The 2023 World Series is set between the Texas Rangers and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Both rosters were not believed to be in the top half of the preseason power rankings and lost over 100 games within the last two years.
Both likely care about something else in their respective location: Texas with football, Arizona with retirement and sunshine.
Yet they both romantically got here in the most absurd and awesome ways possible. Texas rallied behind corny music and brotherhood in the locker room. Arizona held up a sheet of paper.
These aren’t the flashiest teams, but they’re certainly two of the most memorable and romantic stories.
Here’s how we got here and why you should care.
In 2022, the Texas Rangers relieved President Jon Daniels of his presidency after being in charge of the organization for almost 17 years. Manager Chris Woodward was fired after just three years of coaching the team with an atrocious record of 211-287 with two last-place finishes. This organization since losing back-to-back World Series in 2010-2011 has endured a plethora of roster-building catastrophes and underperformances, from failing to put together a competent pitching staff (never forget the 1 inning of Corey Kluber), investing in free agents that amounted to practically nothing or were bugged by injuries (Matt Harrison, Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Hamilton again post-rehab), or failing to have some sort of identity in a division owned by the Houston Astros for the past decade. When Joey Gallo is, at one point, the face on your team’s billboard, you have a major problem.
They had three winning seasons since that 2011 World Series, all with first-appearance playoff exits that were embarrassing on and off the field and off-the-field, with Jose Bautista bat-flipping his way into one of the most iconic sports photos in history. They had three last-place finishes in the AL West, including losing 102 games in 2021. When the Rangers just won their first game this season, it was the first time they had a record above .500 in three years. They were either abysmal or a team with no identity or history trying to rebound from owning the American League for two years with nowhere to go or find their footing.
In 2020, the Rangers were in need of a reset from their traditional roster construction from Jon Daniels, so they brought in former player and one of the youngest MLB executives, Chris Young, to take over the GM role, a local product from Highland Park that then went on to pitch at Princeton before being a Ranger himself. It was the beginning of a new era in Texas from a construction standpoint, and going the younger, former player route was a drastic change that was a much-needed look in the mirror of, “Alright, this REALLY isn’t working.”
Baseball is a salary cap-less sport that is the most scrutinized for not having any limitations on spending, yet you still see teams bottoming out, refusing to invest in winning, posting 100+ loss seasons to hopefully acquire prospects to turn into the “Houston Astros” model where you sacrifice your soul to develop talent. “If the Rays are consistently making the postseason by not spending anything, or the Dodgers can just outspend you to win their division, then why bother?” says the billionaire owners in the press boxes who just own professional baseball teams to brag about it on their yacht parties.
That’s why the Rangers’ spending spree beginning in 2021 under Chris Young was absolutely jarring; the Rangers needed to revamp their roster entirely and build for the long term; why were they suddenly spending half a billion dollars on Marcus Semien and Corey Seager alone? Why would you trust a team to spend that money and build a competent enough core for those stars to contend in their window? Paying Semien, Seager, and essentially buying an entire pitching staff are moves that the big-market, trusted franchises make to win immediately, not a team that had several last-place finishes; that’s why when they signed Jacob deGrom, one of the most-impactful pitchers of this generation when healthy, to a 5-year, $185 million contract only for him to need another Tommy John surgery after 6 games, it gave us the “same old irresponsibly-spending Rangers” deja vu.
Yet somehow, despite the lack of trust, the purchase-and-paste roster, and a deGrom contract that was a wash, they continued to win. Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy came out of retirement with three World Series rings because he believed in Young’s vision and the capability of this team to win now; a hire as stable as Bochy and smart veteran bats at the plate like Seager and Semien gave the team an identity that was missing. The Rangers had the second-best offense in the league next to the historic Atlanta Braves; we wondered how long they could keep up relying on that offensive firepower, and the unsung heroes surrounding Seager and Semien, the rookie Josh Jung, the offensive-producing Jonah Heim, and of course, slugging phenom Adolis Garcis, carried them over the top of the Astros, Mariners, and Angels the first half of the year.
When they hit a midseason skid- more bullpen blown leads than saves, a thinning pitching rotation that couldn’t support the offensive production and injuries throughout, it was the same old Rangers that we associated with the early playoff exits and shortcomings. The Astros passed them up for the AL West title despite Texas leading the division for practically three-fourths of the year.
