There was a time when the era of Cal Ripken Jr. and Alan Trammell gave way to one of the most hotly debated arguments in baseball: Jeter, Garciaparra or Tejada? It seems that the first two took turns starting the All Star Game and they were the brightest stars of the game. Was that really only a decade ago?
This reminiscence comes about after seeing that Nomar Garciaparra has apparently signed a deal with Oakland. It's a pretty sad question the news brings after all these years: Where is he going to play?
There was a time when there would be no question where Garciaparra would play. He was the star of the Boston Red Sox. He was one of the premier shortstops in all of baseball. From 1998 to 2000, he put together a string of seasons where his OPS was .946, 1.021 and 1.033. In those three years, he batted .323, .357 and a staggering .372. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting in all three of those years, topping at second in 1998. He hit over fifty doubles twice.
Would anyone now guess that his lifetime batting average is still .314? What ever happened to Nomar Garciaparra? Well, it started with a bum wrist that cost him nearly all of the 2001 season. When he came back in 2002, he was still an effective player but his defense suffered and his OPS fell to .880 (still a very good number!). It fell again to .869 the following year (2003) but he ended that season badly and played really poorly in the 2003 post season.
His contract was up at the end of 2004 and before that season, he wanted to negotiate a new deal that would pay him similar to what Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were making. The new management team in Boston, a numbers-savvy group, didn't feel that he was worth that much and ugly rumors arose that Nomar was pouting. There were rumors that he was a buzz kill in the clubhouse, especially after that crazy bunch in 2004 shaved their heads and Nomar wouldn't do it (neither did Johnny Damon, but apparently that was a medical condition).
The Red Sox tried to trade him and he was actually a part of that mega-deal that was supposed to bring Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox. When that fell apart, the team traded its star shortstop to the Cubs in a deal that brought Orlando Cabrera to the Red Sox. Cabrera brought energy and great play at short and the Red Sox went on to history.
So how did one of the best players in baseball end up becoming one of those addition by subtraction issues for the Red Sox where it seemed that they finally got over the hump and won a World Series BECAUSE they traded Garciaparra?
Garciaparra had two lackluster, injury riddled seasons with the Cubs and eventually ended up in Los Angeles, where he rebounded with a decent season at the bat in 2006, but was horribly miscast as the Dodgers' first baseman. He slipped badly in 2007 and didn't play very much last year.
Stories circulated this off-season that he wasn't sure if he wanted to play another season or not. How much does that say about how far Nomar Garciaparra has fallen from his star days of the late 1990s? He's not that old, only thirty-six, but basically he is a bit part...an afterthought. All this seems strange for a man we all thought was going to be a Hall of Famer when his days were over.
Now, he won't reach 2000 hits, he won't reach 1000 RBI in a career that once seemed like it was going to be one of the greatest ever.