Nomar Garciaparra, a great shortstop and an excellent hitter in his prime with the Boston Red Sox, signed a one-day contract with the team so he could retire with Beantown.
He was an ultimate fan favorite with Boston, where he spent the first nine-plus years of his career.
Pronounced Nomah by his beloved, the now 36-year-old was one of the best hitters of his generation.
Garciaparra put together seven solid seasons in his 14-year career. His first came after a cup of coffee in 1996. In 1997, his second year in the league, he had 209 hits, 30 homers, 98 RBI, 44 doubles, 11 triples, 22 steals, a .306 batting average, and 122 runs scored. That’s when he jumped onto the scene, and that’s when the Legend of Nomah was born.
He was an All-Star five of his next seven seasons. He rarely struck out, whiffing a grand total of 275 times from 1998-2003 (discounting his injury-shortened 2001 season in which he only K’d nine times in 83 at-bats). To put his remarkable feat in perspective, Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds struck out 223 times this past season alone.
Garciaparra was the epitome of a contact hitter—and what a talented one he was.
In 1999, he struck out only 39 times in 532 at-bats and hit .357 with 27 homers, 42 doubles, and 104 RBI. He collected a batting title that year and the next, in 2000, when he hit .372 with 51 doubles, 197 hits, 96 RBI, and a .434 on-base percentage.
Fenway Park was built for his breathtaking and compact swing, but it didn’t matter where he was playing. He struggled against very few pitchers, spraying singles, doubles, triples, and homers to all fields in all fields. His fidgety routine between every pitch, which consisted of checking his wrists and batting gloves repeatedly, added to his energetic persona. If he wasn’t fun to watch, no one was.
If there was a flaw in his game, it was his fielding. He wasn’t terrible, committing no more than 25 errors in a season, but his inconsistencies at shortstop and Boston’s reliance on off-the-wall, complicated statistics mushroomed his troubles in the field.
His defense was supposedly one of the reasons why the Red Sox traded him at the 2004 trade deadline to the Chicago Cubs, but another reason why he was sent packing was his contract situation. He was set to hit free agency following the season, and the Red Sox were under the impression that he wanted to leave. He had no such feelings. He was unhappy early in 2004 about the lack of an extension.
There was no question he wanted to remain in Boston, as detailed in an excerpt from a story written by Bob Hohler of The Boston Globe and a quote by Garciaparra:
"Garciaparra, 31, who already had dressed for last night’s game against the Minnesota Twins, quickly changed into street clothes, packed his belongings, and bid his teammates farewell. He hugged most of them, quietly recalling fond moments with some and sharing hopes for a better tomorrow with others. The last items he grabbed were his bats, which he used to make some of the most splendid memories in recent years for Sox fans. 'If it was in my control, I’d still be wearing a Red Sox uniform,' Garciaparra said. 'That’s the place I know, I love, all those fans, I’ll always remember.'"
It is believed that general manager Theo Epstein had difficulties sleeping leading up to and following the trade. He had good reason to. The Red Sox received two quality defensive infielders, shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, but they were without, in Epstein’s opinion as well as mine, “one of the greatest Red Sox of all time.”
Boston won a World Series without him, but the shortstop position has never been the same since. Cabrera left after 2004. Edgar Renteria replaced him in 2005. Alex Gonzalez replaced him in 2006. Julio Lugo replaced him in 2007. Now it’s Marco Scutaro’s turn—and in the near future it will be someone else.
That’s the effect Garciaparra’s loss has had on Boston. He should have never been allowed to leave.
But after five-plus injury-plagued seasons in which he played in only 52 percent of the games, Garciaparra hung up his cleats, signed this one-day contract, retired with the Red Sox, and signed on to be a baseball analyst for ESPN.
He was one of the best players of his era, but the question “What could have been?” surrounds his name. If not for a devastating number of injuries, he would have not only continued to etch his name into Red Sox lore, but in baseball lore as well.
Is he a Hall of Famer? I think he had too many injury-shortened seasons to be elected in today’s day and age, but going by his years with Boston, his .313 career batting average, his 1,747 hits, his .361 on-base percentage—all numbers equal to or better than some Hall of Fame shortstops—I believe he should receive strong consideration. But a lack of an election won’t mean he will be forgotten.
Nomah is and will always be a Red Sox, a fantastic memory in the hearts of his teammates, coaches, sportswriters, and every member of Red Sox Nation.
Maybe that’s just as good as being in Cooperstown.