfortunate that I almost have to sit here today to defend myself for no reason.”
Gonzalez signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 2007 season after almost a decade in Arizona.
His tenure was not successful, making disparaging comments publically about the Dodgers’ organization.
He was upset that he was often pulled late in games for better defensive players and his reduced playing time.
Matt Kemp, a rising Dodgers’ prospect, was beginning to see more and more time in the outfield over Gonzalez.
After a lackluster season in Los Angeles, Gonzalez signed with the Florida Marlins on a one-year, $2 million deal.
The Marlins were looking to add another veteran outfielder.
Other teams were interested in Gonzalez, including the San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays.
At age 40, Gonzalez served primarily as a pinch hitter and backup outfielder for a young Marlins team.
He hit eight home runs, batted .261, and drove in 47 runs in 341 at-bats during the 2008 season.
Following the year, Gonzalez decided to retire after 19 seasons in the Major Leagues.
Life After Baseball
Luis Gonzalez finished his career with 51 WAR, 2,591 hits, 354 home runs, and a career batting average of .283.
Overall, Gonzalez had a solid career as an offense-first player, providing consistent production for bad teams until he broke out with the Diamondbacks in the early 2000s.
He remains an icon in Arizona, helping bring the Diamondbacks their only World Series championship to date with one of the most clutch base hits in the history of baseball.
Gonzalez joined the Diamondbacks’ front office just a year after retiring, serving as a senior advisor to the president and CEO of the franchise.
In this role, Gonzalez supports the business side of the team along with other duties, including serving as an analyst during some of the team’s home games, mentoring players throughout the organization, interacting with children involved in Diamondbacks-sponsored charities, and speaking with season ticket holders.
In 2010, the Diamondbacks honored Gonzalez’s contributions to the team by retiring his number 20.
He was the first Diamondback to have his number retired, followed by Randy Johnson in 2015.
A fan favorite during his time in Arizona, the crowd at Chase Field began chanting “Gonzo!” as Gonzalez and his family surrounded home plate before a game against the San Diego Padres.
He was given a painting of his infamous World Series hit and a framed jersey as the crowd cheered him on.
During the ceremony, Gonzalez told the crowd:
“Baseball has meant so much to me. It has given me so many opportunities and memories both on and off the field. And for all you fans who are here today, I want to say thank you for sharing this special day with me.”
Becoming eligible for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014, Gonzalez has failed to be elected.
Gonzalez’s power surge in the early 2000s is cause for suspicion among voters, as they have yet to induct players like Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds due to steroid use.
In his first and only year appearing on the ballot, Gonzalez received just 0.90 percent of the vote.
Since players need at minimum 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot going forward, Gonzalez fell off the ballot in his first and only year of eligibility.
There has been much speculation surrounding Gonzalez’s role in the steroid era of the 1990s and 2000s.
Despite the rumors that began circulating in 2006, Gonzalez has adamantly denied steroid use both during his playing career and in his post-career.
Being that he hit 57 home runs in 2001 and came nowhere close to that figure before or after, typical of many steroid users, it has been assumed that Gonzalez was taking steroids.
Despite this, Gonzalez has never tested positive for steroids, admitted to using steroids, or has been named by another player as a steroid user.
Books like Jose Canseco’s Juiced, in which he documents the players he knew personally who used steroids, Gonzalez has not been mentioned, nor was he mentioned in the Mitchell Report, a Report published in 2007 by Senator George Mitchell naming players who had used steroids.
Outside of his work with the Diamondbacks, Gonzalez has been involved in a number of charities and business ventures.
He has owned and operated a few different restaurants in the Arizona area named “Gonzo’s”, his nickname as a player with the Diamondbacks.
He currently serves on the board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a charity organization founded in 1986 by Major League players.
The charity helps those associated with baseball someway deal with crises and hardships in their lives, including education, homelessness, financial assistance, and more.
The organization provides grants and scholarships to students along with providing support in numerous ways.
Those helped by the organization include former Major and minor league players, umpires, scouts, and anyone involved with these organizations.
Gonzalez has become increasingly involved with Arizona politics during his post-career, supporting the Republican Party.
In 2008, Gonzalez endorsed Republican Arizona Senator John McCain in his bid for the presidency and supported Senator Jon Kyl in 2006 in a re-election campaign.
Gonzalez has also spent time working for ESPN during Major League Baseball’s postseason, serving as an analyst for postseason games, and has served in a similar capacity with FOX.
In 2006, Gonzalez founded IsTalking with business partner Anthony Conti.
IsTalking is a social network built to function similarly to Facebook but for specific colleges and universities.
One notable example is ASUIsTalking.com, built specifically for students attending Arizona State University.
The stated goals of these sites are to help students and alumni interact with other community members and provide an outlet for those entering the schools to be able to meet new people and see what is going on at the different campuses.
Luis is not the only Gonzalez to play baseball, as his son Jacob was drafted by the Giants 58th overall in the 2017 amateur draft.
A third baseman, Jacob played for Chaparral High School in Arizona, where hit .449 during his senior year.
Jacob currently plays in the Giants’ minor league system, playing third base, first base, and left field.
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