However, they made the dance in the extended playoff. All you had to do was get in and, ironically, jam out to Creed since pitcher Andrew Heaney approved it in the locker room. The “dudes rock” grunge became a rallying cry, and suddenly, the team in turmoil with no momentum had Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi looking like Cy Young winners and rookie Evan Carter looking like a veteran All-Star. They demolished the Rays, who got off to the hottest start in baseball; they swept the Orioles, the best record in the American League, and they came back to win two games on the road in game seven, where Adolis Garcia’s thrust of Thor’s hammer into the night sky TWICE slayed the dragon that was the Houston Astros to win the battle for the Lone Star State.
The Rangers are back in the Fall Classic.
All it took was investing in winning, competent minds and a few 90’s Creed CDs.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been the little brother of the NL West for over two decades now, be it to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants, or even the now big-spending Padres. As an afterthought in a secluded dome in a desert where the beautiful people go to retire and hang out in the pool in the outfield, they had little to no expectations coming off of three consecutive finishes in either 4th or 5th place in the division, including losing 110 games in 2021.
The 8th-lowest payroll in Major League Baseball, the Diamondbacks were investing in their youth, alongside the token signing of veteran and Rays legend Evan Longoria. At the same time, many had hoped Longoria would join a contender in his age 38 season; it would appear he’d be soaking up the desert sun and mentoring a roster that had been in the prospect-game for a while. Manager Torey Lovullo is a highly-regarded, player-oriented coach, so at most, they would be a fun team that was managed well and could be a pest in their division like the latter half of their 2022 season. Their prize prospect Corbin Carroll had only played 32 games at age 22 when they signed him to a $111 million 8-year extension. They traded stud outfielder and catcher Daulton Varsho to the Blue Jays for 23-year-old Gabriel Moreno to build for the long term. This was a team in your traditional long-term build, it appeared.
Then they started playing games.
The 5’10 Corbin Carroll and their trade acquisition, Lourdes Gurriel from the Jays in the Varsho deal, were performing like the eventual NL All-Stars they would become. They led the NL West for the entirety of June. While the D-backs lacked any pop at all, all they needed to do was benefit from the new rules on the basepaths; they played great defensive along with small ball offense, getting the ball in play and dominating the basepaths, second in the majors in stolen bases, leading the league in sacrifice hits, leading in triples, and maximizing their chances with the fourth-most plate appearances.
They ultimately snuck in as the final wild card team in the postseason; theoretically, they would not have made it at all if not for a Chicago Cubs dropped fly ball, and the Diamondbacks were expected to lose to the division-winning Brewers in the first round with a thin rotation.
Then they swept the Brewers, outscoring them 16-6 in three games. There was no way they would lose to the well-rested Dodgers, who had owned them for two decades in the division and had just come off of sweeping them in dominant fashion, with Clayton Kershaw having a 22-12 record against them and Merrill Kelly having the most starts against a particular team without getting a win. Naturally, Kershaw got absolutely rocked, giving up 6 runs while only recording one out; the entire Dodgers starting pitching staff went a combined 4.2 innings in three games, and former MVPs Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman went 1-21 in a sweep that wasn’t close. Oh, and Merrill Kelly got the win.
Finally, facing a 2-0 series deficit against the reigning NL champion Phillies and their hard-hitting, raucous lineup that is essentially if high school football guys played baseball in the NLCS, one of the most absurd things ever happened: a Diamondbacks fan was caught on TV holding one of the most low-effort, simple signs possible: an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with a plain black font that simply read “SNAKES ALIVE.”
That paper resulted in the impossible: Arizona got a walk-off hit in game 3, backed by their fiery bullpen of Andrew Saalfrank, Ryan Thompson, Kevin Ginkel, and Paul Sewald. In game 4, every single fan in the stand got their own copy of the SNAKES ALIVE paper, and they even the series with an entire bullpen game in a similar fashion that the 2014 Royals used in their World Series run. Then, with their backs against the wall in an SEC-like atmosphere in Philadelphia, they won two more games to win the series in 7 to shut down the big bats of Castellanos and Harper with that same formula. The Snakes were never dead. We kept clamoring for the funeral, and they rose up and spewed the city of Philadelphia and Mike Mad Dog Russo with venom in the face.
This Diamondbacks team thrived in being doubted in order to get here, from a manager who believed in the roster, a group of reliable arms in the bullpen, trust in youth that is entirely talented and respected by the veterans, and a dumb and awesome piece of paper.
How can you not be romantic about baseball?
Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images