Mofford helped save Cactus League

Mofford helped save Cactus League

PHOENIX -- To put it in baseball terms, you can credit former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford with a save when it came to the Cactus League.

Mofford, who passed away Thursday at the age of 94, was governor in the late 1980s when Florida was making a push to have teams relocate from Arizona, which at that time had just eight teams.

"If something isn't done, and something isn't done fast, they'll be writing the Cactus League's obituary within a year," The Arizona Republic quoted then baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti as saying in 1988.

Mofford became Arizona's first female governor on April 5, 1988 following the impeachment of Evan Mecham and she appointed a commission to study what needed to be done to keep the Cactus League.

Joe Garagiola Jr., who served on the commission and is now a senior vice president with Major League Baseball, remembered how committed Mofford was to the cause.

"Here you had the Governor who immediately and instinctively just grasped the significance of the Cactus League," Garagiola said. "You didn't need to explain it to her. She was always there for us providing whatever support we needed."

Eventually Arizona passed a funding mechanism that allowed for not only renovating current stadiums to keep teams in the Cactus League, but also to build new facilities that lured teams from Florida.

The Cactus League now has 15 teams and is thriving with sparkling new facilities throughout.

"She deserves an enormous amount of credit," Garagiola said of Mofford. "Because to have the governor of the state basically leading the charge and saying it's important to the state and to her personally opened a lot of doors for us."

And in a way, Mofford also deserves some credit for the fact that Phoenix was awarded a Major League expansion franchise in 1995.

At the same time there was uncertainty around the Cactus League, Major League Baseball was discussing awarding expansion franchises to Miami and Denver. Phoenix was working to position itself as well as a future possibility.

"I was told repeatedly by any number of people at that time, 'Look you already have Major League Baseball. You've got it for six weeks every spring and if you can't figure out a way to keep what you already have, what makes you think you're going to get a Major League team?'" Garagiola said. "The message was clear, if you let the Cactus League walk out that kind of tells baseball what it needs to know about how Arizona feels about professional baseball."

Mofford wasn't about to let that happen and for that she deserves credit for a big save.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.