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Dan Bickley

Zack Greinke’s timing couldn’t be better for Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks' pitcher Zack Greinke throws in the first inning during a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Sunday, July 8, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Major League Baseball has a personality problem. Too many great players refuse to be stars. Swagger that oozes from Latino players is too often shunned on American soil. Clubhouse code pulls everyone to the middle, frowning hard on self-promotion and individual brands.

And then there’s Zack Greinke.

The Diamondbacks’ most expensive player is enigmatic, unemotional, detached. He’s part of a team but not a community. He’s been an ace and an albatross. He’s one of two Valley athletes that can command over $30 million a year.

Chances are, you like Devin Booker a lot better.

The landscape and perceptions might be changing. Greinke’s 13-strikeout performance in Sunday’s win over the Rockies was a defining moment in a marathon grind, exceeding the standard weight of a single game. It catapulted the D-backs out of third place in the National League West one day after the team had tumbled below the Rockies. It expanded his stretch of stellar performances, confirming his status as one of the great mound artists in the game.

Greinke had few peers over three illustrious seasons with the Dodgers, winning 51 of 66 decisions in 92 starts. He hasn’t had the same impact in Arizona, but only a handful of players could sustain that level of production. He is built to win baseball games but now defined by dollar signs, thus seemingly doomed to fail in Arizona.

Until now, when he could become one of the most reluctant stars in Valley history.

When the D-backs signed Greinke to a $206.5 million contract, allocating over $34 million a season to a player lucky to start 34 games, the bar was set impossibly high. Valley fans gloated at how a financially-challenged team threw caution to the wind, showing up late and snagging Greinke in the span of five and a half hours. Since his arrival, he has been occasionally dominant and frequently the subject of buyer’s remorse.

He is also proof that personalities matter in sports, an industry founded on competition yet dependent on entertainment value. We crave winning teams, but our fondness is fueled by athletes who make us laugh. Those who connect with the audience. The ones who make us feel.

Alas, Greinke isn’t built for personal interaction. He was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder in 2006, a condition that was treated, defeated and never seemed to be an issue once Greinke stepped on the mound. But he’s clearly uncomfortable when pursued by strangers, whether it’s the collective media or opposing players stalking him for an autograph.

His quirky, insulated nature isn’t a problem as long as Greinke produces at a high level, but that hasn’t always been the case in Arizona. His first impression was a disaster, pummeled in his first start at Chase Field. His clunky playoff outing against the Rockies in 2017 sabotaged the pitching staff, effectively robbing the team of any chance to win the National League Division Series.

He’s also been incredibly sturdy, a great teammate who hits well, steals bases and fields his position at an elite level. His baseball acumen is compensating for his aging arm and diminished velocity. His victory on Sunday was exactly the kind of alpha male display that can elevate a team and a staff. Patrick Corbin’s strong outing against the Cubs on Monday was proof that great pitching can be highly contagious.

Inside the clubhouse, Greinke is known to open up when the subject is scouting, player development and farm systems. Throw in his tight lips and highly-private nature, and he has the makings of a great general manager somewhere down the road.

For now, the D-backs need a great pitcher. Someone who fuels the collective bravado and internal belief. Someone who can take this team to the finish line without flinching. Someone who can be this year’s version of J.D. Martinez.

Greinke could be that guy. His show of dominance might be a late arrival in Arizona. But with a pennant race in the balance and football season just around the corner, his timing couldn’t be better.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com.  Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier