It's not difficult to believe that it has been more than a decade since the three top shortstops in baseball were considered to be Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Anthony Nomar Garciaparra.
A-Rod would have been the greatest shortstop in baseball history if he had not become a third baseman, but just how good was Garciaparra compared to Jeter?
Near the end of May 1998, Cal Riken Jr. was discussing how the shortstop position at the close of the 20th century had some of the greatest stars in the game. Most "experts" predicted that A-Rod, Jeter and Garciaparra would be shoo-in Hall of Famers.
As a heavy-set singer told us, two out of three ain't bad.
Speaking about Rodriguez, Jeter and Garciaparra, Ripken told Claire Smith of the New York Times, "They are fabulously talented. It's exciting to see them develop."
Jeter was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1996. Garciaparra won the award the next season.
All three reached the potential predicted, but only Garciaparra suffered severe injuries that forced him to move to other positions and cut his career short.
From his first full season in 1997 through his last season with the Boston Red Sox in 2003, Garciaparra hit .325 with a .372 on base average and a .557 slugging average. He averaged 24 home runs a year.
The great Johnny Pesky called him the greatest shortstop in Boston Red Sox history.
Interestingly, Garciaparra's .325 batting average is identical to Joe DiMaggio's lifetime batting average, while his .557 slugging average is identical to that of Mickey Mantle's.
From his first full season in 1996 through 2003, Jeter batted .318 with a .390 on base average. He slugged .462 and averaged 16 home runs a year.
Garciaparra has a big offensive edge over Jeter when one compares Nomar's first seven season's with Jeter's first eight.
On July 31, 2004, Garciaparra was traded to the Chicago Cubs. A series of injuries greatly diminished his skills with the consequence that he never again played more than 122 games in a season and never hit more than 20 home runs. Nomar was no longer a shortstop.
In Dec. 2005, free agent Garciaparra signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers where he played primarily first base, with occasional stints at third base and shortstop.
He had two decent seasons with the Dodgers, batting .303 in 2006 and .283 in 2007 before the injuries struck again.
During spring training in 2008, Garciaparra suffered a broken hand after being hit by a pitch. When he returned on Apr. 16, he strained his left calf muscle, ironically an injury Derek Jeter suffered a few days before.
Garciaparra was out until July 4th. He appeared in only 55 games that season, hitting .264.
After playing in Oakland for one season, Garciaparra retired, but not before signing a one-day contract with the Red Sox so he could retire as a Boston Red Sox player.
Garciaparra's final record is similar to that of Don Mattingly.
Mattingly batted .307/.358/.471 with an .830 OPS. He averaged 20 home runs a season.
Garciaparra batted .313/.361/.521 with an .882 OPS. He averaged 26 home runs a season.
Nomar Garciaparra was better than Derek Jeter until he suffered a series of injuries. Don Mattingly was better than a number of Hall of Fame first basemen until his injured back cut into his skills.
Injuries are part of the game. They are a part of life, but it cannot be denied that Nomar Garciaparra was well on his way to becoming the greatest shortstop of all time.
Smith, Claire. "At Shortstop, Three Leaders of the Pack." New York Times. 22 May 1998. p.C3.
Nomar Garciaparra at Baseball Library