It’s time to write the final chapter in what was a busy and memorable year in Arizona sports. Eric Sorenson and Espo rank and share their thoughts on the 10 biggest of 2013. Happy New Year!
1. Ken Whisenhunt fired, Bruce Arians hired: the Cardinals made some changes in their nest and Michael Bidwill deserves credit for hiring Arians who’s blunt, yet honest, approach with players has brought hope to the Birdgang. Promoting GM Steve Keim was a home run, as well.
2. Poolgate: hurt feelings has helped fuel a rivalry which renews “down under” when the Diamondbacks and Dodgers tangle (oops, poor word choice) in Australia. The D-backs will have long memories after LA’s Chase Field pool party but would be wiser to just worry about winning the NL West instead.
3. Todd Graham, Promise Keeper: put aside ASU’s lopsided loss to Stanford and complete meltdown to Texas Tech. Graham guided ASU to a 10-win season which included a Pac-12 South title and keeping the Territorial Cup in Tempe for the second-straight year. Now, what can you do for an encore?
4. Keeping the Coyotes: one of the most tiring and drawn-out Arizona sports stories finally found closure last summer. New ownership group IceArizona brings stability and head coach Dave Tippett is one of the more underrated coaches all sports. The question is will we see this nightmare again in five years with empty seats in Glendale and an out-clause to another market?
5. America’s First Baseman: 2013 was a breakout year for slugger Paul Goldschmidt who rewarded the Dbacks after signing an extension last March. “Goldy” carried Arizona offensively to help band-aid one of the worst bullpens in baseball history, while proving to be an excellent defender, as well. All added to a runner-up finish in the NL MVP balloting.
6. Here comes the Sun(s): The best thing owner Robert Sarver did was trust his first impressions after interviewing soon-to-be general manager Ryan McDonough. Well-respected and one of the brightest young minds in basketball he hired Jeff Hornacek, who’s proven to be much more than just a positive PR hire. McDonough overhauled a mis-matched roster into arguably the biggest surprise in the NBA. Trading for Eric Bledsoe and Miles Plumlee, while stock-piling draft picks and keeping cap flexibility makes for a bright future on Planet Orange.
7. A true success story on, off the field: Tyrann Mathieu trusted Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals trusted Peterson. Now all three are reaping the benefits. Despite a gruesome knee injury which cut his excellent rookie season short, the Cards secondary is in good hands with the former LSU stars and close friends. Mathieu turned out to be a third-round steal.
8. Northern Arizona tragedy: 17-year-old Hopi High running back Charles Youvella died just days after collapsing during a playoff game in November. The ripple effect sent shockwaves throughout the country and re-bonded an already tight Navajo community. It also added more fuel to the fire of child safety in sports, specifically youth football.
9. Welcome back to the winning ways: last summer who could have imagined the Sun Devils AND Cards would post double-digit winning seasons? Believe it. Despite missing the playoffs, Bruce Arians 10-6 debut marked just the fourth winning season since the Cards migrated west.
10. From Uptown to the ATL: this would be ranked much higher but the move was inevitable after GM Kevin Towers dangled him in trade talks and Upton’s struggles on, off the field got to the point where a change was in the best interest of both parties. The topic remains hot-button nearly a year later.
1. Poolgate: D-backs fans reminded their L.A. brethren that we don’t swim in their toilet (Dodger Stadium) so we’d appreciate it if they didn’t pee, or swim, in our pool. L.A. reminded us that they have little respect to their little brothers to the east.
2. Whisenhunt/Graves Fired/Arians and Keim hired: Out with the old and in with the new or one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. However you say it, it was a brilliant move for the Cardinals that paid immediate dividends.
3. Hornacek and McDonough Hired: See above.
4. ASU wins the Pac-12 south: It’s the best season since Jake Plummer and the Rose Bowl. Hopefully this time success is here to stay. Hopefully so is Todd Graham.
5. Upton Traded/Trumbo Acquired: Uptown turned into out of town but it may not have been the right move. Atlanta improved while the D-backs stayed mediocre leading to the team acquiring a hitter very similar to Upton.
6. Goldschmidt Happens: Paul Goldschmidt proved to be “America’s First Baseman” with his power and personality. He unfortunately couldn’t add the title of MVP because even his heroics couldn’t land the D-backs in the postseason.
7. Channing Frye’s Return: From life threatening heart virus to second life on the court Frye is the feel good story of the year.
8. Carson Palmer traded to AZ: He had over 4,000 yards and almost as many interceptions. Much like the Cards 10-win season, he was as exciting as he was frustrating.
9. Coyotes Ownership: The Great Gosbee ended the longest running soap opera in professional sports not involving T.O.
10. Tyrann Mathieu: Honeybadger obviously did care because he turned not only his football career around but also his life. It would have been the perfect story if it didn’t end with an injury.