I still remember February 2001 when I pulled my Sports Illustrated out of the mailbox and saw the Nomar Garciaparra cover. I believe that my exact reaction was “Holy S---!”
I am a lifelong Red Sox fan and I would have fought to the death to defend who I felt was the best of the triumvirate of American League shortstops but I did not expect to see the buff, cut, shirtless cover of Noo-mahhh.
Don’t get me wrong, my next reaction was not “he’s on steroids” but rather “MVP”. Gone were the days of our great hitting 150-160 pound great shortstop, here were the days of our 190-200 pound rugged power hitting MVP shortstop.
Perhaps I was a little naive in 2001 because I never suspected he was on steroids, as a matter of fact I really didn’t think anybody was on steroids. McGwire and Sosa saved baseball not destroyed it, Jose Canseco, OK maybe, but who cares he was one guy.
In 2004 we (I say we because sadly I feel that I am a part of my teams) traded Nomar to Chicago as he had worn out his welcome in Boston. Steroids were mentioned but there was never any proof, I think that everybody used the Sports Illustrated cover to suspect him.
The injuries were starting to come, including a major one shortly after the Sports Illustrated cover, which helped fuel the speculation. Here was a guy that was a hero just one season before yet struggled in the 2003 playoffs, sulked through the first half of 2004, and sort of forced his way out.
Was the Boston fan base and media upset or hurt, specifically Bob Ryan who wrote a fairly damaging article exploring the idea that Nomar used steroids, that their star forced his way out of town or maybe there could be some truth to the rumors.
Could Nomar have been using steroids? Could Nomar’s injuries and sulkiness be side effects of steroid use?
Some of the injuries synonymous with steroids or HGH include torn hamstrings, oblique strains (rib cage strains), and ruptured Achilles' tendons. Muscles are growing too quickly and rip away from the joints and the tendons are putting too much pressure on the ligaments causing major injuries.
Nomar has ruptured his Achilles and had a number of strained and/or torn hamstrings. Coincidence? Nomar's numbers drastically decreased after 2003 which coincidentally was the year that Major League Baseball started doing their confidential testing. As evidenced below he was never again the player that the Red Sox fans remember:
I broke the numbers into two periods, 1997-2003 (this excludes 1996 when he had only 87 AB’s as rookie and 2001 when he had a wrist injury that limited him to 83 AB’s) and 2004-2008.
1997-2003 - .326 AVG, 198 Hits 27.5 HR’s, 107 RBI’s, 136.5 OPS
2004-2008 - .292 AVG, 94 Hits, 10.6 HR’s, 50 RBI’s, 102.6 OPS
While he did have a very good year in 2006 with the Dodgers he did not reach 500 AB’s and his 120 OPS was lower than any single season during the 1997-2003 period.
Did Nomar use steroids? I truly hope not. Whether it is because of my own naivety not wanting to think that any of my heroes would do this or is it is because I still like the guy. There are 103 guys left on the list and I do hope that all of the names are released so that we can be done with this seemingly never-ending saga.
I hope that Nomar is not on this list but I think that he will be showing that the only true player from that triumvirate will be Derek Jeter. There was a time when Miguel Tejada won the MVP in Oakland leading people to believe that there was also a fourth great American League shortstop yet even he is tainted.
Throughout history we have been told that shortstops were supposed to be small defensive players with not much bat. That all changed with Cal Ripken then soon after with Rodriguez, Garciaparra, Jeter, and Tejada, maybe there is some truth to the history.
Here’s to hoping that Nomar is not on the list and we can remember him for what he was not for what he did.