Things sure have changed in the five years since Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein made the controversial decision to trade iconic shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs.
Back then, on July 31, 2004, Garciaparra seemed destined to eventually earn a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Red Sox were grasping at any straw they could find to end an 86-year championship drought.
Fast-forward ahead five years and the Red Sox are the proud owners of two of the last five World Series Championships and no longer have to hear about curses or missed opportunities.
Conversely, Garciaparra is no longer considered even a long shot for the Hall of Fame as his best days were left on the field at Fenway Park.
In the summer of 2004, the Red Sox were still recovering from their most recent heart-breaking playoff disappointment, an 11-inning loss to the New York Yankees in game seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series.
After leading the division for most of the first two months of the 2004 season, the Red Sox were fading fast. In late July they trailed the Yankees by nearly 10 games and were struggling to find consistency.
The Red Sox were also struggling to figure out what to do with their perennial All-Star shortstop and face of the franchise, Nomar Garciaparra.
After finishing seventh in the American League in the MVP voting in 2003 with a typical solid season (.301 average, 28 home runs, 105 RBI), Garciaparra had missed the first two months of the 2004 season.
The Red Sox were 34-23 and trailed the Yankees by two games in the AL East when Garciaparra returned to the lineup on June 9. Over the next 38 games, Boston was 19-19 and on July 29 found themselves eight games out of first.
It wasn’t that Garciaparra wasn’t producing–he hit .321 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 38 games–it simply was that for some reason the Red Sox were no longer clicking as a team.
To further complicate things, Garciaparra was heading into free agency at the end of the season and there was a lot of discussions as to whether the Red Sox were committed to spending the money needed to resign the player who had been a fan favorite since first joining the team in 1996.
There was also the residual impact from the previous off-season when the Red Sox had seriously explored bringing in All-Star shortstop Alex Rodriguez and trading Garciaparra.
It was a difficult dilemma for then 30-year old general manager Theo Epstein, who was in his second full season running the team.
Finally, with the trading deadline looming, Epstein engineered a blockbuster trade that forever changed the destiny of the Boston Red Sox.
As part of a four-team trade, Garciaparra was heading to the Chicago Cubs and the Red Sox would receive shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the Montreal Expos and first baseman Doug Mienkiewicz from the Minnesota Twins.
The key player in the deal for the Red Sox was Cabrera. An eight-year veteran, Cabrera won a Gold Glove at shortstop in 2001 and was known for solid defense and timely hitting. He didn’t have the gaudy offensive numbers that Garciaparra normally produced, but he had occasional power and was a solid contact hitter.
Anytime one of the faces of a team is traded away it generally takes time for the rest of the team to adjust and over the next two weeks the Red Sox continued to spin their wheels.
However, an 8-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on August 10 signaled the start of a stretch in which Boston went 38-14 over the final 52 games of the season and captured the wild card spot while nearly catching the Yankees for the division title.
Riding the momentum, Boston swept Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs to set up a rematch with the Yankees.
It appeared like another postseason disappointment was on the horizon as New York stormed to victory in the first three games of the series and led 4-3 entering the bottom of the ninth inning of game four.
However, Boston rallied for a run off Mariano Rivera and won the game in the 12th inning. They went on to win game five in 14 innings and then claim the last two games in Yankee Stadium for a dramatic and franchise changing victory.
Boston swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to wash away 86 years of frustration and disappointment. They went on to win another championship in 2007 and reach the American League Championship Series again in 2008.
While the Red Sox were exorcising their demons, Garciaparra was toiling away in unfamiliar circumstances.
The Cubs nearly made the World Series in 2003, but couldn’t return to the postseason in 2004 despite posting a better regular season record.
Garciaparra hit .297 with 20 RBI over the last two months of the 2004 season and resigned with Chicago in the off-season. A torn groin in 2005 limited him to 62 games and following the season Garciaparra left the Cubs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Returning to his hometown and playing for former Red Sox manager Grady Little, Garciaparra got off to a tremendous start and was hitting .358 at the All-Star break.
However, it was obvious to fans that while he was still a productive player, this was no longer the Nomar Garciaparra that had won two batting titles and once hit .372 in a season.
He slumped over the final two months and finished the season with a .303 average, 20 home runs and 93 RBI.
Since 2006, injuries have zapped the greatness from Garciaparra. He spent three years with the Dodgers and then this season moved to Oakland to toil for the A’s.
In 42 games in 2009, Garciaparra is hitting .253 with two home runs and 11 RBI. Certainly not the numbers expected of a player with a .313 career average, 228 home runs and 931 RBI.
The A’s are making their final appearance of the season in Boston this week and you have to wonder if it will be Nomar’s final appearance at Fenway Park.
After not playing in the first game of the series, Garciaparra had two hits on Tuesday night in a 9-8 Oakland victory.
His return to Fenway nearly five years to-the-day of his last game in a Red Sox uniform is a perfect reminder of just how different things are today both for the one-time Red Sox hero and for the franchise he so proudly represented for nearly a decade.
Check out more from Dean Hybl at Boston Sports Then and Now where passionate fans can stay updated on the latest in Boston sports while also reliving the great moments, players and teams of Boston's tremendous sports history.
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