LONGSHOTS: Mixed bag on Nomar’s Red Sox retirement
by Dave Long
I don’t know about you, but I had mixed feelings over Nomar Garciaparra’s signing for one day so he could retire as a Red Sox last week. On one hand, given his acrimony toward the team that led to his trade at the deadline in 2004, it seemed weird. On the other side, I do recall how good he was with and for the Red Sox when he was here and how beloved he was by Red Sox Nation.
I suspect the live-and-let-live folks welcome him back with open arms. But I can hold a grudge when someone commits what I think is a serous sports crime. And if the story is true that in the days leading to the deadline, his agent Arn Tellem implied he might have go back on the DL as a bargaining tool in the midst of hostile contract negotiations, he’s party to a sports crime.
I understand sports is a business and think players should get what they can get because the minute they can’t play owners dump them faster than the Patriots sent Richard Seymour to Oakland. But if the blackmail story is true, Nomar stepped over the line, because in season his interests shouldn’t be above the interests of his teammates who have nothing to do with his contract impasse. Thus why should they suffer the loss of a top player over it in the heat of the pennant race? They shouldn’t — which makes his actions at the end a sports felony in my book, and even worse than the way Manny forced his way of town.
But, then I started thinking about it. Took a look at the stats and it all started coming back, how good and big a part of the sports culture he was as a Red Sox. So my feelings about it started to soften a bit. A least in order to consider his legacy in Boston, which I’ll break into the following subcategories:
Popularity: I put him second to Yaz of the guys I’ve seen come through here. If he keeps playing as he has in his first three years and the ending is better than Nomar’s departure, then maybe Dustin Pedroia has a shot to eclipse him, but it’s hard to see anyone else. And remember the most beloved of them all was Ted Williams and he once flipped off the fans and refused to tip his cap after hitting a homer in his last at bat over his relationship with them, so I expect Nomar to come all the way in the years to come.
The Numbers: They’re pretty good. He hit .323 in 966 games to be fourth-best in team history behind Williams (.344), Wade Boggs (.388) and Tris Speaker (.337). He’s one of eight people EVER to have two 50-double seasons. His .372 in 1999 was fourth-est in a single season behind two from Williams and one by Speaker and it was the highest by any righty since Joe DiMaggio hit .381 in 1939. And he’s also fifth in slugging percentage behind only Williams, Jimmy Foxx, Manny and Big Papi — while ahead of Fred Lynn, Mo Vaughn and shockingly Jim Rice.
The trade gone bad: The thing that turned it all sour was the trade for A-Rod in the off-season after 2003 that never came off. It actually was for Manny, who wanted out in the worst way. If that had gone down, a second one sending Nomar to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez would have been made. He didn’t like that and pouted about the betrayal all year. But if those new guys were aboard, you have to wonder if the Sox would have won in 2004, given A-Rod’s postseason traumas and that Manny was the Series MVP. Of course it might have been easier in 2007 when Ordonez hit .363 and drove in 139 runs for the Tigers while A-Rod hit 54 homers and drove in 151 for you-know-who while winning the MVP as the Sox were on shortstop number four since trading Nomar. Plus while the trade for Orlando Cabrera was considered to be the turning point in ’04, Jason Varitek’s fight with A-Rod a few days earlier wasn’t far behind and that wouldn’t have happened if the trade came off.
Hall of Fame: Laugh all you want, but after seven seasons Cooperstown appeared squarely in his cross hairs in a Paul Molitor kind of a way. But he’s not going to get even close despite statistically dwarfing other shortstops who are in like Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese. And if you think those guys got in for fielding, guess again. Reese once had 47 errors in a season (1941) and was over 30 three other times, while Nomar’s worst was 25. Rizzuto had 263 errors in 8,148 chances to Nomar’s 171 with 6,801 chances. And I’ll bet you didn’t know hit 22 more homers than Kirby Puckett, a middle-of-the-order slugger, and 22 less than Robin Yount, who played five more seasons. He also out-hit Yount .313 to .285 and played in six All-Star games to Yount’s meager three, and both those guys breezed in. But Yount did have two MVPs, and thanks to longevity issues Nomar didn’t have even 2,000 hits, let alone 3,000.
Red Sox rank: I remember a famous article right after the trade in the UL by semi-beloved and looks-to-be-totally-retired scribe Joe Sullivan proclaiming Nomar to be the second-best Red Sox of all time. Which of course gave me a lot of material over the next couple of years, as while I liked the guy I’m not going nearly that high. First, the second-best Red Sox player is between Speaker, Cy Young and, I hate to say this, Roger Clemens. After that I’m not sure he even makes my Top 10, as I’ll go with Yaz at five, then Pedro, Rice on longevity over Manny and Big Papi and then it’s a battle for the 10th spot between Dwight Evans, Carlton Fisk, Luis Tiant, Boggs, Bobby Doerr and Nomar. But I will give him the starting spot over Joe Cronin and Johnny Pesky at short on the Sox All-Time team.
His Boston legacy: In the end, he is the ultimate cautionary tale for immaturity and folks who think the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, because he was never close to the same after leaving Fenway and Boston behind. And there had to be a reason the team got better from the second he left in ’04 as they went on to end 86 years of frustration that October. I’ve always wondered what he thinks about that. But in peak form he was something and in the end the pluses outweigh the minuses.
So I’ll hereby commute his sentence for crimes against Boston sports to time served and say thanks for the memories.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.