Tony Womack

Womack led the NL in steals three straight seasons from 1997 to 1999. Desperate for speed at the top of their lineup, the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired him from the Pittsburgh Pirates in February 1999 even though it meant moving him from second base to the outfield, where he had virtually no experience. A year later, Arizona moved him back to the infield, this time at shortstop.

Although he reached the majors as early as 1993, Womack didn’t play more than 17 games until 1997, when he took over as the Bucs’ second baseman and leadoff hitter. He batted .278 in his first full season, stealing an NL-high 60 bases and earning an All-Star selection. He followed up his rookie campaign with similar numbers in 1998, hitting .282 and again topping the Senior Circuit with 58 thefts. From May 27, 1997 till August 5, 1998, he set a major-league record by going 918 at-bats without hitting into a double play. The only chink in his leadoff armor was his low walk totals, which dragged his on-base-percentage down to levels usually reserved for lineup bottom-feeders.

That shortcoming didn’t prevent Arizona from aggressively pursuing and eventually landing Womack for a pair of minor-leaguers. But with Jay Bell moving from shortstop to second base that season, Womack was forced to learn the outfield. Ironically, it was Bell who forced him to move from shortstop to second base in the first place. In his Pirates’ minor-league days, Womack had switched from his natural shortstop position because Bell had a stranglehold on Pittsburgh’s shortstop job.

Reluctantly, but without complaint, Womack accepted the move and proved to be just what Arizona needed. The skinny, 5’9”, left-handed swinger set career highs with 111 runs scored and 72 steals in 1999, igniting a Diamondbacks offense that featured Steve Finley, Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams. On July 21st he ripped an eighth-inning inside-the-park grand slam off Houston closer Billy Wagner that turned a 4-3 deficit into an 8-4 Diamondbacks win. The only blemish on his season came when Womack dropped a crucial fly ball in the eighth inning of Arizona’s Game Four NLDS matchup with the Mets. The miscue helped send the contest into extra innings, where New York won the game and the series on a 10th-inning homer by Todd Pratt.

After the season the Diamondbacks signed Womack to a four-year $17 million extension. But, facing a logjam in right field that spring, the club moved him back to shortstop, where he had begun his pro career. Although Womack’s 45 steals in 2001 were only good for fourth in the NL, he did pace the league with 14 triples and set career highs with seven home runs and 57 RBIs. Womack also enjoyed a 24-game hitting streak in May that tied Houston’s Tony Eusebio for the longest in the NL.

In April 2001 Womack’s father Thomas died. On Father’s Day that June he belted a grand slam to lead the Diamondbacks to an 8-3 win over Detroit. As he rounded the bases Womack began to cry, and then broke down in tears after he returned to the dugout. “My dad was everything,” he said after the game. “Today was one of the first important days that my dad is not around for anymore and it’s kind of beating me up. I wanted to do something a little special. You try to do a lot of things in between the white lines to not let the emotions show, but you hit a home run and you get to second base and the next thing you know you have snot running down your nose.”