Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nomar Story Seems Odd

All indications are that Nomar Garciaparra fulfilled a lifelong "dream" when he retired as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Yes, it was one of those ceremonial signings where a former great player is "signed" to a contract that really isn't a contract just so that player can say they retired from their heart felt team. It's been done quite a bit in recent history. But the whole thing just feels odd here.

Nomar Garciaparra wasn't just traded from the Red Sox. He was unceremoniously dumped and then scapegoated as the guy who was holding the Red Sox back. His trade was supposed to be the reason the Red Sox finally overcame the curse when they won the World Series in 2004. This Fan has never heard any guilt being felt by any member of the Red Sox regime for the perception that Nomar was a hindrance on that team.

But now, Nomar wanted to retire. To this Fan, Nomar retired several years ago. The feeling here has been that he was playing more for the paychecks than the game. Perhaps he was never healthy those last five years. Perhaps he was never given a full chance. Who knows. This Fan certainly doesn't have the answer. But Nomar was similar to Albert Pujols when he first came up. He didn't quite have Pujols' power, but he led the league in batting twice and he was all but penciled in as a Hall of Famer.

But after that start, and what a glorious start it was for a few years, Garciaparra finished with under 2000 hits, under 250 homers and with less than 1000 RBI. He did finish with a .313 lifetime BA. But if you asked anyone in 2000 where Garciaparra would end up and everyone would have predicted 3000 hits, 500 homers and 1500 RBI. But it simply fizzled.

Garciaparra had a career similar to Don Mattingly and Fred Lynn. Bang. Flash. Strobe Lights. Face to Black. But whereas Mattingly and Lynn seemed to go down due to chronic physical problems, Garciaparra just seemed to lose his drive for greatness. Perhaps that isn't fair. But geez, it sure seemed that way.

The Fan knows his buddy, Josh, has whispered the steroid thing. Could be. But Nomar never got huge, did he? Many will point to his wrist injury in 2001 as to where it all went bad. But even that doesn't seem to cut it. When Nomar came back from that injury, he still put up good numbers. Sure, there was a 30 point drop in OPS+, but wouldn't most teams be happy with a shortstop with a 125 OPS+ which Garciaparra averaged the first two years after the injury?

But then came 2004. There was a salary dispute. Nomar wanted more money. The Red Sox weren't budging. There were whispers that he was pouting and dogging it. His fielding, always a strength before, took a dive. The fans were all over him. He seemed unhappy. Or maybe, it was one of those snowball stories where a semi-truth snowballs to an avalanche. The trade made it clear that Nomar was no longer a valued commodity. But was the trade the reason the Sox won it all that year? Perhaps it was more that David Ortiz (was he on drugs?) dragged that team to history. There is no real way to prove that Nomar was the problem.

But he was given that title and the team did nothing to dispel it. So now that same team makes nice-nice and both it and the player that parted so ingloriously are acting like it never happened. The Fan remembers it quite well. It did happen.

But don't feel bad for Nomar. He's made his millions and he married Mia Hamm (now that's a nice goal to score). And his name had just enough luster left that he immediately goes to work for ESPN, the sports equivalent to the ex-soldier getting the post office job. Not sure that he deserves it, but the Fan guesses that's not the point.

At one time, Nomar Garciaparra was the best player in baseball. He certainly was for 1999 and 2000. In just a flipper of time, he was the scapegoat of a franchise and a very small shell of the player that he once was. Guess it was time to go. Guess even more that it was overdue.

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