'Difficult day' for D-Backs: Gonzalez not in '07 plans

PHOENIX -- In what became the Arizona Diamondbacks'
signature moment, Luis Gonzalez joyfully hopped down the first-base
line and into the hearts of Valley sports fans.

Gonzalez produced the most memorable moment in the nine-year-old
team's history -- the bloop single off New York Yankees closer
Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 7 that drove in the
winning run in the 2001 World Series. It remains the state's only
major sports championship.

Throw in his career batting statistics -- he's the team's
all-time leader in hits (1,325), home runs (224) and RBI (772) --
and it's easy to see why Gonzalez became the club's most popular

But that's why it was so difficult for the club to say goodbye
Thursday. During a breakfast meeting on a day off for the team, the
Diamondbacks told the 39-year-old left fielder they will not bring
him back for a ninth season in 2007.

Then they called a somber Chase Field news conference to break
the news to everyone else.

"Obviously, this is a very difficult day for the
organization," general manager Josh Byrnes said. "Gonzo's done
about everything you can in this market as a player and as a

"Change isn't easy, but we feel very good about the cast that
will continue to wear the uniform," Byrnes said.

Byrnes said Eric Byrnes, who has played center field this year,
would become the club's everyday left fielder next season. Chris Young, who was recently promoted from Triple-A Tucson, will take
over in center. Another rookie, Carlos Quentin, is penciled in for
right field.

The club had not been expected to exercise its $10 million
option on Gonzalez for 2007. But Gonzalez had said he would be open
to discussing a new contract that would allow him to return for a
ninth season in Arizona, even at a reduced price.

"I want to stay here," Gonzalez said this week. "There's no
secret about that. I don't have any control over it."

Team officials said Gonzalez approached the club recently and
asked if a decision could be made soon so he could begin saying
goodbyes if he weren't in the team's plans. Managing partner Jeff
Moorad, a former player agent who negotiated Gonzalez' present
contract, said the club respected Gonzalez' wishes.

"I think more than anything, Gonzo desired clarity," Moorad
said. "Would it have been our preference to wait until the end of
the season? Of course. I think there was a legitimate need for
clarification. We didn't want to play games or mislead our fan base
or Luis.

"We'll miss Luis more than we can really express in words,"
Moorad said.

Gonzalez is expected to speak to reporters before Friday night's
home game against Colorado.

The Diamondbacks have seven home games remaining, beginning with
a three-game weekend series against Colorado Friday through Sunday.
The team finishes the regular season with four games against San
Diego Sept. 28-Oct. 1.

Though Gonzalez had held out hope that a new deal could be
reached, team officials said they declined to open negotiations.

"This isn't a financial decision," Moorad said. "This is a
decision about the long-term success of our ballclub."

Neither Moorad nor Byrnes would describe Gonzalez's reaction to
the news. But Moorad said the organization asked Gonzalez to
consider taking a position in the broadcast booth or in a coaching
capacity after he retires.

"It's not an easy thing to end a relationship," Moorad said.
"We made it clear to Luis this morning that there would be nothing
better, in our view, than to have him come back to us at the end of
his playing career, whenever that might be, and to be part of our
organization for the long term, whether it's in the broadcast booth
or whether it's on the field in some capacity."

The Diamondbacks acquired Gonzalez from Detroit after their
debut season in 1998, and he went on to become the franchise leader
in every major batting category. He hit 57 homers with 142 RBI in

Gonzalez is batting .277 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI this

On Tuesday night, Gonzalez became the oldest player in baseball
history to hit 50 doubles in a season. He has 545 career doubles,
20th on the all-time list. Gonzalez has received a standing ovation
after each milestone double at home this year.

Club officials know many fans won't be happy with the decision.
But they hope fans will accept the team's long-range plan even as
they're saying goodbye to a favorite player.

"This wasn't easy," Byrnes said. "Looking at a player of this
magnitude, and how and when he parts ways with a franchise, there
aren't many stories of a smooth transition."