TALENT CHALLENGED/NL WEST

Arizona managing general partner Jerry Colangelo is catching
some serious heat. But it's dry heat. Some of his fellow owners
have been sniping at him behind his back for spending too
lavishly and thereby driving up the cost of doing business for
everyone. Undeterred, Colangelo telephoned one prominent owner
and barked, "If you've got a problem with me, say it to me, not
to someone else." Then he assured him that the Diamondbacks'
greenbacks will continue to flow. Since the team is already
among the five highest revenue producers in baseball, without
having played a game, Colangelo has only just begun.

"What it gets down to is jealousy," he says of the criticisms.
"I guess in baseball the egos are bigger than they are in
basketball. The first thing some of these guys should do is look
in a mirror.

"I have a 32-year track record of being responsible," adds
Colangelo, who has run the NBA's Phoenix Suns since 1968. (The
Suns have never won a league title, falling to the Celtics in
1976 and the Bulls in 1993 in their only NBA Finals
appearances.) "Nothing has changed. If anything, the stakes are
even higher. Our goal is to separate ourselves from how baseball
teams have operated for a long time. That's not to say we ignore
tradition, but we're going to do things we believe are right."

The Diamondbacks, who open with a $32 million payroll, have
spooked even George Steinbrenner, whose Yankees are the richest
team in baseball. Worried about losing centerfielder Bernie
Williams to the desert, Steinbrenner has asked acting
commissioner Bud Selig to investigate whether Arizona tampered
with Williams, who is eligible for free agency after this season.

Colangelo's spending spree began with the $10 million he gave
first baseman Travis Lee, a first-round pick by Minnesota in
1996 who became a free agent because he wasn't offered a
contract soon enough by the Twins. Then he made veteran
free-agent shortstop Jay Bell the highest-paid middle infielder
in baseball, at $6.8 million per year over five years. Next up
was third baseman Matt Williams, who got a five-year deal at
$9.5 million a year--after Williams said he wanted to play only
in Arizona so he could be near his children. Then he corralled
pitcher Andy Benes with $18 million over three years. Most
recently, after catcher Jorge Fabregas "lost" his arbitration
and was awarded an $875,000 contract, Colangelo gave him a
two-year, $2.9 million deal anyway. Colangelo said he felt
uneasy about the arbitration figure because Arizona had offered
Fabregas $1.05 million before the hearing.

"We won the arbitration, and I didn't feel good about that,"
Colangelo says. "We made him an offer based on what we thought
his value was, so why should he be penalized? That's the
difference between me and how other people do business. I want
to do what's right."

Said Fabregas, who previously played for the White Sox and the
Angels, "I was very shocked. Things like that just don't happen
in baseball. This is the best-run organization I've known. From
[manager] Buck Showalter to his coaches to everybody else, they
really care about you."

Arizona has one of the highest season-ticket bases in baseball:
34,000. It has a state-of-the-art, $354 million ballpark, $238
million of which came from local taxes. When it will put a
state-of-the-art team on the field, however, is less certain,
though the club's revenue and spending pattern suggest it could
be soon.

"The Rockies made the playoffs in their third year, but that was
a strike season," Showalter says. "When we get there, we don't
want it to be a one-year deal. We want to be consistent and have
a farm system that makes us a self-replenishing organization.
What a good farm system does is help keep your payroll down."

Clearly, though, the Diamondbacks can speed their maturation
through free agency. Colangelo has all but hung a shingle on
Bank One Ballpark, his convertible-roofed stadium: free agents
welcome. "This is about recruiting," he says. "Having the right
facilities, treating people right and being located in an
attractive place to play."

In the meantime Colangelo knows the rest of the baseball world
will keep a sharp eye on him. Last month for instance, he
attended a charity function in which people wearing Yankees
pinstripes served drinks. "I didn't ask for one, though,"
Colangelo says, "because I thought I might be accused of
tampering."

--T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO BELLWETHER The Diamondbacks are counting on Bell to anchor their infield and lend stability to their clubhouse. [Jay Bell in game] COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [Jeff Suppan]
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)